Dr Jenna Denyes, Senior Healthcare Analyst, discusses what the “new normal” could look like, how the pandemic has reflected on biotech companies and what lessons the world has learned from Covid-19.
What could a post-pandemic world look like?
So, we are rapidly approaching an interesting milestone of two years into this pandemic situation. No one really knew what was going to happen when we started. I certainly think none of us could have predicted this. But what we are looking at now, everyone wants to know when it is going to be over and what is over going to look like. It is safe to say that this virus is not going anywhere anytime soon. There are four other coronaviruses which regularly circulate in the human population that cause something a little more like the common cold than Covid-19 but it is safe to say that this coronavirus is going to stay too. So, what we talk about is moving from a pandemic situation into an endemic situation, where the majority of the population has acquired some degree of immunity either through prior infection or through vaccination which means that when they get sick, it is not going to be that bad which means we are not going to see a surge of people going to the hospital or a surge in ICU situations and that is really what we need to be careful about. The healthcare system needs to keep functioning. As we move into the endemic situation, we are going to see Covid numbers and infections, just like we see influenza infections each year. Quite frankly influenza deaths each year happen. We’re probably going to continue to see SARS-CoV-2, Covid-19 deaths continue but they are going to start approaching numbers which are more like influenza numbers.
We’re going to be moving out of situations where everyone in the population needs to be vaccinated every six months and it is going to start looking a little more like a flu shot. Most people get the flu shot every year but not everyone. If you are a high-risk person, if you spend a lot of time with the elderly or people who are immunocompromised maybe you get a flu shot and maybe your friends do not. I think that is more what we are going to be looking at in the coming years. When we talk about the new normal and we wonder when we are going to get to the new normal or how we are going to get to the new normal, we need to keep people out of the ICU. We need to keep people out of the hospitals and we need to get that burden on healthcare back down to normal levels. Doctors and nurses are only human and they can only keep working at these levels for so long and they are a very limited resource. They are very complicated to train and it takes a lot of years of investment, you cannot simply acquire more ICU nurses. So, to get back to the new normal, we need to reduce the burden on the healthcare system. The best way to get back to the new normal is for people to acquire immunity to SARS-CoV-2 either through vaccination or infection so if they get sick again they will not be as sick. It is safest and easiest to acquire immunity through vaccination and this has pretty much been found in all of the countries. All of the medical authorities have said the same thing that the vaccinations available are safe and effective and they are the best way to reduce your risk of severe infection with Covid-19.
Will investment and resources continue to be thrown at Covid-19 treatments?
Such an interesting question. Investments in infectious medications or infectious disease or vaccines, a few years ago no one would have talked about it. They are not places that you would drive large amounts of growth and these are not popular sales targets so this has really been a shift in what people look at in the biotech industry and what people want to hear about. I do think there will be some continued investment in vaccine development. But if you look at the leading vaccine developers like Moderna and BioNTech, they have pretty diversified portfolios that do have infectious components with influenza vaccines, CMV, other respiratory viruses but they are also using the same technology in more commonly investigated areas like oncology or cardiology and those areas of more consistent growth might be a better source of investment to continue to drive their vaccine business. I do not think each year we are going to see massive outflows of government funding for vaccine development but the way these companies structure their diverse portfolios means that some of their more lucrative pipeline projects serve to fund some of the equally beneficial but less lucrative other pipeline items.
Has sentiment for the healthcare sector improved as a result of the development of the Covid-19 treatments?
I do think that the positive sentiment that we have experienced globally for the biotech and pharma industry with the development of the Covid-19 vaccines and with now the successful development of Covid-19 treatments should be a positive influence on the sentiment for the sector.
Are we better prepared should there be another global pandemic?
I think the past two years, we have seen a lot of interesting discussions with supply chains, with national protectionist ideas and ultimately, we have seen a lot of countries come to the conclusion that in the case of an infectious disease pandemic, it does not help to protect yourself if your neighbours are going to be spreading the virus. So we have learnt a lot in terms of developing vaccines, in terms of developing treatments but I think globally, we have also learnt a lot about how we need to work together because if we let one person in the chain fall then, it turns out, it pulls the whole chain down, maybe not as dramatically as a ship stuck in a shipping channel but if you need all of the pieces of the parts to work, it does not matter if it is a semiconductor chip or if it is the right type of glass to put in a vial for an injection for a vaccine. We need all of the different parts to work and all of the different parts of the supply chain to work. So, taking aside the ethical considerations about helping everyone, I think globally, we have learnt a lot about the value of collaboration to minimise the economic damage of these types of infectious diseases.
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