Picture: Pistoia Alliance

Building on the advances made during the pandemic

The pharmaceutical industry has made significant advances in collaboration over the past two years, and I have seen many examples amongst Pistoia Alliance members of the power of cooperative working. It is imperative that the industry continues to build on these successes.

At the same time, digital transformation has accelerated rapidly during the pandemic, which in turn has greatly improved remote patient monitoring, rapid online triage of patients, and the sharing of data. I am now urging organisations to take advantage of these new opportunities and not to let old behaviours return to slow down progress. We can continue to innovate solutions that directly benefit patients when we work together.

I am also keen to see the sector redouble its efforts in areas where progress has remained slow. While we have made incredible scientific gains to address COVID-19, there are still many diseases where little has progressed in recent decades, in terms of both treatments and outcomes for patients. For instance, one devasting disease we need to urgently address is pancreatic cancer. Currently, the combined five-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer is just 5% to 10%. Research is the key to improving this outlook and, critically, improving early diagnosis.

Collaboration will also be essential to tackling the public health issues that are set to impact society in significant ways in the coming years. Organisations must continue to work together to develop new therapies in areas such as dementia, for instance, one of the biggest challenges facing humans today. Society is now considering how we care for an ageing population and efforts must be focused on tangible steps that we can take to improve outcomes. This will involve cross-discipline partnerships that bring together innovations in technology and healthcare, as well as working closely with stakeholders in governments and regulatory authorities. By addressing pre-existing hurdles to cooperative working that hinder progress, we can enable progress in the life sciences at the same pace as has been achieved in developing COVID-19 vaccines.

The industry also needs to improve access to real-world patient data for use in R&D and put in place infrastructure that will enable safe data sharing. Many people have been understandably concerned about sharing personal information, but to enable big breakthroughs in areas like cancer and precision medicine, we all need to altruistically share our data for the greater good of research. The biopharmaceutical sector has done a lot during the pandemic to rebuild public trust in the industry. It now needs to take that even further to educate the public on the importance of data sharing, including the benefits of sharing their anonymised patient data.

At the Alliance, which currently has over 150 members, we provide members with a legal framework to enable straightforward and secure pre-competitive collaboration.

Dr Steve Arlington, President of Pistoia Alliance since 2015, has over 40 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical and diagnostics industry. He began as a research scientist in immunology, developed and launched many products in this arena – including Clearblue pregnancy tests. Steve led the Pharmaceutical Team at PWC and then the IBM Life Sciences and Pharmaceutical Global Teams. Steve has grown two, billion-dollar consultancies and launched a biotech company; he has also served on the advisory boards of major pharma companies.

 This article was originally published in European Biotechnology Magazine Winter Edition 2021.