Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic have underlined the importance of continued investment into pharmaceutical innovation and R&D to not only bring life-saving medications to those in need, but to improve public health outcomes, writes Bada Pharasi, CEO of The Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa (IPASA).
From treatments for cancer, cardiovascular diseases and more recently, the COVID-19 vaccine, the pharmaceutical industry has made significant progress in the development of over 470 medications in the last 10 years alone1.
While the innovative pharmaceutical process typically takes between 10 and 15 years from discovery to regulatory approval2 – owing to factors including immense R&D costs, regulatory compliance, and the protection of patents3 – the fast-tracked development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines laid bare the need for pharmaceutical companies to be prepared to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks – and this means continued investment in innovation and R&D.
The pandemic underlined the need for countries to be prepared for outbreaks on the horizon. To ensure we can meet the next challenge, pharmaceutical innovations must match the pace at which diseases mutate. This kind of innovation is non-negotiable and requires continued investment as a safeguard against losing lives and endangering South Africa’s fragile healthcare system.
As we are in the midst of a cholera epidemic, as well as the recent measles outbreak4, it’s important to continue driving innovation to treat diseases, with medicines developed by innovative pharmaceutical companies benefiting millions across the country every day.
This is evidenced by mortality rates for HIV/AIDS and TB in the country falling by 59.2% and 55.7% between 2007 and 2017, with at least 60 new medicines currently in the R&D pipeline to treat TB5.
While patents in pharmaceutical innovation protect the originators’ intellectual property, it is important that innovative medications be developed to ensure a continuous pipeline of access to generics once the patent has lost its exclusivity. This will drive consumer accessibility and affordability of life-saving treatments and medications that may otherwise be unattainable for many.
As we continue racing against the proverbial clock in protecting against current and future diseases, pharmaceutical companies should continue to invest in innovation and R&D to outsmart existing dreaded diseases, and provide agility and preparedness should the next unknown pandemic threaten. Our health, and lives, depend on it.