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Breakthrough thinking for breakthrough healthcare

Breakthrough thinking for breakthrough healthcare

Pfizer UK

5 min read Partner content

Pfizer's UK Country President, Susan Rienow, explains how we can draw upon our collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic to bring about a better healthcare future.

This content has been developed and paid for by Pfizer UK
 
Susan Rienow, UK Country President, Pfizer

Two years on from Margaret Keenan receiving the world’s first COVID-19 vaccination1, it’d be easy to let the pandemic slip into history. It’s vital however that we remember what the pandemic taught us about what can be achieved in healthcare when we unite behind a common goal.

Last month, I reflected upon my own experiences at our ‘Unlocking Breakthrough Thinking for the Health of the Nation’ event. My experience started early on in the pandemic. With a desperate need for increased supply of critical care medicines, the challenge was to locate and mobilise resources within record time. An army of colleagues – from Pfizer and UK health authorities– worked non-stop to ensure uninterrupted supply.

Achieving this was vital and required us all to think differently, question the status quo and collaborate. In other words, it required breakthrough thinking.

There are so many examples of this thinking in our country’s collective response to the pandemic. We were home to the fastest-recruiting trial in medical history2 and led globally in genomic sequencing in clinical trials3. By February 2022, the UK had sequenced more than 2 million SARS-CoV-2 viruses4, allowing us to swiftly identify the emergence of new variants. Working with a range of partners through the Pandemic Preparedness Partnership, we have since committed to taking the action needed to reduce the impact of future pandemics by making diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines available within 100 days.5

And then of course there was the vaccination programme, the most ambitious in history. This saw a vaccine developed in just 10 months6 and a first dose has now been rolled out to more than 53 million people in the UK - about 93% of over-12s.7

But, how can we harness those learnings and apply them to other health challenges?

The government has rightly identified the need to apply the lessons learnt through the mission-led approach of the UK Vaccine Taskforce (VTF) to new ‘missions’ such as cancer, addiction, mental health and obesity. Beyond this however, could such a mindset be applied to wider challenges including the roll-out of gene therapies and the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?

The health-challenges we face as a society are more complicated and nuanced than those faced by previous generations. Conditions related to ageing and twenty-first century lifestyles put strain on individuals, families and the wider health-care system at a time when the NHS is trying to get back on its feet. Vaccines and medicines have a big role to play in alleviating the burden on the NHS and keeping people out of hospital. But, to support this we must evolve our systems and infrastructure to ensure they support the adoption of these new innovations.

AMR is a good example of where novel approaches and greater collaboration could have a real impact. Despite the threat posed by drug resistant pathogens, the economic logic of spending billions on developing a novel antibiotic in the hope that it’s never used doesn’t stack up. It makes it difficult for a business to recoup the investment made in bringing a new antibiotic to market.

It’s encouraging therefore to see global action to address this and the UK taking a leadership role. In the UK, industry is partnering with NHS England to explore an innovative reimbursement model which hopes to stimulate the R&D needed to meet this challenge.8 The response to the pandemic showed us what’s possible when we approach health challenges with a clear goal in mind and are not constrained by established ways of doing things.

Two years on from the world’s first COVID-19 vaccination, it’s incumbent on us all to ensure the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t become a ‘footnote of history’ but rather a catalyst for change. As a country we face a range of healthcare challenges that can feel intractable. The collective response to COVID-19 however was a demonstration of the power of the possible and of what can be achieved when industry, government, healthcare systems and communities work together.


1. The Guardian, Covid vaccine: UK woman becomes first in world to receive Pfizer jab, 8 December 2020. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/08/coventry-woman-90-first-patient-to-receive-covid-vaccine-in-nhs-campaign [Last accessed, 28 November, 2022]

2. United Nations, Learning From the World’s Largest COVID-19 Treatment Trial: University of Oxford Leads RECOVERY, available at: https://www.un.org/en/academic-impact/learning-world%E2%80%99s-largest-covid-19-treatment-trial-university-oxford-leads-recovery [Last accessed December 2022]

3. Wall Street Journal, How the U.K. Became World Leader in Sequencing the Coronavirus Genome, January 30, 2021. Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-u-k-became-world-leader-in-sequencing-the-coronavirusgenome-11612011601 [Last accessed, December 2022]

4. HM Government. UK Health Security Agency and Department of Health and Social Care. Press release. UK completes over two million SARS‑CoV‑2 whole genome sequences. 2022. Available at: UK completes over 2 million SARS-CoV-2 whole genome sequences - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) [Last accessed November 2022].

5. HM Government. Government and life science industry join forces on 100 Days Mission for future pandemics, 4 June 2021. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-and-life-science-industry-join-forces-on-100-days-mission-for-future-pandemics [Last accessed November 2022]

6. Van-Tam J. Coronavirus Data Briefing. 11 November, 2020. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/934360/Data_Briefing_Slides_11112020.pdf [Last accessed November 2022].

7. HM Government. Coronavirus (COVID19) in the UK. UK Summary. 2022. Available at: https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/vaccinations [Last accessed November 2022].

8. Pharmaphoum, UK launches its ‘Netflix-style’ payment model for antibiotics, 12 April 2022. Available at  https://pharmaphorum.com/news/uk-launches-its-netflix-style-payment-model-for-antibiotics/ [Last accessed, 21 November 2022]

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