Amgen CEO Bob Bradway participated in a keynote conversation with Financial Times global health editor Sarah Neville at the newspaper’s annual U.S. Pharma and Biotech Summit, held virtually last month. Bradway hailed the biopharmaceutical industry’s “staggering accomplishment” in developing vaccines and therapeutics in record time to defeat COVID-19, but also warned of a looming “secondary health crisis” involving chronic disease.
Bradway noted that innovative companies, regulators, academics, and governments came together in an unprecedented way to tackle COVID-19. “There was extraordinary cooperation, a feeling of all-hands-on-deck, and alignment on what we needed to do to break the back of this pandemic. I hope the lessons learned will permanently change the tempo at which we advance innovation in our industry.”
Asked what changes the pandemic has brought to the biopharmaceutical industry, Bradway commented that “we have embraced new digital technologies and deployed them on a wide scale in ways that we would not have done absent the pandemic.” In clinical development, new digital tools have made it possible to initiate trial sites and monitor patient treatment at a distance. “You can be sure that companies like Amgen will be looking to build out that capability,” he declared. “It’s faster, it’s more efficient, and it enables us to be more effective. Anything we can do to shave the time between when we begin the experiments and when we have the answer for the benefit of patients is all for the better.”
Digital technologies also make it possible for biopharmaceutical companies to interact with prescribers more rapidly and efficiently. “While in the past we relied mainly on face-to-face visits, we demonstrated during the pandemic that we could use remote tools to engage customers, help them understand our innovative medicines, and identify appropriate patients. Without the pandemic, it would have been years before we could have accumulated enough experience with these technologies to have confidence in them the way we do now.”
Although the end of the pandemic is now in view, Bradway warned of a looming surge of chronic disease resulting from many people having postponed or cancelled medical appointments out of fear of COVID-19. These diseases impose huge costs on healthcare systems, and their effective control requires ongoing patient-physician interactions that the pandemic has disrupted. COVID-19 “exposed the fundamental challenge of chronic illness in our society, just as it exposed health inequities. It has pointed us toward what we need to tackle once we’ve put the urgency of the present moment behind us.”
Bradway expressed hope that “we will continue to see significant investment in the most challenging chronic diseases, starting with cardiovascular disease,” which is likely to claim more U.S. lives over the next 12 months than COVID-19 claimed during the past year. “We have the diagnostic tools and therapies” to fight these diseases, “but the question is, can we marshal the energy and resolve to go after chronic diseases the way we went after the pandemic in the past twelve months and after cigarette smoking in earlier decades? We’ve done it before, but can we do it again? I sure hope so.”
In conclusion, Bradway expressed hope that the pandemic would persuade doubters – especially in the payor community – of the value offered by innovative biopharmaceuticals. “In the developed world, we spent tens of trillions of dollars dealing with the economic consequences of this pandemic,” he observed. “Thanks to innovative vaccines and therapeutics, we are going to be able to bring it under control. I hope the world will recognize that we need more such innovation, not less.”