As a pharmaceutical company, what have been the key challenges during the course of last year?
During the pandemic, research-based pharmaceutical companies have shown what they are capable of when they mobilize all their strengths and focus on one goal. We can only achieve this in the long term if patent protection for innovative therapies is reliably regulated. Pharmaceutical research is a complex and very risky endeavor that requires large investments in long-term projects. If successful, this results in innovative therapy options for unmet medical needs. Lilly invests a quarter of its revenue in research and development (R&D) every year. The industry average is nearly 20 percent, which is still above the average for other industries.
Currently, we are seeing a discussion on both sides of the Atlantic that weakening or partially removing intellectual property rights (IPR) could help to advance health in developing countries. We are following this with great concern.
Lilly recognizes its social responsibility in solving health problems around the world. However, the challenges lie aside from patent protection issues. For example, Lilly recently began collaborating with UNICEF for Bangladesh, Malawi, Nepal, the Philippines and Zimbabwe. The common goal is to provide better care and reduce the number of deaths in children and adolescents with treatable conditions such as type 1 diabetes. Interventions in the five countries include strengthening data and health information systems, capacity building and training for primary care, prevention as well as care and treatment. Lilly has committed more than $14 million in support of this lifesaving work.
Could you give us an insight on any specific research areas or projects Lilly is currently focusing on?
Our primary goal is to discover and deliver innovative therapies that make life better for patients around the world. Throughout our history we have developed therapy options for some of the most challenging health problems - diabetes, cardiovascular, rheumatic and infectious diseases, mental disorders, cancer and many more. Let’s pick two research areas:
Lilly was the first company in the world to start mass production of insulin 100 years ago. Since then, we have been leaders in diabetes care. For a long time, insulin was obtained from the pancreas of animals. Our path led us to the first genetically engineered insulin in the 1980s. Today we offer modern, more targeted options for all phases of diabetes and we continue to research relentlessly. Further innovative therapeutic approaches will be needed to help patients with diabetes and to counteract the various secondary diseases.
Alzheimer's dementia is still one of the great mysteries of medicine. Currently, despite great efforts and investments, there are no effective treatments that prevent the disease or slow its progression. For 30 years, our scientists have been working with a lot of energy and passion on researching new drugs and diagnostic options for Alzheimer's dementia. Lilly’s neurodegeneration pipeline reflects innovation, investments and collaborations aimed at the entire spectrum of Alzheimer’s and is shaped by the insights we have gained over nearly three decades of research and development.
From a pharmaceutical perspective, which policies could be implemented on a national level to ensure research and development in this field?
Health care is at the center of political attention. It can be found in many chapters of the coalition agreement. Regarding economy, for example, the healthcare sector is explicitly mentioned because of its importance as an industry for Germany.
However, there are tendencies in drug policy aimed at saving costs for patent-protected medicines. We are concerned about that because it won’t help to make Germany more attractive. On contrary, that opposes the desire for further investment in research and development. Research and development of innovative therapies requires long-term investments by companies. It takes endurance and a stable political framework. Depending on the complexity of the drug, only 1 to 2 molecules of 10,000 promising molecules make it to market about a decade later.
In general, however, the coalition agreement pays attention to a good and sustainable industrial policy and we are convinced that we as an industry will be in a constructive dialogue with the new government over the next four years.
What would you say are the most pressing areas in the healthcare sector in Germany and in Europe?
If we look at Europe in competition with other regions, we would like to highlight as follows:
1. Patent Protection
Maintaining robust and reliable protection of intellectual property rights is essential for promoting research and development in Europe and remaining competitive worldwide. This is the only way that patients can continue to have access to innovative therapeutic options.
2. Evaluation of medicinal products
Science and technology are developing rapidly. Advances in drug development should be available for patient care as quickly as possible. For this we need simplified, transparent, uniform and fair procedures that take into account all relevant and existing evidence.
For better patient care, e-health solutions must be developed and made available much faster. The evaluation of anonymized research data by the pharmaceutical industry could help, which could use artificial intelligence to research and develop new targeted therapies more quickly. Unfortunately, the relevant data is currently only available for public institutions.
The lessons from the corona pandemic must be learnt collectively in Europe. Now more than ever there is a need for a strategic exchange between all relevant actors in Europe. This is how we can ensure excellent patient care in our European community.
Which areas provide room for transatlantic cooperation in the healthcare sector?
Together, the U.S. and Europe form the backbone of the world's pharmaceutical supply. Even if TTIP could not be implemented, it is essential that the quality standards and procedures of these two markets are harmonized at a high level. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) benefits are a good example of how safe and effective treatment options can come with less administrative overhead. The more double bureaucracy is reduced, the better we can fulfill our mission for a better care for patients.