‘We can’t lower our standards’: Swiss pharma pledges not to cut corners in vaccine race

‘We can’t lower our standards’: Swiss pharma pledges not to cut corners in vaccine race
Severin Schwan, head of pharma giant Roche. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Despite mounting pressure for a coronavirus vaccine, pharmaceutical companies - including representatives from Swiss giant Roche - have pledged not to cut corners.

Pharmaceutical company executives insisted Thursday they would not try to bring Covid-19 vaccines or treatments to market that did not meet rigorous safety and efficiency standards.

Across the world, governments are hoping to announce a vaccine as soon as possible and roll out treatments for the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 860,000 people and infected over 26 million.

But the sense of urgency has raised fears that companies and regulators might rush though testing meant to ensure that vaccines or treatments can be used safely and will actually be effective against the disease.

READ: Switzerland's Roche launches 15-minute coronavirus test 

Severin Schwan, head of Roche, said the industry had demonstrated its commitment to transparency in the data, and was dedicated to keeping testing standards high despite pressure for results.

He pointed to his company's disappointing findings that its arthritis drug tocilizumab — sold under the brand name Actemra — was not by itself an effective treatment for Covid-19, as anecdotal evidence had suggested.

“There is no way that we can lower the standards in conducting our trials,” he said, adding that the Actemra trials “demonstrate the very point.”

Roche is still testing whether Actemra could be effective when combined with other drugs, including Gilead's remdesivir.

'Very thorough process'

Daniel O'Day, head of Gilead, insisted that the process of obtaining an emergency use authorisation is no easy feat, pointing to his company's experience obtaining one for its antiviral drug remdesivir, which has been shown to be effective in treating Covid-19.

“It is a very thorough process,” he noted.

“We will not cut corners,” Pfizer chief Albert Bourla told reporters in a virtual briefing. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech hope to wrap up final-stage Phase III trials of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate as early as next month.

Several other top pharmaceutical executives in the briefing, hosted by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), also committed to upholding stringent standards for safety and efficiency before requesting authorisation for new coronavirus vaccines or treatments.

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