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COVID-19 Shows Pharma’s Willingness to Share Data, but Highlights Need for Supporting Infrastructure, Warns the Pistoia Alliance

COVID-19 Shows Pharma’s Willingness to Share Data, but Highlights Need for Supporting Infrastructure, Warns the Pistoia Alliance

Industry panel at annual conference discussed learnings from COVID-19, highlighting power of collaboration in an emergency and calling for continued co-operation post-pandemic

The Pistoia Alliance

BOSTON, MA — November 5th, 2020 — The Pistoia Alliance, a global, not-for-profit alliance that works to lower barriers to innovation in life science and healthcare R&D, held a virtual roundtable with leaders from global pharma organizations, including Gilead, Roche, and AbbVie, to discuss learnings to date from COVID-19. Attendees heard a call to action from the president of the Alliance, on the need for more companies to invest in and build on the work of the pharma and life sciences world so far. The participants also discussed the increased willingness to share data among companies but drew attention to the need for better collaboration infrastructure to make widespread data sharing a reality.

“During COVID-19, collaboration has been the lifeblood of R&D. From the outset, we’ve been dependent on working together—initially diagnostics in vivo and in vitro could only be done through government laboratories, and we also worked with the I-SPY network, the NIH and WHO to conduct trials. We couldn’t have got to where we are now if we didn’t all work together,” commented Dr. Merdad Parsey, chief medical officer at Gilead Sciences. “There is an opportunity for us all to get much better at data sharing and to develop this ethos, because we also need the expertise of those outside the industry to advance the causes we are working on right now and in the future.”

The R&D leaders taking part in the roundtable on enabling collaborative research—learnings from COVID were:

  • Dr. Steve Arlington, (chair) president, Pistoia Alliance
  • Thomas Hudson, SVP, R&D and chief scientific officer, AbbVie
  • Manuel Guzman, president, CAS
  • Palani Kumaresan, life cycle leader, Roche Diagnostics International
  • Dr. Merdad Parsey, chief medical officer, Gilead Sciences
  • Bryn Roberts, SVP, global head of operations for pharma research & early development, Roche

"We also need governments around the world to lead the charge; the importance of following the science remains paramount but a spirit of openness is required that allows us all to work together to understand the real reasons why we take a certain path and avoid the trap of politically motivated actions being blamed on science.”

There was broad agreement among the panel on the need for a centralized data platform or repository to be developed where companies can share pre-competitive data easily. Several of the panel members agreed that getting data ‘back’ from partners due to a lack of infrastructure had been a challenge. There was also consensus on the need to remove barriers to sharing information outside of the pharma ecosystem—for example to encourage data sharing between pharma companies and those in chemicals, technology, manufacturing, and supply chain, amongst others. This was further underlined by the discussion between the panel that all nations have faced huge challenges pulling together the various moving parts needed to get national testing programs up to speed. Finally, the participants also referenced the long-term impact that COVID-19 is set to have by discussing its influence on plans for the “next pandemic” currently being made.

“2020 has been a hugely challenging year for all of our members, but I’ve been blown away by the outstanding efforts to help humanity overcome the COVID-19 crisis. Between our members and beyond, the fruits of collaborative projects have underlined the very reason behind the founding of the Alliance,” commented Dr. Steve Arlington, president, Pistoia Alliance. “We now need to bring other industries into the fold and be willing to work with those outside of our immediate circle, as well as create a long-term infrastructure for sharing data. Though it’s an unprecedented time, we need to carry this momentum forward and ensure this collaborative instinct continues post-pandemic. We also need governments around the world to lead the charge; the importance of following the science remains paramount but a spirit of openness is required that allows us all to work together to understand the real reasons why we take a certain path and avoid the trap of politically motivated actions being blamed on science.”

Looking to the future, digital technologies will be key to further breakthroughs and particularly important to help overcome the limitations caused by social distancing. The Pistoia Alliance launched a collaborative project in Summer 2020 to explore technology for collecting data during clinical trials in pursuit of this goal. Other digital technologies that can be applied during COVID-19 must also be investigated. Data collection and symptom monitoring will be critical to efforts to treat COVID-19, particularly as we still don’t fully understand the virus. 

You can access the recording of the roundtable on demand here: https://www.pistoiaalliance.org/pistoia-webinars/rd-leaders-roundtable-learnings-covid/