The Gifts of the Pandemic: Looking for the Silver Lining? Yes, There is One.
(Thursday, December 17, 2020]
As the year of the worst pandemic in modern times comes to an end, it is time to reflect on five major changes in drug development and healthcare, that are here to stay for good. To be fair these are less of changes and more of appreciation of what existed before but was used less efficiently. First, virtual healthcare and digital medicine saw the biggest adaptation and related growth this year. Patients’ preference for doing virtual visits with their physicians, ordering prescriptions online, and using home-based care increased exponentially. This year established virtual care as a preferred option and by all estimates, it will stay this way. We should see more digital medicine products. Second, related to the first one, practically all clinical trials involving virtual elements such as remote visits, real-time remote monitoring, and protocols that made is less onerous to participate suffered less than average. Such studies constituted less than 10% of the trials overall in 2019 but almost 100% in 2020 since all other conventional trials had to be stopped. The pandemic offered a unique opportunity to test virtual trials like none other. While conventional trials will return once patients are available again, but the virtual trials will most likely increase their share anyway. Third, remote and virtual GMP audits were the only way practical last year. The FDA started doing these in March, the industry followed and even by FDA’s accounts, there were no major mishaps. In person audits will have to return because without strict enforcement and fear of auditors showing up and finding something wrong, the manufacturers will lapse. But several GMP audit activities, such as document review, can stay virtual reducing the time-on-site for the auditors. This should increase the efficiency and convenience for the audits. Fourth, virtual development was the only way we could meet and discuss last year. Work from home became accepted like never before as that was the only option left. Practically all meetings and conferences, including FDA-sponsor meetings and Advisory Committee meetings turned virtual. There is an immense value in human interactions and some of the in-person meetings need to return. But the virtual meetings will likely stay as a major way to interact. There is little reason to still do in-person meetings if Zoom meetings can suffice. This should save the time, cost and logistics of all interactions for future. Fifth, we have a new mechanism of making vaccines. Both the vaccines authorized for Covid use a mechanism never approved before and both offer promises to treat many other diseases. We may have a way to treat future infections and avoid future pandemics, thanks to the unprecedented science this year. These five are not the only good things we have seen in the drug development and healthcare; there certainly are a few others as well but these are the most obvious ones. The pandemic is far from over but there is light at the end of the tunnel. With millions to be vaccinated over the next 2-4 months with two almost identical vaccines that are 95% effective in protecting, possibly the worst is coming to an end. We had a bad year but what a way to close it, by winning over the virus. That’s your silver lining.