Running experiments in a Roche laboratory

A global health crisis inspires unique partnerships

Published 20 April 2020

In the race to detect the deadly novel coronavirus and treat and cure COVID-19, there’s no time for inefficiency or delay. In an unprecedented show of solidarity and urgency, a multinational group of top scientists from government, the biopharmaceutical industry and academia have banded together to battle a global disease that knows no borders.

“I think it’s humanity in its purest form,” says John Young, Global Head Infectious Diseases and Vice President at Roche Pharma Research and Early Development. “Everyone is driven by this humanitarian need to find a cure as quickly as possible, irrespective of where it comes from. We want the best drug, the best vaccines, to be available as quickly as possible.”

Test vials in the laboratory

The collaboration, led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Foundation for the NIH, is a public-private partnership (PPP) of pandemic proportions – with global health and regulatory agencies, more than a dozen leading biotech companies and renowned academic researchers. It’s called Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines, or ACTIV.

The goal is simple: Prioritise the best vaccine and drug candidates, streamline clinical trials and regulatory processes, and share knowledge and tools among all partners to respond to COVID-19 – and future pandemics – as quickly as possible.

“The thing that really strikes me about this is the speed and the urgency and the willingness of folks in industry, academia, government and even in private foundations to work together to make a difference and try to break down some of the traditional boundaries and silos that normally exist in the way we conduct our business,” says John, who is co-chair of the partnership’s preclinical committee. “So it’s really being put together with a spirit of openness, transparency, collaboration and driven by the desire of everyone to address this global health crisis.”

Hear from John Young about NIH's Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) partnership

New times, new measures

William Pao, Head of Roche Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED), is on the “COVID-19 PPP Leadership Group.” He says that while a similar public-private consortium was formed some 30 years ago to combat the HIV/AIDS crisis, the ACTIV partnership is an extraordinary response to an unprecedented modern problem.

It brings together experts, including industry R&D heads, the director of NIH, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency in one virtual room to share, align and create a coordinated global response.

“COVID-19 has changed the way we do many things, in lots of positive ways,” William says. “If you just look at the pace of scientific research that’s coming out, it’s incredible. It’s really given a huge sense of purpose and mission on why we actually do science.”

William Pao, Head of Roche Pharma Research and Early Development
William Pao, Head of Roche Pharma Research and Early Development

The time, energy and brain power going toward solving the COVID-19 crisis is enormous. “But it won’t be an overnight cure,” William warns. “There is a lot of hard work ahead. And that’s why it’s important for experts to collaborate and prioritise efforts into a unified way.”

John agrees, and says the issue has been a wake-up call about the need for coordinated pandemic planning and preparedness across all areas, both public and private.

“There will be lessons learned when this is all said and done,” John says. “I think it will change us as an industry. I think it will change how we interact with governments as we prepare for situations like this going forward. And I think more broadly it’s going to impact society. We have to really mitigate this risk in the future as much as possible.”

Tags: Innovation, Society, Partnerships, Infectious disease, We are Roche