We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine how we value health
The Covid-19 pandemic has been the most significant health event most of us can remember – with its impact felt in every corner of society. It has tested the way we think about protecting and enhancing health, and highlighted the fragility of the systems connecting people, countries and economies. Yet it has also triggered some of the greatest forward strides in how we view and value health that I can remember.
The past three years have exposed three fundamental truths. The first is that economic stability depends on public health.
While that inextricable link might have been evident already to some working in health care, seeing it acknowledged widely by politicians and the public was a new thing. For a brief time there was a broad consensus that the health of the community was the single greatest driver for productivity and social stability, and that it warranted every effort to protect it. This came through in force with numerous policy changes.
It’s a lesson we must remember, especially as the world’s population grows older and disease continues to place a disproportionate burden on the poorest in society. More of us have now learned just how dependent our economic well-being is on our health. As we move on from pandemic conditions, back to the chronic challenges of ill health, we need to remember that relationship and get better at safeguarding health for all.
The second thing we learned is that innovation is our path to health solutions.
Innovation in all areas has had a huge impact on our ability to ‘live’ with Covid-19. But it has been the innovations in medicine that have allowed us to resume a degree of normality – both the vaccines that have mitigated the risk of the virus and the therapies that are lessening the consequences of infection for those most vulnerable.
But the research that paved the way for those treatments didn’t happen overnight. The development of mRNA vaccines in particular began in the 1970s, and took immense investment – both financial and scientific – to enable them to be ready for the once-in-a-century emergence of a highly contagious and deadly virus.
So it’s vital that innovation is valued beyond the moment of crisis, because as Covid-19 has shown, we cannot leave it until the potential threat becomes a reality.
This is where our industry has a crucial role to play. The greatest contribution that companies like Roche make to global health is our ongoing investment in research and development, and that’s where the majority of our focus should be. As a company, our mission is to do now what patients need next – that’s why we’re investing in rare disease and antimicrobial resistance, advancing the science in neurological conditions and fighting to make cancer curable.
It’s also true that the world needs more from pharma. Because the third and most important reminder that Covid-19 brought is that medical innovation is only meaningful when it reaches the people who need it.
Reaching all people
So this raises the question: how do we ensure scientific advances make their way to patients in a sustainable way for healthcare systems and economies worldwide?
The pandemic has reinforced the fact that the world needs innovation scaled up and served faster than ever before and we have a shared responsibility to make healthcare systems more resilient and sustainable in doing so.
It is my belief that ‘big pharma’ should be bringing more innovation at less cost to society, in partnership with governments, regulators and policymakers that commit to greater, sustainable access to that innovation.
Coming back to how we view and value health, and the economic imperative to sustain good health – we must consider more than specific clinical interventions and outcomes. We have the potential to reduce the overall cost of illness.
In partnership with healthcare providers and policymakers all around the world, life-science companies have a unique opportunity to deliver better medicines, diagnostics and devices that bring long-term efficiencies and cost savings to healthcare systems. We know treating cancer early prevents the later need for treatment and ongoing healthcare cost, yet early detection hasn’t received the public or private investment it warrants. Reducing progression of a neurological disease, for example, increases time in employment and brings positive economic effects. Ongoing investments in scientific discovery here are vital to sustaining healthy societies for the long term.
Joining up the resources of industry with the improved approaches to healthcare delivery is a powerful way to build resilient healthcare systems that can stand up to future threats, and the toll that poor health takes on people and economies.
As we gain experience in cross-sector partnerships, and as platforms such as the World Health Summit bring the public and private sector closer together, we are building greater resilience in our healthcare systems. Innovation and equity haven’t always worked hand in hand when it comes to healthcare. Together we can make it so. I’m optimistic about what comes next.