My colleague Chris Hall has written extensively on the need for collaboration in healthcare over the past couple of years. Since I began working at Aurora towards the end of 2019, I have been struck by the commitment throughout the company to make true collaboration a reality. I have been working closely with Chris, putting my experience in corporate strategy and communications alongside his industry expertise, to understand how we can improve collaboration and reimagine the pharmaceutical industry’s role in society.
It’s no secret businesses in every sector have long been driven by the need to deliver shareholder returns. In 1970, Milton Friedman wrote ‘the social responsibility of business is to increase profits’. When the delivery of shareholder value is your primary performance metric, why wouldn’t a CEO prioritise decisions that align with the needs of investors, rather than those of their employees, or the local and global communities in which they operate?
Yet when a global pandemic threatens the world’s health, economies and way of life, it’s clear not just how interconnected and reliant on one another we are, but how fragile societies and financial systems are when faced with an existential threat like COVID-19. Friedman’s concept of shareholder primacy, which was beginning to feel outdated before the virus spread across the world, makes even less sense in the current context.
A paradigm shift: putting people and planet on a par with profit
We believe we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift in how businesses operate that will see an increasing number begin to put people and planet on a par with profit.
Back in January, before COVID-19 really focused the world’s attention, the World Economic Forum (WEF) updated its Davos manifesto – a set of principles that underpin the annual gathering – for the first time in 40 years. It now clearly states that “the purpose of a company is to engage all stakeholders in shared and sustained value creation”. This expanded on the commitment, in August last year, that 181 global CEOs made to lead companies to the benefit of all stakeholders, not just shareholders. At Davos, the WEF also identified the need to tackle health collectively: mental health, non-communicable diseases, lifestyle-related obesity and air pollution all undermine the quality and length of life for millions of people globally.
But COVID-19 is forcing us all to focus attention, resources and effort in ways that were unimaginable even a few weeks ago. Given the importance of developing, testing and deploying an effective vaccine for the global population, the importance of pharmaceutical science, manufacturing, distribution and access has never been so clear to so many.
Collective, collaborative action will make the difference.
We believe the pharmaceutical industry should be at the vanguard of the coming change. We’ve been thinking about the importance of collaboration in tackling some of society’s biggest health challenges for some time. The impact of COVID-19 and the change it is already forcing at every level of society and in every organisation in the world only strengthens our belief that the challenges outlined above can only be addressed through collective, collaborative actions.
Over the last few months we’ve been speaking to like-minded individuals and organisations about the questions that will need to be answered in the coming weeks, months and years. We’re trying to build a broad and informed perspective on both the opportunities this ‘new normal’ is presenting us with, as well as the obstacles that we’ll need to overcome. The impact of COVID-19 has, arguably, strengthened our conviction that societally-led decision making and collaborative thinking and actions will come to the fore.
The stark truth is that health systems across the world will need rebuilding over the coming months and years. The global health challenges we faced before will still be there, but potentially greater in scale and number. The reality of this means closer working, collaboration and shared visions will be the most effective way to get health systems back up and running efficiently.
Why pharma is best-placed to respond
At Aurora, we believe the pharmaceutical industry is best placed to use its resources to collaborate with all stakeholders to help health systems recover from the impact of COVID-19. Many working in the industry will feel they are already working in purpose-led organisations and, given medicines help save, prolong and improve lives, to a large extent that’s true. But what we’re really talking about here is influence and impact beyond the drug development and commercialisation pipeline. In the long-term, industry is also well placed to optimise health systems by reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases and alleviate pressure on the health system. This will allow resources to be focused on tackling emerging challenges and finding pharmaceutical solutions to meet them, as well as the staff and infrastructure to administer them.
The current crisis reminds us how health underpins everything: without a healthy population, there are no thriving societies or growing economies. And it is also driving new approaches in the delivery of care as well as focusing global attention on industry’s role in developing an effective, safe vaccine.
We’re seeing collaborative innovation happening in real-time. In particular, companies including Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer, and Sanofi have committed to working collaboratively with the Gates Foundation to accelerate the development, manufacture and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for coronavirus. Additionally, online retailers are using their logistical reach to distribute testing kits (Amazon) and engineering firms are pivoting to manufacture ventilators for respiratory care (Dyson). App-based symptoms checkers are filling the data gap by tracking the spread and impact of coronavirus (COVID Symptom Tracker), and local community groups (COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK) have formed throughout the UK almost overnight.
A window of opportunity
The period we’re living through provides a window of opportunity for lasting, innovative change to really take hold: a period in which people, organisations and systems are willing to think differently. At a corporate level, the pharmaceutical industry can and should be at the forefront of this opportunity. Longer-term, working together to improve the health of the nation can lead to the coveted triple-win. For patients, the NHS and industry.
We have plans on how to implement this, and how we can make a significant difference. If you’d like to contribute, we’d love to hear from you.