Pharmaceutical industry chief calls for transparency in virus vaccine deployment

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Tokyo (AFP)

Pharmaceutical companies must be “very transparent” about the risks and benefits of vaccines in their efforts to end the coronavirus pandemic, the head of Asia’s largest drug maker told AFP.

Takeda, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, is not developing its own vaccine but has contracts with several companies to distribute their vaccines in Japan and is also testing an antivirus treatment.

“We have to handle the situation well, be very transparent and extremely educational in the way we introduce the products,” CEO Christophe Weber told AFP in an interview.

“Drugs or vaccines are never perfect… there are always side effects,” said Weber, who joined Takeda in 2014 and took the leadership role a year later after nearly two decades at GlaxoSmithKline in Great Britain.

But he’s optimistic that the industry can properly explain the risks and benefits.

The French even sees a chance that vaccination could help push back the growing wave of uncertainty and outright opposition to vaccination around the world.

“It will be interesting to see. Reluctance towards vaccines is strong, especially in some countries, but many vaccines protect against diseases that people never see, ”he said.

“Here it’s different, everyone sees the impact of the coronavirus… so he could actually re-demonstrate the value of vaccines. ”

Takeda signed an agreement with the Japanese government and the US company Moderna Therapeutics in October to import and distribute 50 million doses of its vaccine in Japan from the first part of 2021.

The US Food and Drug Administration on Friday granted emergency clearance for the Moderna jab – the same clearance already granted to the Pfizer / BioNTech version.

Takeda has also signed an agreement with US biotech company Novavax to produce and deliver its vaccine to Japan, if ongoing clinical trials prove successful.

But the company – which became one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies after its 2019 purchase of Ireland’s Shire – has decided not to develop its own vaccine against the coronavirus.

“When we assessed the situation and the technology we have internally, we felt that we did not have the best technology to develop a vaccine,” Weber said.

– Treatment of covid19 –

Japan’s pharmaceutical industry has moved relatively slowly in the race to end the pandemic, and although companies such as AnGes, Shionogi and Daiichi Sankyo are currently developing vaccines, they are not expected to be available until 2022 at the earliest.

The country has, however, obtained doses from foreign players, including Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

“There is no vaccine leader in Japan,” Weber said, adding that Takeda hopes to expand in this direction, including with plans for a dengue vaccine.

He believes that Japan’s biotech industry is less developed than that of the United States because the country lacks the “dynamic spillover mechanism” to help scientific research groups become successful start-ups.

“In Japan, scientific research and academia are strong, but there’s a lot less spin-offs and venture capital,” he said.

“We need to redouble our efforts to generate this ecosystem in Japan,” he added, noting the open innovation research center that Takeda founded in 2018 and which is home to 70 companies, including young biotech companies. .

And while he has avoided coronavirus vaccines, Takeda has been working on plasma therapy to treat the new respiratory disease in collaboration with an international alliance of drugmakers.

Called CoVIg-19, the treatment uses concentrated and purified antibodies taken from patients who have fought the coronavirus.

Weber expects clinical trial results for the treatment to be released early next year and says the time to market “will all depend on the data.”

He’s not worried that the arrival of more vaccines will render treatment unnecessary, warning that “we shouldn’t drop the ball and assume the vaccines will solve everything.”

“Vaccines are not 100% effective,” he said, adding that the duration of their protection remains uncertain and some patients suffer from conditions that prevent them from getting vaccinated.

Vaccinating the whole world will also be a long process, Weber said.

“There is still a great need for effective treatments.”

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