Making a difference: Pharma supporting the COVID-19 effort

Working in the pharma industry has many benefits and supporting the COVID-19 effort is just one. See how these individuals and companies made a difference during the pandemic.

On the frontline – medical affairs to ICU doctor
George Godfrey, AstraZeneca UK

During the coronavirus pandemic, AstraZeneca offered medical colleagues the option to take a month’s leave to volunteer with the NHS. George Godfrey, Head of Cardiology, Medical Affairs at AstraZeneca UK decided to go back to the NHS as an intensive care unit (ICU) doctor with his local London hospital. “I had been out of clinical medicine for a couple of years but felt a calling to return to help my local area cope with the additional burden presented by this pandemic. I was worried there may not be enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), whether I would be accepted by my new colleagues, and even if I would survive should I succumb to the virus.

“The environment I encountered wasn’t what I expected. COVID-19 generated huge amounts of demand in the ICU and acute wards, but the rest of the hospital had effectively shut down. After a short local induction, I was back on the frontline, along with doctors and nurses from all around the hospital who had been redeployed to the ICU. Each day in the ICU is filled with difficult, sometimes emotional decisions – often made even more acute when demand is as high as it is in the COVID-19 crisis. The commitment and compassion of frontline staff is overwhelming. What comes next, now restrictions are lifting? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain, there is no shortage of humanity on the wards and ICUs of the UK and I was proud to be able to stand alongside them in a time of need.”

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Vaccine development

AtraZeneca has worked closely with the UK Government and the NHS to support the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the provision of testing, sourcing medical supplies, volunteer efforts from staff and in the development of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

As the race to find a vaccine increased, AstraZeneca announced a collaboration with the University of Oxford for the global development, manufacturing, and distribution of the University’s potential recombinant adenovirus vaccine. Formerly ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 and now known as AZD1222, AstraZeneca has currently secured global supply capacity of more than two billion doses, following agreements with the UK, US, Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, as well as a licence with the Serum Institute of India for low-and-middle-income countries.

Supporting mental health
Paul Saunders, Johnson & Johnson UK

COVID-19 has put an enormous strain on people’s mental health. Over the last three months, almost half a million people turned to Mental Health UK and its partner charities for support. In response, Johnson & Johnson has made additional funding available to help stabilise and grow this critical resource. The Mental Health UK helplines support 10,000 people a year, providing information and advice on what local support is available, and how to access it.

The funding is an extension of a three-year partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Mental Health UK.

Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical arm, Janssen, has a strong heritage in mental health. Paul Saunders, Business Unit Director, Immunology and Neuroscience and CSR Lead, Janssen UK, explained: “Mental Health UK has seen an exponential increase in requests for help since COVID-19, and we hope our funding will help ensure people have continued access to the support they need. There has never been a more important time to look after our own mental health, and to offer our support to those who need it most.”

On the frontline – pharmacy
Jill Mullan, Bristol Myers Squibb

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) supported employees as they responded to the call for volunteers to return to the frontline and support healthcare colleagues. Jill Mullan, a BMS sales representative in the north coast of Ireland, with a background as a pharmacist, returned to practice helping her local community pharmacists.

Jill explained: “Very early into the pandemic, pharmacies were faced with staff sickness and shortages and had to reduce their opening hours to maintain safe services. I know the pharmacists in my small town very well and they quickly reached out to ask for my support to maintain a safe service for their patients. It was obviously a difficult decision because I didn’t want to put my family at risk, but after discussing it with them and making sure they were happy, and with the full backing of BMS, I now volunteer one day a week in one of two local pharmacies.

“Pharmacies are under severe pressure and I will continue to volunteer to help my community, ensuring the safe provision of pharmaceutical services. I believe I did the right thing and will continue to play my part in these strange times.”

Rachael Smith, Pharmacy Manager of Bradleys Pharmacy, Portstewart added: “Our pharmacy was struggling to keep up with the massive and unexpected surge in workload. With staff needing to isolate, the help Jill provided was invaluable. She helped us catch up on the backlog and was vital in preventing us becoming overwhelmed again. We are so grateful.”

PPE for social care

The social care sector has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic where care workers have been supporting older and vulnerable people without always having access to adequate PPE.

At the height of the pandemic, Dr Pramod Prabhakaran, an NHS Consultant, Hassan Chaudhury, International Trade Expert and ex-social worker, Omar Butt, Innovation Leader from Vita Healthcare Solutions and Angus Robertson, Managing Partner at Curzon Private Office set up Kit4Carers.

The initiative, working with the CareTech Charitable Foundation, has currently raised more than £30,000 and aims to raise £100,000 to provide free PPE to social care workers in the UK and developing nations.

Anyone wishing to donate to the fund can do so at

Supporting the vulnerable
Catherine Brant, Novo Nordisk UK

Catherine Brant is a Senior External Relations Manager at Novo Nordisk UK. Prior to this, Catherine worked as a Novo Nordisk Diabetes Education Nurse Facilitator (DENF), teaching and mentoring GPs and practice nurses to support their clinical work in diabetes. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, NHS England and Diabetes UK launched The NHS Diabetes Clinical Advice Helpline. All 18 of Novo Nordisk UK’s diabetes specialist nurses volunteered to support the Helpline.

Catherine shared: “From the start of my career I’ve focused on helping people with diabetes, whether that’s as a nurse working in the NHS for 18 years, as a DENF at Novo Nordisk or in my current role in the Public Affairs team, so I jumped at the opportunity to be able to support people living with diabetes directly, through volunteering on the Helpline. My team has been so supportive; they have really helped me balance my time between my ‘usual’ job and supporting the Helpline.

“As people with diabetes are classed as vulnerable to coronavirus, many are avoiding visiting their GP, nurse or specialist team. Most callers I’ve spoken to need information and reassurance about how to manage their diabetes. It’s very rewarding, and I was so proud when a caller said: ‘I’ve learnt more from you in this half hour than I ever have before’ which really shows the value of the Helpline.”

iPads to ICUs

Pharma packaging company, Origin, donated 22 iPads to two NHS ICU departments, Hull Royal Infirmary and Castle Hill Hospital. The donation allowed patients to use voice or video calling to keep in touch, with some able to say their final farewells. According to the Trust’s Critical Care Family Support and Liaison Team, the virtual visits had a positive outcome for, not only the patients and their relatives, but also ICU staff.

Rich Quelch, Global Head of Marketing at Origin commented: “Often patients spend weeks and weeks on an ICU ward and the suspension of visiting has had a huge effect on their mental wellbeing. It has also been an extremely distressing time for the families of patients who are unable to see and support them. By donating these tablet devices, Origin hopes the experience of staff, ICU patients and their families has been made a little easier at this very difficult time.”


Roche reacted quickly to COVID-19 with emergency response teams working to bring its cobas® SARS-CoV-2 Test to patients. It received FDA Emergency Use Authorization in mid-March and was also made available in markets accepting the CE mark for patients with signs and symptoms of COVID-19 disease and living in affected areas where the SARS-CoV-2 virus was known to be present.

In mid-April, Roche announced the development and upcoming launch of a COVID-19 antibody test, its Elecsys® Anti-SARS-CoV-2 serology test.

Government-Industry Partnership
IQVIA and Star

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) COVID Infection Survey has been delivered in partnership with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the University of Oxford, the UK Biocentre and IQVIA.

IQVIA was approached by DHSC to provide a UK-wide team of healthcare workers (HCWs) who could be mobilised to conduct blood and swab tests, initially across 1000 households. Within two days, the Government asked for 10,000 households to be tested within the first month. In just over a week, working with the ONS leadership, IQVIA set up and organised processes and logistics for household registration and was building and training the team of HCWs.

Within 10 days of the initial approach, a pan-industry COVID-19 tester team of 250 HCWs was built, trained and mobilised to commence household testing, deployed through a new and unique partnership with 11 outsourced HCW companies: Star, Apodi, Bionical, SquareHealth, Bluecrest, TNS, ONS, NatCen, Ipsos MORI, Kantar.

The field tester team has expanded to 863 people conducting household tests every day for eight weeks. The scale of delivery is:

  • 17,523 households registered with >37,000 participants in the study
  • >127,000 tests in >59,000 household visits in eight weeks.

Star Healthcare Worker, Lesley Jarvis commented: “I feel honoured to be part of the survey which is of such national importance in the fight against COVID-19, with the households I have visited being so grateful and friendly.”

Medicines prediction and supply

At the outset of the pandemic, Accord developed a forecasting model to predict which medicines would be in demand and when. This enabled it to ship active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) before export bans and step up production to match the surge in requirements across the EU. This model proved crucial to how Accord responded to key challenges:

  • Accord anticipated the medicines that would be most vital and ensured continuity of supply working with governments and regulatory bodies to ensure patients have access when needed whilst maintaining prices at pre-COVID-19 levels.
  • Accord could respond to a supply disruption alert from the DHSC outlining ‘limited supplies’ of all strengths of the neuromuscular blocking agents atracurium and cisatracurium, owing to a ‘recent increase in demand’. These first line medicines for COVID-19 patients are potent muscle relaxants used during surgery and in patients that are ventilated in critical care. Accord had predicted the surge in demand and taken steps to fill the gap.
  • Accord proactively identified anti-inflammatory, anti-malarial, hydroxychloroquine as a medicine that would be in short supply. The company shipped the API from Asia before the export bans hit. Within 22 days, Accord had successfully manufactured approved hydroxychloroquine (within its existing marketing authorisation) in the EU. As part of its commitment to supporting frontline health workers, Accord donated an initial supply of two million tablets to help support additional clinical research.

Support across the spectrum

UCB has launched a community health fund to support the most vulnerable in the community. Veronique Toully, Global Head of Sustainability at UCB explained: “Those who are vulnerable, whether physically, socioeconomically or psychologically have undoubtedly been those most impacted by the pandemic. At UCB, we have been exploring ways to help reduce the burden and support in building resilience for the future. As part of this, we are incredibly proud to have recently launched the UCB Community Health Fund. Managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, the Fund aims to address health disparities amongst vulnerable populations.”

As COVID-19 took hold, UCB also partnered with Diamond Light Source and the University of Oxford to design inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2’s main protease for treatment of COVID-19 patients; and are collaborating with the University on the development of a vaccine. In the US, UCB colleagues are actively working with the Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease to identify crystal structures of SARS-CoV-2 proteins. Dhaval Patel, Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at UCB added: “I am incredibly proud we are offering our support, and particularly of those individuals who put the needs of patients first during what is undoubtedly a challenging time.”

Alongside its research partnership programmes and long-term commitments to scientific advances in the fight against COVID-19, UCB’s major manufacturing sites have been adapted to support the production of hydro-alcoholic solution, used in hand sanitiser, and made significant donations to healthcare authorities in Belgium and Switzerland. Iris Loew-Friedrich, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at UCB said: “Knowing that we are making a direct impact and are part of the huge effort to stop the spread of the virus has been incredibly rewarding and testament to the agility of our business and the commitment and dedication of my colleagues.”

Bereavement support
Leanne Jones, Bristol Myers Squibb

Leanne Jones works for BMS in the Midlands and has a part time role as a bereavement counsellor, on placement with her university course. During COVID-19, Leanne has been volunteering more of her time to support those in need.

She explained: “The bereavement charity I work for, Cruse Bereavement Care, are expecting and preparing for an increase in demand for their services. During this crisis, people who are dealing with an already tragic loss in their lives are having to face the increased trauma of being cut off from some of their usual support network.”

“When Bristol Myers Squibb encouraged us to volunteer during the pandemic, I asked to increase my counselling time to during working hours, to offer Cruse some much needed support. I have also lost someone during this crisis and wanted to use my counselling skills where they are desperately needed.”

“Bereavement counselling and support can be such a light of hope in troubling times. I have a number of clients who I speak to on a weekly basis, not only those who are grieving for friends and family lost to COVID-19, but also those people who were grieving before lockdown and have lost their support network. It’s a privilege to be able to be there for them, during such a difficult time.”

This article was previously published in Pf Magazine.