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The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked innovation across many industries and especially in the world of biotech and pharma. Players have been racing around the clock since early this year to identify a vaccine as fast as possible. And while there have been incredible feats of science over the past few months, ultimately the race for this vaccine is a necessary wakeup call around the need for transparency in clinical trials.
Pharma is by far one of the most innovative industries in the world—responsible for groundbreaking vaccines, treatments, and pushing science forward. But one area industry leaders should start turning their focus towards is the importance of communication and trust-building with consumers. It’s no secret that the industry has some ground to make up in this space, but the COVID-19 vaccine process is a chance to right these wrongs. Many consumers have outrightly said they are not comfortable taking a COVID-19 vaccine upon FDA approval, and this can largely be attributed to a lack of transparency from developers.
While the scientific advancements have been outstanding, the pharma industry should acknowledge that consumers need more information to feel comfortable with receiving any kind of vaccine or treatment—and make corresponding changes immediately.
The current state of the COVID-19 vaccine
The COVID-19 vaccine development process has progressed rapidly and Informa Pharma Intelligence’s Citeline product has been tracking every step. Citeline is the industry’s most comprehensive, reliable, and current global R&D intelligence suite of solutions that provides critical insights into the global clinical trial landscape.
Currently, Citeline notes 41 preventative vaccines in clinical development, including the two vaccine candidates with recently released promising results from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech. Both of these vaccines are utilizing genetic material to provoke an immune response, also known as messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology. Alternatively, there are several adenovirus vaccines in late stage clinical trials including AstraZeneca/University of Oxford, Johnson & Johnson, and CanSino Biologics, as well as an inactivated vaccine from Sinovac.
Citeline notes that there are 85 ongoing industry-sponsored trials evaluating a vaccine to prevent the novel coronavirus, 22 of which are Phase III. Even further, there are 112 industry-sponsored vaccine trials planned, 15 of which are Phase III—all of which is on top of the ongoing activity.
While it’s clear the COVID-19 vaccine science is at its peak of innovation, the industry must also focus on the other frontier of building consumer trust.
Quelling concerns across the country
While the progress made within these vaccine trials has been outstanding—many consumers remain skeptical. According to Informa Pharma Intelligence’s recent Pulse Report, more than one in three Americans don’t trust how quickly the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials are moving and more than one in five don’t think pharmaceutical companies have consumer’s best interests at mind during COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.
This distrust is concerning, and it’s not because Americans aren’t paying attention to the latest updates, as the same survey found that more than a fifth of the country is regularly looking for updates on the clinical trials. Rather, Americans don’t feel that there is enough honest communication around the process and the speed in which it’s moving forward. In fact, one in five Americans agreed that vaccine developers aren’t communicating enough about clinical trials.
As we get closer to a vaccine realistically being ready for distribution, developers must quell concerns to get Americans on board. And they should look to do this with open and honest communication. Within the same survey, Informa Pharma Intelligence uncovered that more than one in four Americans agreed they’re more likely to take the COVID-19 vaccine if they had more information on clinical trials, and even further more than one in 10 say the ability to directly ask questions about clinical trials to vaccine developers would encourage them to take the vaccine.
All the incredible research and development that has been accomplished throughout the pandemic should not be for nothing. Developers must look to immediately prioritize how they can best relay information to consumers to get them on board with vaccines as soon as possible.
Moving forward with the end user in mind
Much of this concern around lack of communication and transparency can be traced back to pharma companies’ reactive approach to communication. As we head into the New Year and reflect on lessons learned from 2020, pharma must focus on proactivity: reaching the patient before they interact with any approved COVID-19 vaccines. The modern patient will be more informed than ever on these vaccines, and as such are likely to bring a full list of questions, research, and formed opinions with them to any appointment. Knowing this, pharma must look to make information on clinical trials, as well as treatments and vaccines alike, extremely accessible.
Pharma leaders have a variety of avenues to explore in order to build confidence with consumers. One of which can be simplifying communication channels through avenues such as WhatsApp, chatbots, or even video chats. Additionally, educational programs can be extremely effective in building trust and expanding awareness within the public. Clinical trials and pharma processes can be convoluted for many, so the more pharma companies can do to outwardly explain and educate the public, the more success they’ll find.
By expanding communication channels and education initiatives, pharma companies will continue to create a more transparent environment. Especially after the temporary suspension of AstraZeneca and J&J’s COVID-19 trials earlier this year, the need for consumer trust building was more obvious than ever before. It’s well-known across the pharma industry that pauses can be common for clinical trials, but this was a major red flag for consumers who were unaware of this regularity—and once consumer trust in a vaccine begins to fade, it’s incredibly difficult to gain that back. Programs to increase transparency around the clinical trial process were brought to light with the COVID-19 vaccine, but this demand must stick around moving forward.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted industry after industry, and while the pharma industry has largely been at the forefront of innovation during this time, leaders must look ahead to figure out how to come out better and stronger than before. Consumers have spoken, and they very clearly are demanding communication and honesty. And for an industry that has struggled in the past with building strong relationships and trust with the general public, the incredible advancements secured during this pandemic are the perfect chance to make these changes and come back stronger than ever before.
Informa Pharma Intelligence’s Citeline product suite has all the tools necessary to help inform clinical trial programs. To learn more or request a demo, visit here.