German Pharma and the Corona Crisis

With the entire world looking for responses to the coronavirus pandemic, Germany’s pharmaceutical companies are attracting considerable attention. We asked Han Steutel, the president of the German Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, for an update on the progress in developing anti-corona medications.

April 2020

What is the start of play concerning coronavirus vaccines and medications to combat Sars-CoV-2?

There are around 60 companies and institutes working at top speed on vaccines. Several dozens of existing medications are being tested to see if they can help corona patients. And a series of new medications are being developed, mostly on the basis of antibodies. German companies and institutes are part of all three efforts.

To which extent can already approved, repurposed medications be allowed more quickly for treating the effects of coronavirus than a newly developed one?

The compatibility of approved medications with human health has already been confirmed, and mass production is already up and running, whereas these two aspects still need to be secured for newly developed medications.

How are pharmaceutical companies cooperating with biotech firms? How international are the efforts to develop vaccines? Are there prominent examples other than BioNTech/Pfizer?

Companies generally cooperate internationally. Big firms work together to develop new pharmaceutics. Biotech companies work with large concerns to test out their studies and mass-produce new medications. Many companies offer their expertise and resources for use by all other companies that can make better progress with some help.

Han Steutel © vfa

Can pharmaceutical companies profit from the therapeutic knowledge generated by the new university medical network on Covid-19 research?

University medicine, which is performed at a very high level in Germany, are another source of important ideas for Covid-19 treatments. Here, too, cooperative agreements are arranged to develop generally available products. University medicine is an essential partner for testing out medications for Covid-19 patients.

Are there pharmaceutical companies in Germany that don’t do research?

At present, there are 44 research based pharmaceutic companies in Germany. In addition there are firms with a palette of older medications and ones that exclusively produce generics.

Is it correct to talk about “German companies” in the age of globalization?

We should speak of pharmaceutical companies that do their work in Germany. They make Germany the pharmaceutical location that it is – one that plays a leading role internationally.

Do you believe the corona crisis will lead to a rethink within the pharmaceutical industry? For example, will companies locate more of their production in Germany?

Germany is one of the world’s strongest production locations where innovative, patented medications are concerned. Even amidst the stress test of the corona pandemic, Germany has remained capable of delivering and exports significantly more patented medications to China than it imports from that country. Our organization by no means stands in the way of a debate over whether more could be produced in Germany. But we go into the debate from a position of strength as far as the research-based pharmaceutical companies in Germany are concerned.

Why should foreign companies be interested in investing in this sector in Germany?

Germany enjoys a particularly good reputation for medical products, and that stands the country in good stead when demands are high, needs are complex and mistakes need to be avoided. In such situations, the advantages of Germany have their effect: a well-functioning infrastructure and an excellently trained workforce. These are all arguments for investing in the production of medical supplies in Germany.

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