Ben Osborn talks to PharmaTimes about what he hopes to achieve during his time as president of The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
What do you hope to achieve as president of the ABPI?
It’s a huge honour to be named president of the ABPI at such a pivotal time for the sector. We have a real opportunity to reflect and build on the successes of the past year and ensure the spirit of the mission-led approach we have seen in the fight against COVID-19 is reflected in everything we do in the health and care space going forward.
As for my priorities as ABPI president, I have three. The first is about building a more resilient NHS post-pandemic and doing this by supporting the health service and the government to build back better from COVID-19. The ultimate test for knowing if we’ve achieved that is making sure that no patient is left behind: that the health inequalities that the pandemic has exposed are improved.
Second, I want to help put life sciences at the heart of the UK’s future prosperity. We have heard a lot from the government about making the UK a science superpower. That is very much a shared ambition and I want to use the weight of the presidency to make sure industry is able to live up to its side of the bargain. But to have real impact, we need the government to match our determination and deliver policy which enables and empowers the sector to fully realise its role at the heart of the UK’s wealth and health economy.
And finally, I want to put tackling global health challenges in the spotlight and recommit industry to finding solutions for ongoing health emergencies. Front of mind is obviously being prepared for the next pandemic, and we have seen some really solid plans come out from the pharmaceutical industry and from national governments at this summer’s G7.
But I also want us to focus on the challenge of antimicrobial resistance and environmental sustainability and what we can do as companies to help find long-term solutions.
What do you see as the key current challenges for UK pharma?
The priorities I set out as I started my presidency really reflect what are see as the biggest challenges we face. I would broadly categorise them into two areas: immediate problems such as COVID-19 and our recovery from the pandemic, and then longer-term challenges that we need to address.
With COVID-19, we’re now a year and a half on from when it was first identified and, in that time, industry has helped bring treatments and vaccines to patients around the world. By the end of the year for example, we’re on track to deliver 11 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine. That is an incredible achievement from a standing start and demonstrates the power of science and innovation.
But obviously there are still challenges to be overcome as this pandemic continues: the biggest is about building back and helping the NHS recover from the strain it has been under. The pandemic has impacted patients directly with a significant knock-on effect, for example on diagnosis and treatment of other conditions.
That’s why I want to use my presidency to help build a more resilient NHS post-pandemic and offer industry support in any way we can to build partnerships that benefit patients.
And then there are the longer-term challenges that aren’t going to be resolved during my term, but that we need a concerted effort to make a dent in. Front of mind is antimicrobial resistance because it is something industry has been working at for a while and is still looking for a long-term solution on; namely a system for properly and effectively researching and reimbursing new antimicrobials. The past year has thrown into sharp relief how out of control a health crisis can get and why we need to do everything we can to prevent them from happening.
We can take some of what we’ve learnt from the COVID-19 response and apply to how we think about the impact of antimicrobial resistance. It is an issue on our radar, and a challenge I want to see meaningful progress on by the time my presidency ends.
What are the key opportunities?
If COVID-19 has presented significant challenges to us all over the past year, it has also shown us the very best of collaboration and scientific ingenuity. To think of the achievements that we’ve seen in treatment and vaccine development, in swift and efficient clinical trials processes and the overarching, mission- led approach in the face of a pandemic has been extraordinary. We have an opportunity to take the lessons from the pandemic and apply them more broadly across health and social care not just as part of the recovery but moving forward as we define what we want the UK’s health and science sectors to look like.
Putting life sciences at the heart of the UK’s future prosperity and helping to meet our shared ambition of making the UK a science superpower must be top of the agenda. It was great to see the government launch its Life Sciences Vision – a ten-year plan for the sector setting out what it is we want our role to be in the future health of the nation and the economy.
Do you think there should be a closer relationship between pharma and the NHS?
Put simply, the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and the NHS is critical to the development of new medicines and improving patient outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that when the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS works together, amazing things can happen that directly benefit patients’ health and the economic wealth of our nation.
That joint approach in the face of adversity meant the expertise and experience of the private sector being coupled with the capacity and knowledge of the health service to deliver for patients; with everything from adapting to provide care at home and keeping vital medicine supply chains open – especially for ICUs – to making sure clinical trials continued.
We are seeing some extraordinary collaborations between pharma and the NHS delivering what really matters for patients: better diagnosis, better care and better outcomes. We have MoU’s between industry and the NHS in Manchester and Birmingham that are seeing some incredible results. We want to build on these successes and make the most of our shared strengths to address immediate health challenges and build a more resilient health system for the future.
Could pharma be doing more to help tackle health inequalities in the UK?
The pandemic has shone a light on what we always knew: that there are inequalities at the heart of our health system. Industry can’t help to fix all of these problems as the underlying causes are multiple and complex, but we have an important role to play. We know, for example, that COVID-19 hit different sections of society differently. Black people are almost twice as likely to die than white people.
With data like that you cannot help but call out that there is a problem and commit to helping make a change. A healthy population is our greatest asset, and that can’t just apply to the communities who are already well served by the system.
I am really proud of the ABPI’s own Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. This includes a commitment to a policy programme targeted at addressing health inequalities in the UK. I want the success of my presidency to be measured against delivering on that strategy and on the broader inequality agenda.
Generally speaking, how well do you think UK pharma does on patient-centricity and advocacy?
Patients are at the heart of everything we do: that’s why we get up in the morning – it’s why I get up in the morning. Since I started my presidency, we have kicked off a renewed programme of work not just to signal our commitment to patient involvement in the work we do, but to deliver programmes that will make that happen.
This summer we launched our Patient Engagement Strategy with four key commitments to make patient engagement and collaboration a central focus of our work. Number one was to launch a Patient Advisory Council to integrate the views and experiences of patients into the thinking of the ABPI Board and senior leadership team.
There’s more to do, obviously, but we are set to finish up 2021 with a new Council made up of six excellent, passionate advocates for patients involved in the highest levels of ABPI thinking and strategy.
Where do you think the pandemic will have the greatest impact on industry?
The pandemic has shown us what we can do when there is a mission- led approach to health challenges and what happens when the health system – the NHS, regulators, charities, universities – come together around a common goal and work together with a single objective in mind. I think COVID-19 has shown us that is possible, and industry will want to bring that thinking into everything they do going forward.
What is your vision for the UK’s life sciences industry, both domestically and on a global stage?
I have three priorities for my presidency, and they really capture my vision for the future of the UK’s life sciences sector; what we are doing here at home and how we are viewed in global boardrooms around the world.
Number one is building a more resilient NHS post-pandemic by offering our support to the health service and the government to build back better from COVID-19 and make sure that no patient is left behind.
Number two is about putting life sciences at the heart of the UK’s future prosperity and making the most of the opportunities of this summer to meet our shared ambition of making the UK a science superpower.
Number three is using the successes of the first two priorities – a stronger NHS and thriving domestic life sciences sector – to tackle global health challenges and find solutions for ongoing health emergencies like antimicrobial resistance.
By building back a more resilient health system and investing in a strong research and development sector, we will be better prepared for future pandemics.
I’ve been working for Pfizer for coming up to 23 years now and I can tell you first-hand that with a coordinated industry and government approach we can continue to make global boardrooms sit up and pay attention to the opportunities that we offer.
Answers provided by Ben Osborn in his capacity as president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Ben is also UK country manager at Pfizer.