Vow: Ben Osborn, Pfizer’s British boss
Ben Osborn is surprisingly chipper to a man who wears a nation’s hope on his slim body. The British boss of the pharmaceutical colossus Pfizer is doing his best to deliver the country the most unlikely Christmas present: a vaccine against the corona virus.
A jab developed by Pfizer, with Germany’s BioNTech, is undergoing clinical trials and final-phase data is expected shortly.
The public’s mood was tempered last week by Andrew Pollard – the head of the Oxford vaccine project driven by rival AstraZeneca – who said the first shots would not be available until the new year, with front-line workers being prioritized. But Osborn gives more cause for optimism. “We already have several hundred thousand doses in Belgium,” he reveals.
‘I saw a photo of it recently. It was great to see the first bottle coming off the production line and it brought a huge smile to my face to see that all this work from the last six or seven months is actually resulting in a product. He is quick to point out that no one gets a vaccine until Pfizer and the authorities are absolutely sure that they are safe. “However, I confirm that the clinical trials have yet to be completed, the regulatory process has yet to go through, but we will have a physical product available there if we are successful,” he says.
Participants from the age of 12 are among the 44,000 participating in the late-stage human trials.
So when can the general public get a Covid shot? Osborn laughs: ‘It’s the question I’m asked every day by friends and family, it’s the question the government asks most days, we can only move as fast as science allows us to. We are already manufacturing the vaccine at risk and on a large scale. ‘
Osborn insists no corners are being taken to speed up the injection, but if it gets the go-ahead, the company has vowed to make 100 million doses available this year and 1.3 billion next year. Of the former, 40 million doses are likely to go to the UK, with 20 million patients taking two doses each.
He speaks from his home in Surrey via video call, as outsiders are not allowed in Pfizer’s nearby labs due to strict Covid restrictions. The company, which has 2,500 UK employees, has put nearly $ 2 billion into its coronavirus program to date, an investment that may need to be written off if the vaccine turns out to be a dud.
Regarding cure, 43-year-old Osborn says that at the start of the pandemic, Pfizer scientists in Sandwich, Kent, scoured their libraries in search of drugs that were not yet fully developed that could combat Covid. Now, early human clinical trials have begun for a specialized treatment that would be administered by intravenous infusion, such as an IV.
Once it has been proven to work, it is Osborn’s job to scale up production. He says, “It’s hugely exciting, the hope here is that we will essentially come up with a drug that will interfere with the virus and ultimately prevent a patient’s condition from getting worse.”
A rainbow photo on the wall is a reminder that Osborn’s own worldview is formed by the fact that his eldest son spent his life in the hands of the health service.
Supply: 100 million doses will be made available and vaccine bottles are already rolling off the production line in Belgium
George, 13, has a rare form of epilepsy that caused him to suffer up to 40 seizures a day by the age of three. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in the back of a blue-lit ambulance to St George’s and several other hospitals in South West London and the number of days he’s spent in NHS care. Osborn says.
Luckily, thanks to a very innovative brain surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital five years ago and the life-saving drugs he takes every day, he’s still with us and he’s thriving. He’s got a lot of challenges, he’s the mental age of a three-year-old, he needs a lot of care from the NHS and others, but I see firsthand how the NHS and biopharma industry live and our lives. ‘
Osborn’s two-decade career at Pfizer began as a drug salesman before climbing the rankings to his current position, which he held for 18 months.
Pfizer’s own image in this country took a hit in 2014, when the Viagramaker made its way onto the corporate stage with a hostile takeover of British rival AstraZeneca. The £ 55 per share offer raised the alarm in Westminster and proved too cheap for shareholders. Astra has spent much of the past six years proving it was okay to go it alone. His shares, aided by a Covid kick, are now around £ 80.
“It was a different moment in time, we looked more at large-scale mergers and acquisitions,” Osborn recalls, adding that Pfizer’s focus is now on developing its own treatments in the lab and bringing them to market.
The company, headquartered in New York, seems on a pretty good track. Profits took a hit as people worked from home and received fewer prescriptions and vaccines, but the Covid shot is touted at about $ 20 per dose in the US. Osborn believes that the future of the business and the economy depends on people getting more vaccines for more conditions. ‘We must first of all recognize the value of vaccination for public health. We must demonstrate the value of a healthy population for our economy with the NHS.
Vaccination can help from delivery to old age, but it’s a sad reality that many who need to be vaccinated just don’t sign up with the NHS to get their shot. There are many different vaccination programs, and while we are a leader in many areas, in some cases we are starting to see hesitation about the value of vaccinations and we need to do something about that. ‘
Osborn refers to the boisterous ‘anti-vax’ movement – people who refuse to have themselves or their children vaccinated amid distrust of the health industry and fear for their safety. “I am not judging anyone who wants to understand the safety and efficacy of our vaccines,” said Osborn. “I am pointing to history that shows the number of diseases that we have essentially been able to eradicate through vaccination.” In August, the World Health Organization declared Africa free of wild polio virus.
The sharp result of the hunt for a Covid vaccine could crack – or fuel the argument – the growing anti-vax campaign.
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