What to take forward from 2020 – why I am so positive about the future
This article originally appeared on Linkedin on December 17 2020.
2020 has been an unprecedented accelerator of innovation for the life sciences industry - the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we can do new things in different ways and at a pace not previously thought possible. This has transformed many aspects of R&D, as well as care delivery across the healthcare sector.
This has given me pause for thought about how we at Janssen approach the challenging field of neuroscience. Patients with neurological conditions present with very complex clinical needs, which means designing clinical trials that are both ethical and beneficial is a big responsibility. I am proud that for the past 60 years we have continued to bring innovations that tackle great unmet patient needs in for example, the treatment of schizophrenia and depression, without any sort of ‘only if it's easy to do’ caveat. Bringing to market innovative, new treatments that address those unmet needs is really important and a definite career highlight for me.
As we come to the end of this tumultuous year, I find myself reflecting on what I have learned from the pandemic and which aspects of our response we should take forward in the long-term for the benefit of patients and society:
Industry including academia, government and pharmaceutical companies responded to the pandemic with unparalleled agility, seeking multiple vaccines and therapeutic options in record time. At Janssen, our vigour and resilience across the company makes us able to pivot when and where a real need arises, including the development of our own investigational COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic options. I am proud of what the global life sciences community has achieved and how Janssen has played an important part in those collective efforts. Everybody working here knows how critical this is and is one hundred percent behind this effort. That same ambition and sense of team spirit will lead to the overall success in addressing one of the greatest health needs in our lifetime.
At Janssen Neuroscience, we are building our understanding of the immunological basis of diseases and how that knowledge can also be applied to our neurological innovation and pipeline. Our agility – stemming from the fact that we are open to innovation, whether it is home grown or not – is what will ultimately help us to achieve our aspiration and create a future where disease is a thing of the past. A great example of this is in Multiple Sclerosis, where balancing symptoms, efficacy, tolerability and convenience remains a real challenge for patients.
COVID-19 has also made the value of collaboration among the pharmaceutical industry and public bodies more tangible than ever before, as companies join forces to deliver therapeutic options to combat the disease in record speed. At Janssen, we pair our internal R&D capabilities with a strong partnering collaboration and licencing acquisition approach to further expand and explore exciting science to meet patient needs across therapy areas.
On a more granular level, I feel humbled by the dedication and passion that everybody brings to their work and enjoy collaborating with colleagues from diverse backgrounds. I have found that no matter what role a person has at Janssen, we have a shared common goal and vision – a dogged determination that we will make this work for patients.
For me, one of the greatest lessons from the pandemic and one that is often overlooked, is the need to be more patient and empathetic in society. I hope that as vaccines are rolled out and we move on to a more normal way of life, that we continue the spirit of being ‘in this together’ that got us through those early uncertain times, and that we all are more cognisant of the ‘invisible’ struggles that people face.
In neurological and mental health conditions, there is still a level of invisibility, misunderstanding and stigma, which means the empathy and support that many other diseases automatically trigger from the world at large are often not extended to people with these conditions - not to mention the severe lack of investment in managing them. By addressing these disparities and changing perceptions, we will strive towards equity in care for people with these devastating conditions.
Looking to the future
One of the biggest challenges we face in neuroscience is in understanding the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease so that we can deliver effective treatments. Current partnerships that are helping us to develop treatments that may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and help restore proper function in treating dementia, are just two examples of the value of partnerships and collaborations. With the learnings from COVID-19 in mind, there is the potential for many more partnerships and collaborations that Janssen can maximise to tackle this global health burden and transform the treatment and care of people with neurodegenerative conditions.
We are at a crossroads where we can look back at what the past year has taught us and decide what and how these lessons should influence us going forward. Though it has been a poignant and testing time, and there are many challenges yet to face before we can return to a form of normal life, I feel positive that we will emerge from this crisis stronger, with humility and empathy for everyone and with a greater sense of purpose and pride in the work that we do.