How Pharmaceutical Innovation Is Saving the World


A narrative has depicted a pandemic situation that is completely negative. There is another way to tell the story of the past nine months.

Nine months.

In March 2020, the United States was in the early stages of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The entire country was shut down, and the economy grinded to a halt, to slow the spread of the virus. Think back to March. Think back to how much uncertainty we were all living under.

In just nine months, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a pair of COVID-19 vaccines: BNT162b2, from Pfizer and BioNTech, and mRNA-1273, from Moderna.

By New Year’s Day, millions of Americans had received the vaccine, including frontline physicians and health care providers and nursing home patients, our most vulnerable citizens.

Nine months. Take a moment to let that sink in.

A narrative crafted around the COVID-19 pandemic has depicted a situation that is completely negative. In the interest of ratings and clicks, mainstream media has described the US response to the pandemic as nothing more than a series of blunders, from one mistake to the next.

There is another way—a more accurate and under-appreciated way—to tell the story of the past nine months. It is a story of heroism, innovation, and precise science, performed under unbelievable pressure.

Let’s not mince words: The US and the world must appreciate the role of the pharmaceutical industry—the investigators, physicians and business leaders—who are rescuing the world from COVID-19. It’s the medical breakthrough of our lifetime.

Instead of dwelling on the reasons why the media are ignoring this historic win, let’s review some facts.

  • Since the discovery of COVID-19, scientists have identified a novel virus; unlocked and sequenced its genetic code; created new therapies to save lives; and developed multiple safe and effective vaccines using messenger RNA technology, a technology hopefully applicable to future vaccine development. Margaret Liu, MD, a biomedical scientist and member of the MJH Life Sciences™ COVID Coalition, called it a breakthrough for mRNA vaccines.
  • In addition to the two groundbreaking vaccines, there are at least 60 more undergoing clinical trial at this moment, including 20 in phase 3 trials. In the US and throughout the world, the pharmaceutical industry has answered the call and invested heavily in this effort.
  • This was the fastest vaccine development program in history, and it’s not even close. David Pride, MD, PhD, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Diego, estimates that vaccines typically take 10 to 15 years to develop. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, the fastest development timeline was 4 years, for the mumps vaccine.
  • Many government systems moved quickly to lessen the burden of onerous regulations and provide funding so that vaccines could be developed quickly but with rigorous standards. Perhaps it should be a lesson to all of us that regulation and innovation can be calibrated more effectively during “normal” times as industry races to develop new therapies for other epidemics—cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and more.

The next step of the process—distribution of the vaccine—will be as challenging as the development phase, if not more so. But we are again witnessing the pharmaceutical industry rising to the occasion. Factories worldwide are working overdrive to produce hundreds of millions of vaccine doses.

Less than a month after the Pfizer vaccine was approved, more than 15.4 million doses of vaccine have been distributed throughout the country, and more than 4.6 million individuals have received their first dose, according to CDC data. Many patients are already receiving their second dose.

Although 15.4 million doses are impressive, some expected 20 million doses. But that is moving the goal line, as many observers didn’t think a vaccine would be available until 2021 as recently as 6 months ago.

Members of our COVID Coalition told us that the holidays slowed the rollout considerably. Nancy Messonnier, MD, a physician with the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, expects a rapid increase in administered vaccines during the first few days of 2021.

Every day, more people will be vaccinated. After health care workers and our most vulnerable citizens, other frontline workers will be next. Teachers will be vaccinated so our children can return to school. And soon, all Americans will be able to receive the vaccine at their doctor’s office or a pharmacy.

With the help, dedication, and expertise of pharmaceutical industry heroes, the unprecedented was accomplished in nine months. Next time you turn on the TV and see negativity, turn it off and imagine instead where we will be in nine months.

- Mike Hennessy Sr., Founder and Chairman, MJH Life Sciences

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