Navigating through the Uncertainty of a Global Pandemic | Paul Hudson

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Navigating through the Uncertainty of a Global Pandemic | Paul Hudson

Author(s)
Paul Hudson
Paul Hudson
(CEO, Sanofi)

In a crisis that is truly unprecedented, every day is a new step into the unknown for all of us. Such is the moment we are all living in with the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time of such uncertainty, I cannot pretend that I have all of the answers—no leader can. What I have done is strive to ask the right questions to our teams, encourage them to speak their minds, help us make decisions with the best available information—and to learn the lessons that will allow us to both better prepare for the next pandemic and innovate how we run our business.

To address the crisis in the near term, we have focused our energy and resources, including our time, on the areas where we can have the greatest positive impact: developing therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19 while maintaining our commitment to produce medicines for the millions of patients around the world who rely on us for treatment of other diseases. This is our primary purpose and mission, but it must also be reconciled with the imperative of protecting the health of our employees and their families in the face of a dangerous novel virus spreading rapidly around the world. 

Since the onset of this crisis, I have been impressed by the resilience and creativity of teams that have swiftly reinvented their ways of working in a manufacturing site or distribution center to comply with new safety measures and regulations.

While much of our immediate attention is focused on COVID-19, we must also protect our long-term commitment to science so that future life-changing medicines in other therapeutic areas are not delayed.

There is a similar resilience and determination in our scientific response. The exponential spread of the virus has directly challenged the traditional long-term innovation cycle of the biopharmaceutical industry. Faced with a fast-moving pandemic, the industry has mobilized in an unprecedented way. 

Strong collaboration with governments, health authorities, and other companies has been critical to the speed of response. At Sanofi, we are collaborating with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, within the US Department of Health and Human Services, to unlock a fast path toward developing a vaccine. We are leveraging our previous work on SARS to shorten the possible development timeline, but we are also exploring another innovative approach with Translate Bio, a biotech company. We believe that researching multiple approaches increases our likelihood of success in developing a safe and effective vaccine.  

We are also supporting clinical programs to assess whether existing medications can be used for patients with COVID-19. Health-care systems will need both preventive and treatment options to win the battle against the virus in the long term.

While much of our immediate attention is focused on COVID-19, we must also protect our long-term commitment to science so that future life-changing medicines in other therapeutic areas are not delayed. With solutions like targeted direct-to-patient drug supply and telemedicine to monitor patients remotely, our R&D teams are putting patients and their needs first. Our ability to respond quickly in the current environment is not an accident but a reflection of our long-term commitment to science. 

I have never lived through something as disruptive and brutal as the COVID-19 pandemic, nor would I have believed that a virus could put more than half of the world’s population in effective lockdown. The pandemic has brought the critical link between human health and economic growth to the front and center. 

On a more positive note, we have also rediscovered the importance of scientific expertise in our modern societies. And in the midst of this crisis, I have seen hierarchy and reporting lines disappear as our people have united around a shared purpose, even as the organization has gone remote (with a radical leap of faith that everyone will get their work done).  

It is too soon to assess the long-term implications that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on how we operate as companies, on the functioning of our health-care systems or societies overall. In the end, we must ensure that we don’t forget the lessons we have learned in this crisis and how they will inform our future behaviors as a global society.

Published May 6, 2020