MILANO. “We are ready to contribute to the Italian production of vaccines today and in the future”. Pasquale Frega, to Novartis Italia, explains the strategies of the multinational after the agreement with Pfizer and in view of today’s meeting with the government.
Is it possible to activate an Italian production?
«Yes, but it is a strategic choice. Not knowing if we will have to revaccinate ourselves in the next few years, there are two ways: hope that it is not necessary and, if so, remain dependent on the global system, which in the meantime could become more efficient as well as remain critical; or work to become independent ».
What could be done in the short term?
“The Italian production capacity could be increased. There are sites that could be made available to help build parts of vaccines with a positive impact on dose dynamics. A useful job also for the future. In a year then it could be put on a production line with bioreactors ».
What are you as a Novartis ready to do?
«We are ready to play a role both in the short and in the long term. In Switzerland we are already working on filling for Pfizer allowing the production of tens of millions of additional doses from July to December. We cannot stop producing the medicines that everyone needs, but we can create new lines. In three years we will invest 20 million in our Torre Annunziata site to make life-saving drugs and we could help out on vaccines. The emergency has shown that it is possible to shorten the time needed to try ».
Do you ask for funding?
“No, but to align our strategic vision with that of the government and to help us define procedures and obtain authorizations. Italy is a leading country in the production of drugs and we cannot back down if there is a need for more vaccines ».
What do you think of the European contract?
“The EU made a fair effort not to create a war between countries over vaccines, then perhaps it paid for the European complexity, but individual states would not have done better”.
Is there a parallel market for vaccines?
“If someone who thinks of finding them through brokers is very naive.”
You don’t have a good reputation as a pharmaceutical company …
«Transparency is maximum and we certainly do not risk selling vaccines under the counter. We also made a short film, Reimagine, to open ourselves to the public and stimulate reflection on investment in research ».
Public or private research?
«Novartis invoices the world 50 billion dollars, makes a profit of 8, 5 and invests 10 in research, but the state must create the conditions for this. There are stronger tax incentives in France and the UK. And in Italy the cuts have eliminated from the hospitals the figures of connection with the pharmaceutical companies for clinical studies ».
Will Big Pharma also think about the third world?
«It is a central theme, Novartis believes in sustainability and is also valued by the markets for this. In Africa we have contributed to eradicating malaria, leprosy and sickle cell anemia. It is in the interest of industry and governments to vaccinate the third world. It will also be discussed at the G20 on health in May ».
What time frame do you foresee for the end of the pandemic?
«As a pharmaceutical company, we do not speak without data: any hypothesis could be denied the next day. We can think that the virus will be defeated with a vaccination, but also that more vaccines are needed or that the elderly require a booster next year, while the young more rarely ».