Posted: 23 Jun. 2020 10 min. read

Coalitions and collaborations are driving COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines

By Greg Reh, Global Life Sciences & Health Care leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Shortly before COVID-19 was formally declared a pandemic, I was in Davos, Switzerland, during the World Economic Forum, where I had the opportunity to moderate a session on the role of open collaboration in the fight against disease outbreaks in remote parts of the world.

Since then, the pandemic has placed tremendous pressure on life sciences companies to produce vaccines and therapies—as well as personal protective equipment, diagnostic tests, ventilators, and other medical devices—at an unprecedented pace. This pressure has elevated the importance and the viability of collaboration inside and outside of the life sciences sector. Medtech and pharmaceutical executives tell me they are much more willing to collaborate with each other—and with organizations from across the ecosystem—than they were prior to the pandemic.

Collaboration isn’t new to life sciences companies. There was a level of collaboration that existed prior to the pandemic—particularly in terms of preventing infections and communicative diseases in underserved parts of the world. Some pharmaceutical companies were forging partnerships to explore the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in research and development. The collaboration that has been emerging over the past several months, however, is different in terms of both scale and geographies.

  • Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (previously the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) is a 20-year-old global health partnership created to increase access to immunization in developing parts of the world. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is a consortium established after the Ebola outbreak hit western Africa. CEPI finances the research and development of new vaccines and is funded by philanthropic, public and private donations. In response to COVID-19, CEPI and Gavi collaborated with several companies that were working to develop a vaccine. On June 4, for example, AstraZeneca announced a $750 million agreement with CEPI and Gavi to support the manufacturing, procurement, and distribution of 300 million doses of a vaccine, with delivery starting by the end of the year.1 The company also announced a licensing agreement with the Serum Institute of India to supply one billion doses to low and middle-income countries.2
  • The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA)— part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)—is collaborating with multiple life sciences companies. For example, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceutical expanded its investigational coronavirus vaccine program via collaboration with BARDA.3 The company is also collaborating with global partners to screen its library of antiviral molecules to accelerate the discovery of potential COVID-19 treatments, according to a press release.
  • Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) is a two-month-old public-private initiative organized by the National Institutes of Health and the Foundation for the NIH. ACTIV’s partners, which include at least 18 leading biopharmaceutical companies, multiple US federal agencies, and the European Medicines Agency, are developing an international strategy for an integrated research response to COVID-19.4

Partnerships are helping to speed vaccine development

Developing a vaccine for COVID-19 requires collaboration on an unprecedented scale. Increasing the pace of development will require cooperation and collaboration across multiple stakeholders. But that is just one step. Producing and distributing a billion doses of a vaccine will likely require another level of collaboration with multiple third-party manufacturers. The goal of collaboration is to leverage each company’s strengths, expertise, and capacity.

Several small biotech companies from the US and European Union are also developing COVID-19 vaccine candidates, which have entered the clinical-trial phase much more quickly than any vaccines of the past. Seven of the 12 vaccine candidates that are in phases 2 or 3 of clinical trials were developed through collaborations between small biotech companies, biopharma giants, and academic institutions. The University of Oxford, for example, inked a deal with AstraZeneca to produce a potential COVID-19 vaccine that it is developing.5 French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi recently teamed up with UK-based GlaxoSmithKline to develop a vaccine.6 The federal government is also collaborating with life sciences companies. The US Department of Defense (DoD), for example, recently provided a US-based biotech company with $60 million in funding to help advance its vaccine candidate.7

Collaboration is also happening among diagnostics companies. To date, 46 diagnostic tests for COVID-19 have been developed—primarily by the handful of large companies that dominate the diagnostic market. However, eight of those tests were the result of partnerships or alliances between companies.

Collaboration will likely become more common

The life sciences sector generates enormous amounts of health data. As we noted in our 2020 Global Life Sciences Outlook, most of this information is inaccessible to other organizations for collaboration for a variety of reasons, including security concerns, technology constraints, and business-model challenges. These challenges mean that the health care ecosystem is not fully benefiting from the insights of the secondary use of all this digital health data. This slows the pace of health care innovation and limits the potential to improve the lives of patients and our medical system.

Beyond the collaborative efforts around COVID-19, biopharma companies and regulators continue to explore opportunities to work together to streamline the drug development and review processes. Increased dialogue and commitment to exploring process efficiencies, technology platforms, and novel drug-development paradigms—such as platform trials leveraging master protocols—have taken place among key industry stakeholders. And while sector was already moving in this direction, the pandemic is accelerating activity. We expect such partnerships will continue to gain momentum and will allow life sciences companies to develop products and solutions more quickly…even after the threat of COVID-19 subsides. 


1.  AstraZeneca unveils massive $750M deal in effort to produce billions of COVID-19 shots, Fierce Pharma, June 4, 2020

2. AstraZeneca signs new supply deals as coronavirus vaccine data nears, BiopharmaDIVE, June 15, 2020

3. J&J, BARDA commit $1B to COVID-19 vaccine R&D, Fierce Pharma, June 4, 2020

4 .NIH to launch public-private partnership to speed COVID-19 vaccine and treatment options, NIH press release, April 17, 2020

5. AstraZeneca takes next steps toward broad and equitable access to Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca press release, June 4, 2020

6. Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline collaborate to speed up coronavirus vaccine development, STAT, April 14, 2020

7. Novavax awarded Department of Defense contract for COVID-19 vaccine, June 4, 2020

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Greg Reh

Greg Reh

Deloitte Global Life Sciences & Health Care Leader

Greg serves as the Deloitte Global Life Sciences & Health Care Industry Leader. In this role, he advises life sciences and health care clients and practice leaders within Deloitte’s global network; and is responsible for the overall industry group that conducts research and provides consulting, advisory, tax and audit services to clients in the industry. The global life sciences and health care industry group is comprised of over 20,000 colleagues in more than 90 countries that work with pharmaceutical, biotech, medtech, payer, provider and government clients. Greg also leads Deloitte’s relationship with one the world’s largest healthcare companies, which entails enabling and coordinating client teams around the world. Prior to his current roles, he served as the US life sciences leader; and as the global life sciences leader. Greg has more than 25 years of experience which includes working with multinational pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical manufacturing organizations where he led consulting engagements in support of regulatory, clinical, commercial and manufacturing operations. His engagements focused on technology strategy and solution development; business-technology enabled transformation and the management of change. Prior to his consulting career Greg held positions at a government research lab, where he led teams in the design and development of life support devices; and was a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. Greg holds an MS from the University of Pennsylvania, and a BSME from Drexel University.