(Bloomberg) — There are lessons to be learned from the U.S. government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Johnson & Johnson Chief Executive Officer Alex Gorsky, who has steered the health-care behemoth as it pursues a vaccine to combat the disease.
President Donald Trump contracting Covid-19 “demonstrates that we’re all vulnerable and we still all need to be very vigilant and diligent in the action we’re taking to prevent this virus from spreading any further,” Gorsky said on Friday in an interview on The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations on Bloomberg Television.
When asked by Carlyle Group Inc. co-founder Rubenstein if the White House and U.S. health agencies should have approached the pandemic differently, Gorsky said, “almost all of us have underestimated the dramatic impact of this outbreak.”
“But there are lessons to be learned,” Gorsky said. “Going forward, we’re going to understand much better that if we don’t have global public health security, we don’t have national security, we don’t have economic security and we will not have security of society.”
The U.S. government needs to shift away from “a maniacal focus on efficiency and effectiveness in certain cases to one more of resiliency and sustainability, particularly for these kinds of situations,” Gorsky added.
Earlier this month, Johnson & Johnson joined the short list of vaccine makers that have moved an experimental coronavirus shot into late-stage human studies in the U.S. The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company has since begun dosing up to 60,000 volunteers, marking the first big trial of an Covid-19 inoculation that may work after just one shot.
Gorsky said the 60,000-person objective was determined in conjunction with U.S. regulators in hopes that it would serve as “robust a clinical development program as possible” that would produce “the confidence we need to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of our approach.”
Other front-runners such as Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc., and AstraZeneca Plc in conjunction with the University of Oxford, are further along in late-stage trials targeting tens of thousands of healthy participants. Pfizer has said it could determine whether its shot is safe and effective based on preliminary data before the end of October, while Moderna is aiming for the end of November. Their studies, which launched earlier in the summer, are seeking to enroll fewer patients than J&J’s.
Gorsky, who has been leading the 150,000-person health-care conglomerate remotely by Zoom, joked that he’s asked “almost every 15 minutes” when a vaccine will be available.
“We would expect by late this year, early next year, we should be in a position to begin reviews with regulatory authorities to see if our vaccine is in fact safe, effective, and something that could be considered for an emergency use authorization,” Gorsky said, reaffirming J&J’s previously-stated timeline.
An emergency use authorization would likely allow a limited supply of shots to go to specific at-risk populations, like health-care and essential workers. More broadly, Americans should expect to have access to a Covid-19 vaccine in late 2020 or early 2021, Gorsky said, noting that depend on the results of the late-stage studies from various vaccine candidates.
The pursuit of a vaccine has become a political topic, with some observers concerned that Trump’s eagerness to see a vaccine authorized before the election could run counter to the science.
“This is an incredibly important time for the pharmaceutical industry,” Gorsky. “It’s absolutely critical during a time when unfortunately, everything becomes politicized, that we rely on data, we rely on science, we rely on well-established regulatory guidelines to guide all of our decisions on the development and actual utilization of these vaccines.”
Gorsky, a graduate of U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has been at the helm of J&J for eight years. When asked by Rubenstein if he would consider taking on a role in the public sector, such as Secretary of Defense or Secretary of Health and Human Services, the 60-year-old Gorsky said: “I would always consider how to can you continue to serve other stakeholders, how can you continue to serve others, but I think I’ve got the best job in the world most days.”
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