COVID-19 vaccine speed unlikely to become norm

The speed of the COVID-19 vaccine development is unlikely to be repeated in normal drug testing, according to American Century fund manager, Michael Li, due to ongoing tension between drug companies and the regulator.

Li, who managed the Zurich Investments ACI Healthcare Impact fund, said his fund was focused on finding international companies which were focused on innovation and were making a social impact. This included biotechnology, healthcare providers and pharmaceuticals.

Particular areas which benefited during the pandemic were tele-health providers, diagnostic testing and medical device manufacturers.

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He said it was “impressive” how fast the COVID-19 vaccine was developed by multiple companies such as Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, which prevented sales being dominated by one company. However, he did not think this experience would be common going forward when it came to drug testing trials.

He was also watching for how effective the vaccine would be and whether new variants would need to be developed to handle new strains of the virus.

“The pandemic was a special situation and received lots of funding though. In this case, there had been lots of knowledge accumulated of other coronaviruses and that could be quickly used to establish how a vaccine could be developed,” he said.

“In the future, a lot will depend on whether the regulator is willing to co-operate with drug companies on the approval process. In this case, there was a joint agreement between the industry and government agencies to co-operate quickly but typically, drug testing is very strict with large pools of patients and it will likely revert back to that.”

He said government policy was very important in the healthcare space and that he expected better performance from the sector now that uncertainty around the US presidential election was over.

“Government policy is very important and is very critical for all types of healthcare providers. The government has a lot of power so it is always something we have to watch.

“There was relative underperformance last year due to the political uncertainty in the US, we think there is more clarity now and Obamacare is less likely to be reversed. Overall, we feel optimistic on the sector.”

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