Health & Fitness

Top pharma CEO says Covid likely to become endemic, urges investment in pandemic preparedness

Novartis said in August that it plans to spin off its generics unit Sandoz to sharpen its focus on its patented prescription medicines.

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The chief executive of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis on Thursday warned the coronavirus pandemic will likely settle into an endemic phase and renewed calls for policymakers to sufficiently finance pandemic preparedness.

“If you look over the last two years, we have populations that have built up immunity, you have a virus that’s continuing to make shifts, but I think what we’re going to settle into is more of an endemic environment with respect to coronaviruses and the Covid virus specifically,” Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“That will mean we will have sporadic outbreaks, we will have populations at risk that need to continue to be vaccinated but I would expect as it has been the case with other coronaviruses over the last centuries that the human populations will adapt and will come to a kind of resolution with this virus.”

Narasimhan, who has previously warned that future pandemics are bound to happen, made clear that world leaders must learn from the coronavirus crisis to be in a better place for future pandemics.

“I think what is really important now is we turn our attention to pandemic preparedness for the future,” Narasimhan said.

'We have reached an endemic environment with Covid,' says Novartis CEO

“I’m not sure we have learned our lessons of the past that we need to invest in [research and development], we need to invest more in preparedness to be ready for the next pandemic — and I think that should be on the global agenda,” he added.

‘Straining credulity’

His comments come shortly after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the world’s failure to prepare for future pandemics is “straining credulity.”

Speaking at WEF on Wednesday, Guterres said, “Somehow — after all we have endured — we have not learned the global public health lessons of the pandemic. We are nowhere near ready for pandemics to come.”

Last month, China abruptly ended most Covid-19 controls, leading to a surge in infections among the population of 1.4 billion.

Beijing reported on Saturday that almost 60,000 people with Covid had died in hospital since the country dropped its strict Covid restrictions last month, a sharp increase from previous figures.

Asked whether it makes pharmacological sense for some governments to take a tough line on the entry of Chinese citizens into their country following Beijing’s reopening, Narasimhan replied, “I think from an epidemiological standpoint, you can certainly call it into question because in the end, we’ve learned the hard way these viruses will move regardless, and they don’t really pay attention to national borders.”

“I continue to believe open borders and open economies are the right solution for the global order,” he added.

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