Fierce JPM Week: Genentech CEO says partnerships, speedier trials among pandemic's 'silver linings'

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, things haven’t been all bad—at least, not from the perspective of a major R&D player like Genentech.

“There’s an enormous number of silver linings” that have come out of the pandemic, CEO Alexander Hardy said during an interview that aired Monday as part of Fierce JPM Week.

One major bright spot? Faster, more plentiful partnerships—both public-private, but also private-private. “I think partnerships have really come into achieving their potential,” Hardy said.

RELATED: COVID-19 vaccine leaders talk up the need for partners, potential for a working vax by October

And Hardy would know. Genentech, which is Roche's U.S. unit, has teamed up with the U.S. government and the FDA to move 10 in-development COVID-19 treatments forward. It's also working with other drugmakers that it’s historically considered competitors.

Its monoclonal antibody pact with Regeneron, its team-up with Gilead Sciences to study the combination of Roche's Actemra and Gilead's Veklury (remdesivir), and its antiviral accord with Atea  Pharmaceuticals are part of “a range of partnerships that have happened very, very quickly with parties that we traditionally have not partnered with.

“I think this is going to be something that continues on beyond the pandemic,” he added.

And the deluge of partnerships is not the only pandemic-era trend he’d like to see continue through 2021 and beyond. The way Genentech, like its peers, conducts clinical trials has been revolutionized by the need to find different ways to capture data that don’t rely on bringing patients into treatment sites.

“We found ways to do studies quicker, which I think will translate into medicines making it to patients quicker,” Hardy said.

RELATED: Roche's Actemra helps keep coronavirus patients off ventilators despite earlier trial flop

Genentech is proud of one of those speedy studies in particular: EMPACTA, an acronym for Evaluating Minority Patients with Actemra. Eighty-five percent of participants in the trial—which looked at the impact of using rheumatoid arthritis drug Actemra to treat COVID-19-related pneumonia among hospitalized patients—were from underserved populations, and, despite hurdles posed by the pandemic, “this was the fastest-executed study in the history of Genentech,” Hardy noted.

“We’ve shown to ourselves and to others that you can recruit studies in underserved populations and do it very, very effectively,” he said, adding that the area of inclusive research is “where we have a significant, specific responsibility to make a difference.”