Merck, Eli Lilly, Pfizer free medical employees to join front-line pandemic fight

The spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic has put a strain not only on the Big Pharma's operations but also the stability of the U.S. healthcare system. With thousands of medical employees at their fingertips, drugmakers are now turning their workforce against the virus. 

Merck & Co., Eli Lilly and Pfizer have launched or expanded volunteer programs for their medically trained staff to help fight COVID-19, the companies said in a release.

Pfizer kickstarted a program that will empower "medical colleagues to provide diagnostic, treatment, and public health support in the battle against COVID-19," the drugmaker said. The company will keep those employees on the payroll—with full pay and benefits—while they're deployed in healthcare and let them return to their previous jobs afterward.

"We believe that by unleashing our medical professionals to help relieve some of the burden being felt by hospitals, we can help make a real and important difference," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in the release.

Lilly has tasked some of its medical professionals with running a free drive-through testing facility at its Indianapolis corporate headquarters, which the drugmaker launched "as a service to the community and in an effort to protect people working on the front lines of this pandemic."

As part of its in-house testing, Lilly is using its research labs to analyze not only those drive-through tests but also samples taken in Indiana health care facilities, including nursing homes and emergency rooms, in partnership with the Indiana State Department of Health. The drugmaker has also allowed its trained medical professionals opportunities to volunteer, Lilly said. 

Merck said it intends to work with The Health Management Academy to "identify facilities with the greatest need and triage potential qualifying volunteers to serve," the drugmaker said. 

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The three drugmakers' volunteer efforts come as pharma works to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as confirmed cases and deaths rise worldwide. 

Merck, Lilly and Pfizer were among a consortium of 15 drugmakers that last week agreed to share their libraries of proprietary molecular compounds with the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator so the organization can look for potential treatments.

The joint endeavor was the first partnership announced between the life sciences industry and the Gates Foundation-backed accelerator program. 

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