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The past two pandemic-dominated years have delivered a lifetime of unexpected lessons, from the challenging and difficult to the surprising and joyful. Through this time, the pharmaceutical industry learned that listening more closely, working more collaboratively, and setting clear priorities helped bring about some of its biggest and best accomplishments: Covid-19 vaccines.

The industry must carry these lessons forward by emphasizing compassion, embracing shared goals, and committing to flexibility and agility. These themes will propel the industry to do more for patients, global communities, and society in general.

The necessity of inclusion and health equity

Pharmaceutical companies must take an inclusive approach if they are to earn and maintain the trust of the people on whose behalf they work. This includes those that are underserved and underrepresented so that the industry can build the necessary foundation for progress. Companies must reach out to these communities with humility, acknowledging that they don’t always have the right answers and understanding that the priorities of these communities are often different from business priorities.

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The need for change is becoming more urgent as the U.S. becomes more diverse. If the pharma industry doesn’t accelerate its efforts, it will fall further behind the expectations of communities of color, rural communities, and others that often experience health care inequities and significant barriers to care. If our industry is to be an effective catalyst for change, it must do more to build relationships with those who don’t know or trust pharmaceutical companies and affirm through action that it is committed to putting people before profits.

The pharma industry has done substantial work in recent years to reduce health inequities, but patients want it to be more proactive and ambitious. Looking ahead, the industry needs to open itself up to new sources of insight and feedback so underrepresented patients help shape the development of products and services.

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I have the honor of being the first female chair of PhRMA’s board of directors. In this role, I will highlight the need for the pharma industry to demonstrate inclusive leadership as its companies and others work together to be part of a more equitable and sustainable health care system in the U.S. To truly achieve the best health outcomes for everyone, it is essential to recognize that health and wellbeing are also inextricably tied to peoples’ history and the communities in which they live.

Collaboration and partnerships are essential for pharma

The pandemic illuminated the power of meaningful collaborations and how they propel outcomes for public health — from research and development to commercialization and distribution.

New collaborations with government, patients, payers, and other stakeholders brought forward lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. The world has seen how pairing technology from one company with treatments from another can get successful innovation to people much faster than was ever imagined.

Those in the pharma industry should continue to extend this level of openness and transparency with external partners, especially patient and advocacy organizations. Life science leaders from large and small companies alike are being proactive and opening their doors in extraordinary ways to collaborate with patients and advocates on new solutions to health care challenges. The industry should also continue to push toward a health care system that recognizes value and rewards quality care and better patient outcomes instead of simply reimbursing set costs for services and products.

Partnerships built around the common, unifying goal of helping patients can remove barriers, eliminate silos, and build trust. The goal must be to move beyond traditionally transactional relationships to develop truly transformative partnerships. When patients become partners, particularly when designing and implementing clinical trials, innovation is made to work for everyone.

Flexibility is here to stay

The pandemic also taught many people and companies the value of flexibility in both the way they work and the way health care is provided. The best of these new hybrid approaches should be retained, even as Covid-19 eventually moves from pandemic to endemic.

Across the pharma ecosystem, positives have come from using a combination of virtual and in-person working, which is helping redefine the workplace — from a place to get work done, to a place of collaboration, innovation, and culture building. Culture and innovation will always benefit from in-person connections, but companies should bring people together when it makes sense and have a flexible mindset that accounts for both productivity and employee wellbeing.

Every new year brings unexpected changes. But unpredictability also brings opportunity. Given the dynamism of drug development, the biopharmaceutical industry is always ready for change and embraces it. By demonstrating humanity, humility and vulnerability, flexibility, and true partnership, this industry will do its part to achieve a more sustainable and patient-centric health care system in the U.S.

Ramona Sequeira is president of Takeda’s U.S. business unit and global portfolio commercialization and the chair of PhRMA.

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