The current Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increasing interest in science, technology, engineering, and math, the so-called STEM subjects, according to Thomas Pietzonka, global head, biotherapeutic & analytical technologies, at pharma giant Novartis.
“I think in general what Covid has done is definitely sparked the interest in science in the general population again,” he told the Irish Independent.
There is now an opportunity for companies operating in the pharmaceutical industry to bring the value of what science and research can do to the general public, according to Mr Pietzonka.
“[If Covid-19] could trigger an interest in science within the larger population and also young people, encouraging them to attend universities to tackle medical, climate change problems, and so forth, that that would be a huge, huge positive outcome of this terrible crisis,” he added.
While Novartis is not involved in trying to develop a vaccine against Covid-19, as vaccines are no longer an area the company focuses on, it is helping in other ways.
“Covid-19 is not only a viral disease, it creates a lot of damage in the body in general, it's going into the immune system, which is affected and that's a more our [area of] strength,” he said.
The company is helping frontline staff with its state-of-the-art therapies in immunology, which it gives to hospitals and tests them in various trials. The aim is to determine if the therapies have any impact on the affect that Covid-19 has on the body.
“There we have some very interesting first results, which could maybe help in that direction,” he said.
With experts advising that any vaccine for Covid-19 would take between 12 – 18 months to develop, Mr Pietzonka says this would be “unprecedently quick.”
“Because normally it's about eight to 10 years, which is how long a proper vaccine normally takes to develop. The vaccine is one part and then also you want treatments if you get the disease, and that’s where our focus is,” he added.
In Ireland, Novartis currently employs approximately 1,200 people across two locations in Cork and Dublin.
Novartis manufacturing and development is based in Ringaskiddy, county Cork.
In 2013 Novartis announced the establishment of a Global Business Services Center in Elm Park, Dublin.