Discretionary Investment Management | Sam Dovey
27 Apr 20

Ravenscroft weekly update - Stronger together; how leading global companies are working collaboratively in the face of COVID-19

In a recent investment update, I wrote about an organisation called the Business Roundtable (BRT) and highlighted its change of thought behind a company’s purpose in today’s society and that business’s focus should include all stakeholders – not just its shareholders. These leading companies who make up the BRT have now come together in the face of COVID-19.

CEOs are leading their companies through a very difficult and unprecedented time. Whilst the welfare of all stakeholders should be at the forefront of any CEO’s mind, the pressures some companies are under may not make this possible without some help. The BRT has formed a dedicated COVID-19 Task Force to assess the stress and strain the pandemic is having on public health, business and the economy. One of the main functions of the task force is to share information among members about the collective response of businesses, as well as focusing on policies that support the safety and livelihood of workers while sustaining essential operations.

The BRT is also looking at addressing critical supply shortages to those that need it most on the front line of this pandemic. It is also looking at ways to protect essential services as well as policy recommendations in regards to mitigating the economic impact.

One example of how one of the BRT’s members is ‘doing their bit’ is Alex Gorsky, chairman and CEO of Johnson and Johnson (JNJ), which is a major US healthcare firm. His company, together with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), have committed $1bn towards the research and development of a COVID19 vaccine. BARDA is a US Government department responsible for health and human services – as well as looking at solutions for bioterrorism, their remit also covers pandemics and emerging diseases.

JNJ has a lead candidate - impressive given they only started work on this in January 2020 – and hope to start human trials in September. If successful, over half a billion vaccines will be ready for use in early 2021. The candidate is based on vaccine tests conducted in relation to SARS (another coronavirus) and Ebola.

Whilst many of us may associate JNJ with consumer healthcare goods such as talcum powder, shampoo and baby wipes, it is in fact one of the world’s most innovative drug discovery companies and a major player in the development of vaccines. With significant resources to hand in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, JNJ is confident that it can ramp-up production of a successful vaccine so it can be more widely available by the end of 2021.

However, a knock-on effect of focusing on a vaccine for COVID-19 is that there has been a shortage of paracetamol, commonly used to treat pain and fever - symptoms associated with COVID19 - and therefore highly sought after by members of the public. Whilst panic buying may be one reason we can’t find this once ubiquitous drug, another may be due to the fact that producers (including JNJ) have diverted manufacturing lines to produce other much needed medical products such as hand sanitiser. Should JNJ be successful with its candidate, there may be further shortages of other drugs as the company ramps-up production of the vaccine into the sort of numbers that will be required to help fight the virus on a global basis. The company has vowed to get the vaccine out to patients around the world on a “not for profit” basis too.

Mr Gorsky has all hands on deck to hit these aggressive targets. Ordinarily a vaccine would take between five to seven years to be approved by regulators and commonly available to the public – this is how important this vaccine is deemed to be if the global economy has any chance of returning to ‘normal’.

JNJ is one of many companies contributing to the fight. For more information on how your portfolio is fighting the virus please read Bob Tannahill’s recent article, which you can find here. Mr Gorsky wasn’t wrong when he stated that “in order to make a difference, we have to work together to kill this virus!

 

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