COVID-19 and public health case study

The scale of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented but the dynamics of the disease – how it spreads and affects patients – were arguably predictable.

Coronavirus has exploited well-established inequalities in society and vulnerabilities in healthcare systems. So although this highly infectious disease has impacted all our lives in some way, it has not affected us all equally. These have been long-running concerns in our engagement with investee companies on global health.

Our engagement goals and activity

AXA IM is a member of the Expert Review Committee of the Access to Medicine Foundation, a well-regarded not-for-profit organisation which conducts research into pharmaceutical companies’ sustainability practices. We have leveraged this position to conduct extensive in-depth engagement with the sector in recent years. This meant that when the pandemic struck, we were able to engage companies on their COVID-19 response in an efficient and positive fashion.

We engaged with 28 healthcare companies on these issues in the first half of 2020, calling for them to share coronavirus-related intellectual capital, assist with manufacturing capacity to scale-up production of effective treatments and to set affordable prices. This included a collaborative investor initiative which saw us write to major pharmaceutical firms alongside more than 60 other financial institutions. We also made a direct positive impact by becoming a major donor to the Access to Medicine Foundation.

We also published an open letter in the media alongside fellow investor Legal & General Investment Management and the Access to Medicine Foundation. We publicly called on fellow global pharmaceutical investors to step up their engagement activities and ask all governments and pharmaceutical companies to fully embrace the principles of collaboration and solidarity in our response to COVID-19. The process of developing, manufacturing and distributing new medicines and vaccines will be faster and more efficient if governments and pharmaceutical companies work cooperatively and avoid a competitive race based on medical nationalism.

We urged pharmaceutical companies to undertake the following practical steps to accelerate research and development efforts and overcome potential barriers to rapid and widespread access to COVID-19 medicines and vaccines:

  • Share intellectual capital — including molecule libraries, patented compounds, processes or technologies — across the industry and with research institutions to facilitate the development of the most effective technologies
  • Work with governments across all levels of income, not just higher-income countries, to ensure rigorous but accelerated marketing authorisation processes
  • Share manufacturing capacity if their own clinical trials are not successful to help speed up production of effective products from other companies
  • Set affordable prices based on different countries’ ability to pay to empower rapid government procurement
  • Agree to non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements with quality-assured generic medicine manufacturers to mitigate the risk of supply constraints in low- and middleincome countries
  • Work with governments and international organisations, in particular the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the COVAX Facility, to develop and implement a global allocation mechanism to distribute medicines and vaccines with the objective of maximising the reduction of COVID-19-related deaths and protecting health systems.

Our goal is not only to promote responsible behaviour at the companies in which we invest, but also to boost the pace and resilience of the global economy’s recovery from this crisis, to the ultimate benefit of our clients.

Results and next steps

We saw positive responses to our engagement from companies and other investors, which was encouraging, and many healthcare companies provided evidence of senior-level commitments to helping overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we continue our discussions with companies which are working through exactly how these commitments will accelerate into impactful practices and what the results of these actions will be in 2021 and beyond.


Stewardship and engagement

We are not a passive partner for clients – we are an active owner of assets on their behalf.

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