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This is the second of our four-part series focusing on the Resilience of Life Sciences. This...
This is the second of our four-part series focusing on the Resilience of Life Sciences. This article will look at how the pandemic has affected the industry’s resilience and what it means for the future of Life Sciences.
If we cast our minds back to 2019, when Covid first reared its ugly head, I’m sure we’d all agree that life seemed much more straightforward. Like every industry, Life Sciences was largely disrupted by the pandemic. Still, when the rest of the world hit pause, we were working overtime!
Although the initial scramble put us under a lot of pressure, if there was ever an industry that was likely to be well-prepared for a global deadly virus outbreak, Life Sciences would no doubt be it. As it happens, Aon’s Covid-19 Risk Management and Insurance survey found that nearly half (45%) of Life Sciences companies they interviewed had a pandemic plan in place prior to the coronavirus outbreak compared to a benchmark of 31% across all other sectors.
Being at the epicentre of all the chaos gave the Life Sciences industry a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do things differently, and that’s precisely what we did. We adapted and innovated, moving beyond convention to solve the toughest of challenges, and this level of preparedness has only been reflected in the resilience throughout (and beyond) the pandemic.
On the whole, over the last two years, the industry has experienced significant growth, and now, in 2022, we find ourselves in a position of relative strength, but how exactly did we get here? Well, Covid completely overhauled how we work, how patients are treated, how companies operate, and how Life Sciences is viewed on the world stage. With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper into the true impacts of Covid-19 on the industry…
When the world went into lockdown, all hopes were pinned on the Life Sciences industry to navigate us through to the other side. Of course, the top priority was to develop and deploy safe, effective vaccines as quickly as possible, and we managed to do so in record time, saving 750,000 lives in the US and Europe alone – a historic scientific, industrial, regulatory, and logistical achievement!
Speaking of collaboration, it wasn’t just vaccines on our minds; frontline workers also needed the support and protection of the industry, and so many firms came together to utilise their expertise to address shortages caused by the disruption of coronavirus. One prominent example is Johnson & Johnson, in collaboration with Prisma Health, who used their supply chain delivery in 3D printing proficiency to manufacture and distribute ventilator parts at no cost to healthcare providers.
Additionally, regulatory agencies such as the FDA, EMA, and MHRA offered conditional market authorisation, or fast-tracking, for Covid-19 vaccines. Remarkably, 3 Covid vaccines were granted approval in Europe, the UK, or the US by the end of 2020 – that was just 9 months after the first human doses were administered!
But aside from the urgency, what fast-forwarded the typically decade-long process?
First off, we saw unprecedented levels of collaboration between companies – from the publication of the genetic sequence of Covid-19 and vaccine partnerships (like Pfizer and BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine and Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline) to companies like Boehringer Ingelheim opening their drug compound libraries to external researchers.
To reach that point though, there was a revamping of supply chain networks. That means that in order to enable fast delivery and safe handling of the new and exclusive cold chain drug, manufacturing needed to be scaled and a new supply chain network built. You don’t need me to tell you that the industry didn’t hesitate for a second – they rose to the challenge, and by managing to do this successfully (and at record speed), a blueprint was created for swift future mRNA product launches!
So, what about the future?
Seeing as the world is now super interconnected, it’s only inevitable we’ll experience more pandemics, so how can we avoid the setbacks we faced this time round?
Well, many healthcare professionals are continuing to iron out ways to avoid the very issues Covid instigated. Still, on top of that, governments around the world are also reassessing their manufacturing and supply footprint. Since the world shutdown, there’s now a significant emphasis on the national production and supply of drugs, making those in charge take a microscopic look at their over-reliance in certain parts of the world, because, well, they just aren’t as reliable as once thought when we find ourselves in a global lockdown!
If we thought we were heavily reliant on technology before, it’s nothing compared to our needs now!
Pre-Covid, digital health – the use of information technology, wearable devices, telehealth, mobile health, and telemedicine – was considered a novelty and vastly underutilised. Nevertheless, the extremity of coronavirus pushed the Life Sciences industry into the 21st century, and ground-breaking technological advances proved invaluable in our time of need.
Firstly, since patients and HCPs were restricted from having face-to-face contact, telehealth solutions came to the forefront to bridge the gap and maintain care and communications – particularly for those who were administering their own treatments at home. According to Accenture, patients embraced the change, and looking at today’s world, these modern solutions don’t seem to be going anywhere. Physicians and other HCPs are seeing 50 to 175 times more patients via telehealth than before the pandemic, and 60% of patients want to continue to use technology to communicate with HCPs and manage their conditions.
But these virtual interactions didn’t only benefit patients. Traditionally, most touchpoints between HCPs and pharma companies were also face-to-face, but the pandemic forced these operations to change not only how but what pharmas communicate. In fact, 82% of HCPs agree that strengthening virtual interactions has meant pharmaceutical companies now go beyond just sharing the necessary product information to include more data, information, and support, making their interactions significantly more insightful than before the pandemic.
Modernised processes even transformed research and development, with Deloitte reporting that in 2021, of 150 leaders of large biopharmas across the US, Europe, and Asia, a massive 81% are prioritising investment in AI and 71% in Cloud platforms to support their work.
What’s more, Pando, a communications app for doctors, created forums for professionals to swap notes on how to manage the outbreak, which saw a 400% increase in users in the first month of the pandemic!
These rising trends of online information sharing were indispensable throughout the last couple of years, and so they will continue to be utilised long after Covid fades away, representing a structural shift towards the use of apps to allow real-time collaboration between scientists, doctors, and hospitals, which in turn could improve patient care in the long run.
It’s no surprise that many clinical trials suffered enormous disruptions due to Covid-19. The initial impact was dramatic, with 200 companies pausing or suspending thousands of trials, according to Life Sciences analytics firm, GlobalData. As you’d imagine, researchers worked hard to keep trials deemed as ‘life-saving’ open, but many non-Covid trials were deprioritised.
In order to continue to conduct trials and ensure participant safety during the public health emergency, the industry worked with regulatory bodies to update processes and guidelines. As a result, clinical trials transitioned to become more digital; participants shifted to using online platforms to consent, trial teams were allowed to deliver experimental medicines to participants’ homes, and many doctors’ visits were performed remotely using phone/video calls or online questionnaires. This new trend of remote monitoring is said to have increased productivity and reduced inefficiencies, both in trials and data management.
Not only that, but digitisation of trials also reduces costs, allows researchers to reach a broader group of participants (including those that tend to be underrepresented), offers more secure means of handling data, and reduces the time burden of participants as location and business hours are no longer obstacles in partaking. For many research centres, this means they can now get clinical trials up and running in a matter of days, rather than having to wait for 6 weeks or more, which was typical prior to the pandemic.
Still, what might be considered of most significance is that trials in this fashion allow for constant passive patient monitoring, which can help identify unorthodox events that are often missed in traditional clinical trials. Needless to say, this provides deeper insights and ultimately enables more tailored drug therapies to be created. These new sources of insights and real-world evidence have even enabled data-driven scientists to solve problems for diseases that were once thought intractable!
Overall, this contemporary approach to clinical trials has been found to gain better research results, fewer failed trials and garnered more trust from physicians and patients alike. Because of these favoured variables, larger CROs are now incorporating virtual components into 50% of their new trials, and its trials relying on remote strategies that are showing a good ROI. In fact, by the end of last year, there were 18% more studies started across the industry – higher than ever before!
And finally, what you’ve been scrolling for: investment info!
Between April 2020 and March 2022, the Life Sciences industry raised $43 billion in capital through IPOs, which is approximately $16 billion more than the total investment raised over the previous 3 years!
I know what you’re thinking… if the global economy is struggling, how is there so much funding going into Life Sciences?
Well, the pandemic thrust the industry into the limelight, and as the world was exposed to the inner working of Life Sciences, attitudes towards the sector improved. Collectively, the public began to understand the importance of Life Sciences during ‘normal’ times.
Along with a change in attitude, what followed was a heightened interest in the space, which has only driven investment. The iShares Biotechnology ETF, which tracks the industry’s biggest players, has surged roughly 62% over the last 2 years, beating the performance of the S&P 500, which grew by 47%. Over that same period, private equity and venture capital investment have seen record levels of capital flowing into the industry, with EY reporting that BioTech valuations peaked at a record high in February 2021.
Looking towards the future, it’s the novel treatments and technology developed by BioTechs throughout the pandemic that will continue to drive interest in Life Sciences. Actually, the success of the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine is one treatment in particular, with BioTech start-ups looking to find new uses for mRNA technology and improve its uses and effectiveness. In fact, there are currently 180 mRNA products in the clinical pipelines across 31 different Life Sciences companies, and research carried out by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Moderna shows promising potential for an mRNA HIV/AIDs vaccine. In that sense, the pandemic has opened up a whole new area of research and development!
So, while most sectors are struggling to return to their pre-pandemic market size due to historic levels of investment, the Life Sciences market continues to thrive. Because of the way the sector collectively rose to the challenges the pandemic posed, and essentially redefined how we respond to public health emergencies, previous disincentives regarding the long cost and time cycles pose less of an issue to potential investors and for them to see a lucrative ROI.
Looking back at that tumultuous time, I’m sure we’d all agree that if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’re so much stronger working together. Ultimately, it’s in moments like that, when you find yourself in a crunch, that your actions and responses wholeheartedly determine how you lead the immediate future and pave the way for future progress.
So, as we enter this new era of healthcare, with restrictive norms and outdated processes quickly withering away, we took a more in-depth look at how the industry is currently in 2022. Head over to part one of this series: The Resilience of Life Sciences, to see for yourself!
Alternatively, skip ahead to part three, The Resilience of Life Sciences: The War For Talent, where take a look at how the job market looks today in Pharma and BioTech, Med Tech, and Med Comms!