What are the key lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic that will change Life Sciences? The DACH perspective

14 May 2020

What are the key lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic that will change Life Sciences? The DACH perspective

Three key observations and nine important lessons to ensure that post-COVID-19 investment, strategy, skills and leadership has the resilience for any future challenges.

From ongoing conversations with clients and candidates, and following on from our first article, our observations of the sector’s response can be broadly divided into three main areas.

1. Collaborations and partnerships are key to reacting quickly.

In an acute pandemic crisis, collaboration and the creation of partnerships will become the norm for the life sciences industry after COVID-19.

What we are seeing currently in vaccine development is an instructive and timely example of this. Although dozens of distinct vaccine development efforts are underway, German biotech company BioNTech, just a month after Moderna Inc., is among the first to initiate human trials because of its agile mRNA platform technology, flexible operational structure, and its collaboration with Pfizer.

On a global scale, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with multinational life science companies including key DACH companies Bayer, Merck KGaA, Boehringer Ingelheim and Novartis to collaborate in their efforts to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for COVID-19.

In the post-COVID era, the trend toward partnerships will continue. Life science leaders should expect networks of partnerships and collaborations to continue to expand, and the C-suite should be proactive in creating these kinds of partnerships in the future.

2. Public/government-private partnerships and funding are focusing on developing treatments before demand makes them profitable.

The current most prominent example of this is the CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) that partnered with and is funding the German company CureVac to develop the RNA primer vaccine platform against SARS-CoV-2.

It is worth noting that CureVac’s main shareholder and investor is the Germany SAP tycoon Dietmar Hopp, but the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation have also invested significant resources into the company to support the development of innovative vaccines against cancer and other serious diseases. This shows that these kinds of partnerships will be needed in general.

There are already some initiatives like the IMI (Innovative Medicines Initiative), a $2 billion partnership between the members of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) and the European Commission. Their aim is to work pre-competitively to solve the bottlenecks in drug discovery and development across diseases that are relevant to both the developed and the developing world.

3. There is a need for crisis-proof supply chains as many companies are currently heavily dependent on China and India.

Already at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many essential drugs to treat high blood pressure, cancer or epilepsy were partly out of stock. The crisis shows how susceptible the supply system is to disruption, as many companies around the world are dependent on suppliers and production facilities in China and India.

For instance, the share of generic and OTC drugs in Europe imported from India is estimated at 26%, with Germany as the largest purchaser of Indian generics within the EU. But the chain of dependencies is even longer, as India imports around 70% of its active ingredients from China, where plants have been temporarily shut down due to the spread of COVID-19.

Clearly, companies should follow a risk-minimising approach by spreading manufacturing sites or decreasing reliance on overseas manufacturers especially with regard to generics, antibiotics and other essential medicines to ensure sustainable security of supply.

So, what are the nine key lessons to be taken from this crisis?

  • Invest in platform technologies that are broadly useful and readily targeted toward new threats
  • Engineer organisational agility and nimble thinking where possible, ensuring flexibility in the organisation’s structures
  • Be quick to partner with organisations that can fill their own business’s gaps, and likewise be quick to fill gaps for other partners
  • Identify and improve any complacencies or weaknesses in the company
  • Develop relationships and establish trust with regulatory counterparts
  • Don’t take your eyes off your current goals in research & development by just concentrating on crisis topics
  • Make sure your supply chain and manufacturing is risk-minimised
  • Ensure that every member of the management team has the intellectual agility and leadership skills to respond quickly to new signals
  • If needed, make sure to reskill employees to address talent gaps

If you have any questions about our observations and the lessons we have drawn from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, or want to discuss your Life Sciences’ career or your organisation’s leadership needs, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.