COVID-19 has thrust biotech, healthcare and life sciences companies into the spotlight as the race for a vaccine intensifies. Between this initiative and other ongoing projects, there remains strong demand for top talent in various positions throughout the industry.1
Strong leaders in the sector must be prepared to guide their companies through internal and customer-facing digitization as well as automation in the manufacturing and R&D processes. Additionally, they will be asked to structure their organizations for innovation in research while evaluating various business models in an attempt to foster growth and stability.
Technology in Biotech and Healthcare
R&D departments are looking for employees, from the top down, that are comfortable thriving in a digital environment. As in other industries, it’s no longer sufficient to be good at your job today; it’s imperative that candidates demonstrate the flexibility and tech-savvy that will enable them to respond to changes currently underway, as well as other paradigm-shifters that are not yet apparent.
“Trends that we expected to play out over three to five years are now happening in real time,” writes Sanjana Basu for the Welland Tribune. “Health care is riding a wave of innovation, where novel digital applications and business models are rapidly becoming mainstream — and this expansion will continue until digital adoption in health care nears equilibrium with the consumer sector.”2
Just as in other industries, pharma sales reps have had to adapt to the new, socially-distanced normal. Excelling in this environment not only involves mastering the technology involved, but communicating effectively and persuasively without face to face contact. This may involve working different schedules and emphasizing digital support materials in order to meet evolving expectations.
Within3 are the makers of a virtual engagement platform for the Life Sciences industry. Chief executive Lance Hill believes that successful remote communication requires both technology and personal aptitude.
“There is a misconception that meaningful relationships and innovative collaboration can’t happen online but that isn’t true,” says Hill. “It does, however, require the right technology and the right people who want to make it work.”3
It’s not just pharma sales that are getting the digital makeover. COVID-19 has taught the public to digitize their daily interactions and, as a result, healthcare providers are using artificial intelligence to screen and triage patients.4
Clinical trials can also often be performed remotely, a practice that has the potential to decrease the considerable expenses associated with the process.
“Not only will this approach reduce costs and improve efficiencies, it also has the potential to open up trials to a wider range of patients and improve the work-life balance of trial administrators,” writes Richard Warren for Pharmatimes.3
Robotics in Life Sciences
Automation in manufacturing was certainly prevalent before the onset of COVID-19, but its usefulness has been pronounced in this new age of social distancing. Robotics is playing a big role in healthcare and pharma companies.5 Robotics can assist in manufacturing, R&D, dosing and other areas, providing numerous advantages including flexibility, speed, accuracy and a lack of contamination. Pharma and medical companies are looking to acquire forward thinking executives capable of navigating the continued transition to automated technology.
Fostering Innovation in Life Sciences R&D
While robotics and AI are imperative to the process, it still requires highly functional teams of innovative researchers to achieve breakthroughs. All too often, this spirit of innovation can be hampered by excessive corporate bureaucracy and a failure to optimize work processes and the exchange of ideas.
“Innovation thrives in small groups of creative scientists and technologists who are kept largely free of structure, rules, and too much management,” writes the Harvard Business Review. “It’s what makes smaller companies such powerful innovation engines.”6
HBR goes on to note that biotechs accounted for 38 of the 59 new therapies approved in 2018, compared with 21 for Big Pharma.6
As a result HBR advises big companies to run their R&D departments like a small company within a larger one, eliminating unnecessary layers of management, while allowing scientists to form small working groups on their own. If possible, ongoing budget reassessments and performance reviews may make more sense than rigid annual structures within such a dynamic environment.
Joint Ventures in Healthcare and Life Sciences
In March, Pfizer and BioNTech announced a partnership aimed at developing a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s just one example of a joint venture within the healthcare and life sciences space, a trend that has been seen across industries as companies look to survive and thrive during the downturn.
“More than two-thirds of new health insurance products in the United States are built on co-branded or JV offerings,” reports HBR, noting that such ventures accelerate time to market and broaden distribution.7
With companies responding in real time to uncertain futures and changing needs in the marketplace, it pays for leadership to maintain an open mind to a diversity of strategic opportunities. 2020 has certainly been a year of change and whether investing in new technology, workforce training or research and development, companies need steady executives capable of seeing the big picture and reacting to changes as they occur.
1 Bulik, Beth Snyder. “Even in the Coronavirus Era, U.S. Pharma and Biotech Employees Say Jobs Secure: Survey.” FiercePharma, August 17, 2020. https://www.fiercepharma.com/marketing/life-science-industry-dodges-unemployment-woes-u-s-pharma-and-biotech-employees-say-jobs
2 Basu, Sanjana. “COVID-19 Has Created Health Care’s Long-Awaited Digital Moment.” wellandtribune.com, August 17, 2020. https://www.wellandtribune.ca/ts/opinion/contributors/2020/08/17/covid-19-has-created-health-cares-long-awaited-digital-moment.html
3 Warren, Richard. “Remote Working in the Life Sciences Industry.” PharmaTimes. PharmaTimes Media Limited, July 29, 2020. http://www.pharmatimes.com/web_exclusives/Remote_working_in_the_life_sciences_industry_1345767
4 “New Accenture Study Reveals Emerging Trends in Digital Health.” MobiHealthNews, August 12, 2020. https://www.mobihealthnews.com/news/new-accenture-study-reveals-emerging-trends-digital-health
5 Bureau, EP News. “How Robots Are Lending a Hand with Healthcare, Medical Devices and Pharma Worldwide.” Express Pharma, August 19, 2020. https://www.expresspharma.in/latest-updates/how-robots-are-lending-a-hand-with-healthcare-medical-devices-and-pharma-worldwide/
6Karp, Ken Banta and Jeff. “Rescuing Scientific Innovation from Corporate Bureaucracy.” Harvard Business Review, May 15, 2020. https://hbr.org/2020/05/rescuing-scientific-innovation-from-corporate-bureaucracy.
7 James Bamford, Gerard Baynham and David Ernst. “Joint Ventures and Partnerships in a Downturn.” Harvard Business Review, August 18, 2020. https://hbr.org/2020/09/joint-ventures-and-partnerships-in-a-downturn