• Joseph Winslow

What lessons can the BioPharma industry learn from the Covid-19 crisis?


A month ago, in this blog, I wrote about some good things that might come out of this crisis we are in now and I still support that article. But like any other thing that goes wrong in our lives, if we do not use this as an opportunity to learn, then the opportunity will have been wasted. As a country, the list of lessons learned will be debated and argued about for a long time to come. I want to concentrate here on something a little closer to my area of expertise (I’m certainly no politician or doctor), i.e. the BioPharma Industry. So, what lessons can the BioPharma industry take from this time?


1. There are certain sub-sectors of the BioPharma industry that routinely sterilize and re-use some PPE rather than throwing it out after one use, but in my experience, this is the exception rather than the rule. The shortage of PPE in hospitals during this crisis has forced the world to look for alternatives and one of those alternatives has been sterilization and re-use. Other than the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality and the overly conservative approach that most BioPharma companies use, I cannot think of any reason that this sterilization and re-use strategy should not be explored further in the future. Companies like TSS and Steris are actively working on these processes as we speak.


2. Due to the unprecedented need for treatments and vaccines for Covid-19, some BioPharma companies and Medical Device companies are working together rather than in competition to find solutions. A couple of notable examples in the news are the GSK/Sanofi collaboration to utilize the combined resources to find a vaccine and Medtronic making its portable ventilator design public. I am not suggesting that we should forgo competition or that companies should share all of their proprietary information, but sometimes it t might be a good idea. If I were a CEO in one of these companies, I would certainly look for opportunities where it might make sense.


3. Although not technically the “BioPharma” industry, the FDA is finding many opportunities to expedite the approval of treatments or devices that are valuable to fighting this pandemic. In the cases I have seen, that expedited review and approval is being given on an emergency basis and when the emergency is over, the approval is rescinded. Perhaps, the FDA could look at things they are doing now and apply them to the normal approval process to expedite review and approval. This would have a wide-ranging impact on the drugs and devices available as well as the cost of those items in the long term.


4. Although most BioPharma companies have been deemed essential and as such have not had to close, like most every other industry, they are finding opportunities and methods to allow more telework. Telework allows companies to invest less money in offices and more on research, manufacturing and other facilities whose functions cannot be done from home. Sure, working from home has been going on for quite some time, but it has been on a small scale in most companies. Perhaps this boost in working from home will not only make companies take a fresh look at this way of working, but it may also lead to higher productivity due to the forced practice we have all had in the last month or so.


5. The BioPharma industry is not the only industry that can learn from the dependence the world has shown on computer models for projections and decision making during this crisis. If you have been paying attention, you will know that what we all should learn (or better yet, should already have known), that bad data in equals bad data out of any computer model. Additionally, making decisions based on politics or emotions is not the best way out of any crisis. We need to learn the value of good assumptions and good data in trying to predict the future. I’ll say it again, bad data in equals bad data out which can (but doesn’t have to) lead to bad decisions on how to move forward. If you don’t have good data, perhaps your first order of business should be to find a way to get good data.


6. Another lesson that we all can learn, regardless of what we do for a living, is that we can only control what we can control. That may sound intuitively obvious but think about it a little more. How many of us get stressed out because of the way others react to something just because it is not the way we would react? Or get anxious because we lost our job instead of taking actions that we can control to find a replacement income? There is something to be said for the old serenity prayer “give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”


I am sure there are many other lessons learned that the smart readers of my blog can think of. Drop me a line and let me know what you think we can all learn from this and make lemonade from the lemons we have been served.

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