Changes, challenges & considerations: Leadership opinions resulting from the pandemic

Euromedica has been fortunate enough to speak with a broad array of industry leaders since the global pandemic began, each with their own opinions and takeaways from COVID-19. Below you will find a series of Q&A’s with executives who each have their “finger on the pulse” of the sector and how it may change moving forward:

You typically look at building lean, virtual companies – How much has this helped you deal with COVID-19 and will more companies start to adopt this method in the future?

“I would say our preclinical, virtual companies most likely suffered less of a shock than traditional companies with high fixed costs and burn rates. Luckily for us, most of our companies were not impacted by large delays and were well-capitalized - they could simply postpone the work, reduce the number of experiments, and work with the CROs to adjust variable costs as needed. In terms of future adoption, I think that has already begun. There has been a trend towards implementing this approach when the company is at the appropriate stage. COVID-19 just highlighted that having the ability to rapidly control burn gives early-stage companies more financial insulation from unexpected bumps in the road. “

How much of a shift will there be to virtual meetings and conferences Vs. Face to Face interaction off the back of this?

“The shift was immediate and I think it will last for some time. My guess is that people will think harder about non-essential business travel and that thinking may persist even after treatment or vaccine is found. In general, I have heard that people have adjusted well and found it quite efficient. You will never fully replace face-to-face meetings as there are essential aspects of building a lasting relationship that can only occur in person. However, I do think the way we work has been impacted in a lasting way. “

What impact (positive or negative) do you think COVID-19 will have on the venture capital sector within life sciences moving forwards? (Will we see more investment into vaccines etc.?)

“That is tough to estimate as there are a lot of moving parts in the world both socially and economically. I do hope that the world comes away valuing a robust and well-capitalized biotech sector. It's been amazing to see how quickly it jumped into action. There has been an immense thrust by the industry to investigate treatments and vaccines in record time. The virus is being sequenced in real-time and we have been able to make informed decisions. This is all due to the investments made over the past decades. I do wonder if reimbursement for diagnostics may change in the future as we have seen how critical they are, yet underprepared we were. That sector has struggled to attract venture capital for years so that could be a positive change emerging from this situation.”

If there is one positive that entrepreneurs should take away from this pandemic, what is it? 

“That good projects will always be able to find capital. Things may seem uncertain now but I firmly believe we will be able to tackle this obstacle and come out stronger and smarter. It is promising that venture capital funds to continue to raise in this uncertain environment and I believe having well funded, bold, and dedicated entrepreneurs are critical to the biotech ecosystem. “

Jon Edwards – Partner, Medicxi Ventures

Considering you have been through various crises in recent times (Ebola, Oil crises in Africa, 2nd revolution in Egypt), how have you found it adapting to COVID-19?

“Despite the unique aspects of each situation, they share important commonalities that shed some light on actions and attitudes that can help guide and improve corporate leaders’ response to the coronavirus pandemic, in the United States and globally during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Empathy is key. Companies must put people first, both to protect their staff members as well as to find creative ways to help others who are affected. Stepping outside the box can reveal unconventional funding sources, whether it is private-government collaborations or something as simple as a GoFundMe campaign for workers displaced by Covid-19.

Institute clear, transparent, and direct two-way communication. Demonstrating transparency from the top through communications that allow — and encourage — feedback from the staff help build trust that the leadership will make good decisions for them and the business. Employees need to know that they are being considered in decisions and are being taken care of.

Aim for simplicity and practicality. Straight forward solutions that go directly to the problems experienced by those most affected by the crisis will do the most to help keep staff safe and maintain business continuity. Practical, simple solutions are most likely to be effective and remembered.

Lead by example. In Egypt, I needed to maintain a visible physical presence to control an otherwise chaotic and dangerous situation. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I can set the best example by practicing prescribed social distancing as a way to protect the staff, as well as myself.

Crises, of course, don’t recognize natural or national borders. And as much as economic and political turmoil in one region can have global repercussions, pathogens such as Ebola and Covid-19 have shown us that disease is the ultimate equalizer and unifier.

We need to look out for everyone with equality and fairness because quite literally we are all in this together.”

Mahesh Karande – President & CEO, Omega Therapeutics

How do you think COVID-19 will impact and change the biotechnology/life science industry moving forwards?

“I don’t think it will have a negative impact on the business aspects of our industry. Financings and deal-making will likely continue at its current pace. Clearly there will be social changes impacting how we do business, at least in the near to mid-term - less travelling and personal contact being replaced with more A/V interactions between non-laboratory staff, and more distance between the people working in labs etc. 

At a much higher level, I hope that this crisis will result in a greater appreciation and respect for the life sciences, which may lead to increased investments in the sector. The most lasting positive impact would be if this leads to increased rates of vaccination, arguably one of the greatest scientific achievements of the human race, this pandemic may actually save lives in the future. “

Niclas Stiernholm – Former President & CEO, Trillium Therapeutics

How (if at all) do you think BD&L will change moving forwards, as a result of the pandemic?  

“There are 3 critical elements that drive BD and partnering: 1) the availability of exciting technologies 2) sufficient resources to enable collaboration, and 3) sufficient trust and relationships among companies to collaborate.

Though the pandemic has changed how companies operate and interact, fortunately there exist platforms and technologies that allow us to engage even while isolated. In addition, the biotech industry continues to be in the midst of a technological boom, with new and innovative companies formed daily. Moreover, there continues to be a considerable investment made into our industry, and capital remains plentiful. While I expect organizations to become more focused moving forward, I anticipate deal-making to continue at a brisk pace, particularly if the novel COVID therapies prove successful in the clinic.”

Forbes Huang – VP Business Development, Gyroscope Therapeutics

All opinions and views expressed in this publication are personal and do not express the views or opinions of any employer.

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