The pandemic has galvanized sectors from pharma to medtech and beyond into dramatic action, with companies rethinking their relationship to customers, competitors, and themselves.

If coronavirus is a rock thrown into a pond, then the life sciences industry has surely been one of its innermost ripples. Since every product that goes on the market nowadays is touted as hailing a new era, it’s easy to forget what paradigm shift actually means. Yet as life sciences companies continue to reconfigure core aspects of their modus operandi, we are witnessing a true, sweeping industry change that promises to be both impactful and long-lasting. Here are some examples.

 

THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF THE LAB

While working from home might be somewhat (remotely?…) tolerable for office staff, it is unsustainable for laboratory-based research and development. Since most life-sciences companies fall easily into the “essential” category, remote work from home was instituted almost from the start and, as explained by Helen Farr in the European Pharmaceutical Review, most employees in life sciences businesses have worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, in keeping with COVID-19 safety regulations – social distancing, mandatory testing, masks, sanitizing, and so on – life sciences companies have begun to physically restructure their lab spaces and schedules. Turning workstations away from each other and installing additional hand-washing stations is easy enough, but the need to space workstations farther apart has meant one of two things: either bigger floor space, or staggered shifts and other scheduling tricks that allow for smaller space. As companies embrace both measures, we can expect to see a dynamic market for lab real estate.

SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES: WORKING WITH THE COMPETITION

Threatening both public health and the secure supply of vital medicines and equipment, COVID-19 has caused medical device manufacturers and pharmas to reach across industry divides and forge collaborations, even with direct competitors – much as nation states have countered stockpiling by introducing collaborative measures.

An easing of both regulatory and competitive rules has allowed for an unusual pooling of knowledge, data, and technology towards combating COVID-19 and fostering supply-chain resilience, but this may well prove to be another new normal. From Accord Healthcare partnering with Sterling Pharma to safeguard its access to APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients) for a potential COVID-19 drug; to biotechs joining forces to improve cell therapy; to the accelerated digital transformation of pharma – multiple precedents are pointing the way towards industry-wide collaboration as a standard practice in the future.

 

CAPITAL FLOW

The COVID-19 crisis has thrown the entire life sciences industry into the limelight, and with attention come funding and recognition. One exemplar is the state of Michigan, home to about 1,700 bioscience businesses – from research hubs to major manufacturing by Pfizer, Stryker, and Perrigo. Generating an estimated $28B a year and employing over 130,000 people, until COVID hit, Michigan’s life sciences industry was surprisingly “under the radar” for federal and state policymakers.

This has changed considerably. with Michigan, for example, offering $1 million retooling grants for local companies wishing to pivot into producing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Corporate money was not far behind, most recently with QIAGEN paying $248 million for an 80% stake in NeuMoDx Molecular, which develops automated molecular testing platforms. “There’s value out there,” says Stephen Rapundalo of MichBio, speaking with the Bridge Michigan nonprofit news source, “and people are willing to pay for it.”

 

A MENTALITY RIPPLE EFFECT

COVID has been a mental shock, grabbing the collective mentality by the shoulders and giving it a good shake. Above and beyond the immediately-relevant examples cited in this brief review, the crisis has served as a wakeup call to change the way we think.

Corporations, investors, startups, and entrepreneurs have been made to realize in quite harsh terms that future-building and their own success must go beyond pleasant buzzwords –  “sustainability”, for example – to taking actual steps, now. Because once labs are reconfigured, competitors turn collaborators, and capital streams settle into their new channels, one thing will still be abundantly clear: there is no turning back to the way things were.