I don’t think any of us have lived through a time when life sciences research and development has been the focus of so much attention, and so many hopes. News of promising early trials, emergency use authorizations, and Operation Warp Speed fills the newsfeeds of even those well outside of the life sciences field. There is a worldwide race to find treatments and a vaccine, and this is exactly as it should be.
But there is another important race happening, too, and it’s not new. It’s the race to identify treatments and cures for a range of chronic conditions and life-threatening diseases unrelated to COVID-19. Patient needs in these areas have not abated and yet it’s become far more difficult to sustain these trials and research amid pandemic-related restrictions and the prioritization of COVID-19 R&D.
At our latest Women In Bio event, Non-COVID-19 Patient Needs Don’t Stop, we heard from women who have been at the forefront of keeping the R&D wheels turning for non-COVID research: Albena Patroneva of Harmony Biosciences, Claudia Berrón of Avantor, Stacey Stein of Clinipace, and Ann McMahon of Catalent.
With perspectives from biopharma, research materials supply, contract research, and contract manufacturing, we had a bird’s eye view of how women in the field are rising to meet this challenge.
Here are a few of the themes – and some memorable tidbits – that came through in our discussion.
Playing to Their Strengths
New skill sets in demand? Sure. But the panelists and their teams seemed to rely most heavily on skills they already had; in effect, doubling down on existing capabilities. A team which had always been split between two geographic locations already knew how to collaborate online. Now that nearly all were working from home, they had to do so at an entirely new level. For another team facing supply chain challenges, regulatory compliance expertise had always been pivotal. But digging deeper – much deeper – into regulatory requirements helped the team assess the most viable ways to work around emerging supply constraints.
As one panelist aptly noted, bad news is not like wine. It does not improve with age. Transparency became mission-critical across virtually every area. Upfront discussions about reduced clinical trial site availability allowed for lead time to find alternate solutions; early warning systems about supply chain risks helped to mitigate trouble ahead. As inventories dwindled, candid conversations enabled teams to distinguish the critical orders from the less urgent replenishment orders, and do their part to keep urgent R&D efforts on track.
Sink or Swim
“There were things we meant to do… for a long time… but because they weren’t mandatory or urgent, we hadn’t quite taken the leap.” These were the words of one panelist, but the sentiment was echoed by others. Broader use of remote monitoring technology. Leveraging electronic medical records. Utilizing home health vendors and telehealth as a matter of course rather than by exception. The consensus was that these difficult conditions had spurred many teams to forge ahead with new ways of working quickly because there was no alternative. And there was universal support for preserving the considerable value that had emerged from embracing these new ways of working. In fact, all of the panelists seemed to be future-focused rather than longing for a return to the ways of the past.
I was pleased to moderate the panel, but mostly, I found myself inspired by the panelists’ responses. At Navigate, we’re working with some of the largest life sciences companies in the region to grapple with COVID-related disruption and prepare for a future that looks very different from the one they – and their employees – had expected. Organizations need great leaders (and partners!) to do this work. The panelists demonstrated – once again – what I have always found to be true of women leaders in this field: they are creative. Collaborative. Practical. Committed. And most of all? Dedicated to improving patient outcomes by keeping R&D moving, even in the most difficult of circumstances.