AstraZeneca and Wuxi I-Campus recently held a webinar on the impact of COVID-19 in the life science industry. The session gave us some interesting insight into how the life science ecosystem in China has lived through the COVID-19 challenge and what useful learnings they can pass onto Europe. Organised in partnership with UK Bioindustry Association (BIA), the webinar heard from leaders across the sector from both China and the UK.

AstraZeneca’s three-part strategy

Speaker Leon Wang, AstraZeneca Executive Vice President, started the webinar by explaining the three-part strategy the company has put in place to continue operations whilst protecting the welfare of their employees:

  • Ensure employees and their families are healthy and safe.
  • Fight the pandemic together with government and healthcare institutions, doctors and nurses.
  • Focus on how AstraZeneca can help, especially ensuring that medicines are accessible to patients and that other diseases are not forgotten.

Digital communication is key

AstraZeneca has also taken advantage of digital communication technology to stay connected with staff and manage the disease. Wang explained how they have reassessed the way they work, remaining flexible to adapt to the new normal. For example, they were recently involved in a webcast involving circa 6,000 medical experts sharing their experiences and learnings. Wang spoke of how the key to handling the situation was responding with speed and remaining adaptable to current needs.

Adapting to change

The BIA’s Steve Bates OBE also discussed this need for adaptability. He explained that for UK businesses to deal with the changes caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, they should focus on their people. Operations will undoubtedly be disrupted and the way in which business is conducted has fundamentally changed, but working with employees to aid the transition to a virtual workspace is essential.

Impact on China

Christian Hogg, CEO of Hutchison China MediTech (known as Chi-Med), has around 5,000 staff on the ground in China, giving him an insight into the impact that long term lock-downs will have on the sector. Speaking at the webinar, he explained how many of his commercial teams in China had to adapt to conveying details digitally to doctors rather than face-to-face. Though his staff were initially uncertain, it was reassuring to hear first-hand that sales and profits were not significantly impacted and that things are beginning to return to normal.

Similarly, in the manufacturing side of the business, although the factories in China remained closed for an additional two weeks after the Chinese New Year, Hogg explained that there was sufficient inventory to avoid any supply chain issues. The factories have been operational for over six weeks now.

Resilience, speed and adaptability are key

The life science sector is under extreme pressure to meet the global need for better, faster therapies to combat COVID-19 and The BIA is doing a fantastic job coordinating and communicating our efforts in the UK. In his latest CEO blog, Steve Bates covers news on the UK testing strategy and highlights the UK’s position as a powerhouse for scientific and clinical understanding of COVID-19.

As a leading provider of executive search and executive interims in the life sciences industry, we have been playing our part in this war by helping organisations find the right talent quickly to parachute in and successfully deliver straight away. Speed and adaptability are key because in order to thrive in a vastly changed and largely unforeseen set of circumstances, leaders need to be innovative and adapt so that we have a stronger, more resilient life sciences sector in the future.

The key message from Christian Hogg for UK businesses was the need to improvise and remain practical in the way they operate. We have a duty to keep the life science sector strong so a focus on key priorities during this period is essential, whether that be progressing your pipeline and protecting investment or maintaining supply chains to secure commercial business.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisationshared “This is the time for facts, not fear. This is the time for science, not rumours. This is the time for solidarity, not stigma. We are all in this together, and we can only stop it together.”

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