When COVID – 19 struck, the freezers at countless biopharma labs were immediately swung open in search of compounds to fight SARS-CoV-2. R&D priorities quickly shifted to antivirals, antibodies, and other treatments that could address complications experienced by hospitalized patients infected with the virus. Meanwhile, the race to produce a COVID-19 vaccine—a multifaceted effort involving enormous amounts of fundraising and biopharma research on many levels—was on in earnest. Unprecedented international collaborations unfolded. The biopharmaceutical industry quickly found itself to be the center of global attention.

The pandemic impacted most sectors of the global economy and forced companies to shift their strategies. The biopharma industry was no exception. Disruptions to supply chains, clinical trials, sales forces, and overall operations were par for the course for biotech and pharma companies. Many research programs and grants were delayed or disrupted as COVID-19 impacted the entire healthcare ecosystem. As the biopharma sector got hit with these business and operational challenges, it continued to scramble to find treatments and solutions for SARS-CoV-2.

Today, many treatments for the virus and its effects are in use, while others remain in development and further research continues in the biopharma community worldwide. The level to which the virus has served as a catalyst to fundamentally transform the industry and spur the sector in new directions is astonishing. Key developments include:

  • Increased collaboration and partnerships
  • Modernization of clinical trials
  • Focus on supply and manufacturing
  • Acceleration of digital transformation and artificial intelligence

COVID-19 prompted biopharma companies to reinvent day-to-day operations and innovate at a level never seen before. The industry has effectively rewritten many of the implicit rules and fundamental tenets by which it had operated. Some themes that were barely considered in the past are now becoming the new norm. Many strategic and operational changes were already underway in the biopharma industry pre-pandemic, but COVID-19 accelerated and/or further disrupted many of them. The cumulative effect of such developments has been extraordinary, and these changes are setting the tone for the industry for years to come. Companies will need to embrace these changes to be best positioned for the future.

New Beginning for Biopharma

The pandemic has shined a spotlight on the biopharma industry. Apart from causing systemic business slowdowns and operating shifts, COVID-19 exposed long-standing inefficiencies in biopharma operating models and has led to a tipping point for overdue transformation across all aspects of the biopharma value chain. Companies are reassessing processes and challenging time-honored tactics and strategies.

The modernization of clinical trials, heightened focus on manufacturing and supply chain concerns, and the acceptance of widespread collaboration, among other factors, have transformed R&D, production and deployment processes and will define the road ahead for the biopharma sector. Many had suspected these shifts in the industry would take several years to get fully into motion, but the pandemic accelerated the shifting of gears.