COVID-19: Q&A on why pharmaceutical and life sciences companies should plan now for emerging stronger

April 23, 2020

Why should pharmaceutical and life sciences companies start planning for a post-pandemic world? HRI spoke with Greg Rotz, PwC Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Advisory leader, about the steps that should be taken now to emerge stronger from the pandemic.

PwC Health Research Institute (HRI):

It sounds counterintuitive to plan to emerge stronger during a pandemic. Why should pharma companies devote resources to this now?

Greg Rotz, PwC Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Advisory Leader:

We are learning many lessons about preparedness and the lack of preparedness. As tough as it is right now, we know this pandemic will pass and we will get to the other side. So let’s get prepared.

In addition to the operational realities that will shape the next phase of this pandemic, such as social distancing at work, there are significant strategic questions about lasting impacts from COVID-19 on factors like patient behavior, physician access, stability of supply and regulation.

We are advocating for an intentional effort by pharma companies to reimagine what’s possible in light of these new dynamics. This needs to be a programmatic response. Just like launching a drug or integrating an acquisition, we now need the same focus and effort in a program for emerging stronger from the pandemic.

HRI: How should a pharma executive structure a program to emerge stronger?

Greg Rotz: It needs to be a combination of strategic framework, real-time information, and insightful learnings from the pandemic. There are three areas to organize around.

First, think about the changes and shifts that are happening right now that will most likely stick after the pandemic. Examples might include virtual health being more widely used and major shifts in the book of business as a result of unemployment. Then pair “no regrets” moves with these shifts. Evolving commercial strategies to engage more fully in the virtual health channel appears to be a no-regrets move.

Second, develop offensive moves where you can place some bets. One example could be a merger or acquisition that was not feasible prior to COVID-19 that may now be feasible when the target’s valuation is lower. Don’t pass on opportunities to build and strengthen your company.

The third pillar to the reemerge plan is deciding which portions of the company’s capability-building agenda need to be accelerated. Perhaps the company was in the middle of a multiyear digital journey or a transformation program to make the operating model more agile.

We’ve learned a lot about which capabilities are crucial and where we need to go faster. Identifying these areas, reallocating investment and reworking transformation plans will be crucial to building the post-pandemic organization. Emerging stronger means using this pandemic as a catalyst for next-generation thinking in key areas like R&D, supply chain and commercial.

Ultimately the mission of the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry is to improve health and save lives. The daily news headlines reinforce the critical importance of this mission and how much we are counting on the industry for treatments and vaccines. The pandemic is reminding us of the importance of managing chronic diseases and taking into account a person’s whole health.

HRI: In 2018 HRI surveyed pharma executives about barriers to conducting virtual or remote clinical research trials, and the top barrier was patient recruitment. Are pharma companies going to emerge stronger in a virtual health world post-pandemic?

Greg Rotz: We know the use of virtual care has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Necessity is the mother of invention, and now it will be up to pharma executives to take the lead on how to remake those portions of the business model that rely so heavily on face-to-face interaction.

Emerging stronger means more work will need to be done to support virtual trials: for example, looking at alternatives to traditional trial sites to allow for remote and decentralized data collection. This means patient visits are not necessarily at hospitals, and more data can be reported from home. This also impacts how trials are monitored and audited. This is not a novel concept, but it needs to accelerate in response to COVID-19.

Emerging stronger will also mean supporting the doctor-patient relationship in a different way. If virtual care remains in high demand, there may not be as many opportunities for doctors to give patients brochures, educational material and starter kits.

Consumers may have a wide variety of doctors spanning from a traditional primary care physician to a rotating group of telehealth clinicians. The pharmaceutical commercial model, including physician targeting and patient support, will need to reflect this growing virtual channel.

HRI: As pharma leaders embark on the process to emerge stronger, what should they keep in mind?

Greg Rotz: Ultimately the mission of the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry is to improve health and save lives. The daily news headlines reinforce the critical importance of this mission and how much we are counting on the industry for treatments and vaccines.

The pandemic is also reminding us of the importance of managing chronic diseases and taking into account a person’s whole health. A person with a chronic condition such as diabetes or heart disease or a major social determinants of health obstacle such as living in a food desert or lack of housing is at higher risk now.

The stronger pharma company of the future will use this pandemic to redouble efforts on thinking beyond the medicine and into the homes and communities of the people they serve.

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Greg Rotz

US Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Advisory Leader, PwC US

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