Eight experts from across life sciences reveal what they have learned since Covid-19 hit

David Lee and Craig Johnson seek answers from eight experts working in the life sciences field on what the pandemic has taught the sector
Alison Culpan , Director of ABPI Scotland. Picture: Martin ShieldsAlison Culpan , Director of ABPI Scotland. Picture: Martin Shields
Alison Culpan , Director of ABPI Scotland. Picture: Martin Shields

Alison Culpandirector of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

The most important lesson that not just the industry but everyone in this space has learned is that working collaboratively is far more useful and far more productive than working in silos.

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In the past, we sometimes had challenges trying to work with the NHS – not so much in academia, but even there sometimes academics could be precious about what they were working on and didn’t want to get involved with companies.

Dave Tudor, MD of the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation CentreDave Tudor, MD of the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre
Dave Tudor, MD of the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre

Now, I think everybody understands the benefits. Collaborative working has added to the pace of developments and it has added to trust.

Let’s hope that collaboration continues because we don’t want it to dissipate.

Professor Bruce Whitelaw interim director of The Roslin Institute

There are many lessons for the sector to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lorna Duguid. Picture: Sandie KnudsenLorna Duguid. Picture: Sandie Knudsen
Lorna Duguid. Picture: Sandie Knudsen

When we are faced with a big challenge – and we face many, including ageing societies, food security and achieving carbonzero – and in the absence of knowing in advance which is best, taking multiple approaches, illustrated by multiple vaccine types or adopting numerous social restrictions, is the right thing to do.

Multiple approaches enable the solution, or solutions, to be reached quicker.

Also, knowing the behaviour of the challenge – for Covid-19, this is the behaviour of the virus – and just as importantly, how society responds to the challenge, are critical.

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But, capping it all, we have learnt that working together and sharing data is essential, and this is how we should face future challenges.

Alix Mackay. Picture: John DevlinAlix Mackay. Picture: John Devlin
Alix Mackay. Picture: John Devlin

Dave Tudor Managing Director, Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre

For me. it’s about supply chain readiness. Whether it’s testing, diagnostics or vaccine supply, you must have a supply chain ready to respond.

When we went into this pandemic, we didn’t have enough PPE, or enough diagnostic tests. We didn’t have the supply chain capacity in the NHS or the vaccine supply.

Incredibly, 300 days later, a lot of that turned on its head - we fixed the PPE issue, the ventilators issue, testing, diagnostics AND we got vaccine supply.

Deborah O'NeilDeborah O'Neil
Deborah O'Neil

The biggest learning is that you have to be ready.

Lorna Duguid life sciences director at Opportunity North East

The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that the life sciences sector can respond collaboratively at pace.

Vaccines were created quickly because the development steps were carried out in a concurrent way rather than sequentially, so they took ten months instead of ten years.

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Life sciences is such an innovative sector, and the vaccine development is a great example of how we can think differently on the regulatory front too.

It’s a great example of finding new ways to do things, rather than following the same pattern that we have before.

Toby Reid executive director of BioCity Glasgow operator We Are Pioneer Group

We have learned that, in one small area – Covid vaccines – it’s possible to get medicines to market in an accelerated timeline.

The challenge is preventing a reversion to normal once the pandemic has passed; that’s the golden opportunity that mustn’t get wasted.

There’s uncertainty hanging over the regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, in the post-Brexit world because there is talk of funding cuts.

This would mean Britain would have to rely on regulations from the European Union or the US, which would become just a rubber-stamping process – at direct odds with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement that he wants the UK to become a leading science nation.

Deborah O’Neil founder and chief executive of NovaBiotics

There will never be a handbook for a pandemic because no two will ever be the same, but we need to learn both negative and positive lessons. We’ve seen the havoc that an infectious disease can wreak.

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Infectious diseases have never been seen as a sexy area and, while every therapeutic area is important, infectious diseases have been dismissed to some degree. Along came the pandemic and made people realise this is what can happen. It highlighted the importance of pandemic readiness, so we must never let infectious disease slip off the radar again.

Claude Wischik chief executive of TauRx

For TauRx, the lesson was communication and flexibility. To run our current Phase 3 trial safely and responsibly, we needed to understand the needs of not only our study participants, their study partners and families, but also the needs of all those involved in running the trial.

A dynamic and ongoing conversation allowed us to adapt, providing continued hope and care whilst embracing flexible approaches to deliver the study requirements, including digital technology for patient interaction.

Our study volunteers and trial sites have equally embraced new methods to continue progress with our important research and displayed great determination in the face of the pandemic.

Alix Mackay founding director of The Life Sciences Marketing Academy, and member of Life Sciences Scotland Industry Leadership Group

The most important thing we’ve learnt is the strength and quality of leadership throughout the life sciences industry – from the game-changing decision-making within the UK Vaccines Taskforce to the courage, resilience and agility of life sciences enterprises that changed operations so that they could contribute to the Covid-19 response.

We’ve seen true leadership qualities in action – the knowledge to understand what’s needed, an unshakeable optimism for what can be achieved, an intense commitment to implementation, and an energy that inspires others.

The results of this leadership are here for us all to see. Imagine what this same leadership in life sciences could deliver for other health and climate challenges when they’re supported to do so.

This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Life Sciences 2021 supplement. A digital version can be found here.