Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members


The impact of a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in recent memory.  The pandemic has led to tremendous losses in terms of economic disruption, and is on par with World War 2.  Despite vaccines being out, newer strains have emerged, and the crisis does not show any signs of abating as there are millions of new cases each day.  The search for new vaccines and therapies has been expedited further.

The biopharma has found itself on the frontlines of the crisis thereby receiving widespread attention worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst for many changes in the biopharma sector. Biopharma companies that can successfully adapt to these changes shall stay ahead of the curve and achieve long-term success. Highlighted below are some key insights, based on research from McKinsey.

A paradigm shift

The biopharma industry has carried out a difficult balancing act. On one hand, it has prioritized employee safety, focussed on remote-working, and reduced supply chain disruptions.  Despite these disruptions and hindrances, it has found new cures and treatments due to a renewed emphasis on innovation.

The transition during the pandemic was not easy. Manufacturers had to make several hard decisions and even revaluate priorities. Delivery modes for medication changed drastically, with an increased emphasis on telemedicine.  Companies with complex infrastructure found making these changes even more difficult, because of the sweeping changes they would need to make. Conventional clinical trial design and patient recruitment methods were overhauled for better efficacy during the pandemic.  Marketing strategies were changed, and operations became virtualized.

Due to its proactive approach, biopharma supply chains have better secured, virtual support has been given to clinical trials and physicians, existing drug therapies have been repurposed, high efficacious vaccines have been developed, and drug shortages have been reduced.  The biopharma sector has accomplished this under tremendous scrutiny, shorter time-frames, and heavy external engagement.

These changes have led to a seismic shift in the biopharma industry. Many of the implicit operating rules have now changed – perhaps forever. It is time that biopharma companies around take stock of these changes and plan their future actions accordingly.

Changing operating models

The biopharma industry, prior to the pandemic, was averse to disruptive change. The biggest change that has happened today is that many biopharma organizations have a digital first approach.  The pandemic acted as a catalyst for the quick adoption of digital technologies for their operations. This digital transformation is expected to continue in the new normal.

Highlighted below are some of the trends that have impelled the change in operating models for the biopharma industry.

Working under constant scrutiny: The biopharma industry has been in the spotlight, as the news is abuzz about the development of vaccines, clinical trials, and regulatory approvals.  In that sense, the entire value chain of the biopharma sector has been under scrutiny.  Expectations from the masses pertaining to responsiveness, access to therapies, and innovation have become more pronounced. This shift in perception towards the biopharma sector is likely to be a permanent one. All these factors have brought a sea change in biopharma operating models for the long-term.

Global economic uncertainty: The world is working under conditions of persistent economic uncertainty.  Companies have been forced to re-structure and make difficult decisions to keep themselves afloat.  In such a scenario, healthcare providers will be under pressure to reduce costs and increase the access to their products and services.

Rapid mobilization: The fast deployment of resources worldwide to ensure that therapeutics and vaccines were developed at an exponential pace within a limited time-frame, depicts the prowess of the biopharma industry. Increased collaboration between global biopharma organizations and a strong sense of purpose have enabled the biopharma industry to achieve new heights. Public perceptions towards biopharma are quite positive, due to the industry being able to meet and delivery expectations. It is expected that this level of engagement between all stakeholders in biopharma shall continue.

Future roadmap                                     

The degree of collaboration and expedited pace of development that we have seen for biopharma was brought about due to a paradigm shift in their operating models.  These disruptive changes are expected to remain in biopharma for the long run as mass perceptions towards biopharma have been altered permanently.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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