What Trends Are 9 Biopharma CEOs Paying Attention To?
By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL
Trends are like compasses in that they can show you where opportunity resides. And as every business is influenced by the latest trends, it pays for biopharmaceutical executives to pay attention. In preparing for this year’s annual outlook issue (published in December), Life Science Leader posed some trend-oriented questions to a group of biopharma execs, and here is what they had to say. Don’t miss out on all the other knowledge and wisdom provided by the more than 40 biopharmaceutical executives taking part in this year’s annual outlook by becoming a Life Science Leader subscriber today.
What Global Trend Holds The Greatest Potential To Disrupt Biopharma In The Next 3 To 5 Years?
Julian Adams, Ph.D., CEO, Gamida Cell: I’m confident immunotherapy will become further refined and more available and will displace chemotherapy as a primary treatment for cancer. This holds disruptive potential for the industry because a deeper understanding of the immune system has enormous implications for so many diseases. For example, a suppressed immune system that allows the growth of cancer is the opposite of what we see in autoimmune disease, so by gaining new insights in one area, we can in turn draw important hypotheses about another.
The immune system is an incredibly complicated piece of machinery. Take the fact that there are more than 1,200 kinds of white blood cells alone. We’re making progress in understanding the intricacies of this machine – from the tumor microenvironment to how combinations of therapies might interplay. But I also believe that because of this complexity, machine learning and data science will take a larger role in the coming years to help us unravel these interactions. I see better algorithms for diagnostics and for guiding what treatment to give, at what dose, and how frequently. All of this has the chance to transform the biopharma industry as we learn how to regulate the immune system more precisely.
What Biopharmaceutical Industry Trend/s Are You Paying Close Attention To?
Alexandra (Sandra) Glucksmann, president and CEO, Cedilla Therapeutics: Employee retention is something that most biotech CEOs are concerned with these days. The market is incredibly competitive due to the speed at which new biotech companies are being formed. According to the 2021 Radford U.S. Life Sciences/Biotech/Pharma survey, the average annualized turnover rate is 23%. The value of our companies relies not only on our science and the advancement of our programs but also on our specialized and talented workforce. Our people make things happen and we need to continuously think creatively about how to effectively retain our workforce. The pandemic also added an extra demand as employees want more flexible working arrangements. We need to provide employees flexibility while at the same time encouraging people to spend more time at the office – making the office the center of gravity, since creativity and innovation are fundamental to what we do, and this is better done in person and within teams. Employees have a lot of choices in this market and, therefore, more than ever, it is important that employees feel recognized and supported and are being actively developed. This requires that all of us as leaders and managers be very intentional on how we manage and continuously develop our workforce.
What Global Macro Trends Are You Watching?
Hervé Hoppenot, chairman, president, and CEO, Incyte: The two global macro trends that are most important are the evolution of innovation and technology as well as the development of public policies ensuring patients’ ability to access innovative medicines. The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the ability of the biopharmaceutical industry to adapt and quickly mobilize to solve problems creatively and effectively, through the discovery and development of new treatments and vaccines. In parallel, the availability of new innovative medicines for patients in need is dictated by public policies, and we observe that access to these medicines is not always evolving with a momentum similar to the speed of innovation. Moving forward, I expect to see that the biopharmaceutical industry will take recent learnings from the pandemic and use them to further fuel innovation at a steadfast pace and work closely with policy makers and regulators to meet the needs of patients and ensure they are getting the care they need and deserve.
Robert Ross, M.D., CEO, Surface Oncology: The whole biopharma industry is watching the drug pricing debate closely, given the implications for every stage of drug discovery, development, and commercialization. Biopharma has a great track record of innovation to bring new treatments to market for many conditions but making treatments affordable and therefore accessible to patients is very complicated. On the pricing side in oncology, I’m interested to see how drug bundling, which is likely to become more important as combination therapy is likely across all indications, will affect competition and market entry. On the innovation side, we see potentially transformative treatments emerging, like gene therapy, but the question of how we will make those potentially life-saving but expensive treatments accessible to the patients who need them remains unanswered. This issue has implications for health around the world. COVID-19 has amplified the differences between the global haves and have-nots in terms of not just access to breakthrough medicines but also attention to the specific healthcare issues affecting non-Western populations. This is only the latest instance of that imbalance, but we’re in a moment when it’s possible that we’ll see more pharma investment going to address problems, such as infectious disease, that are paramount in non-Western countries.
What 3 Trends Should Biopharma Execs Proactively Manage In Their Organizations?
Chris Martin, D.Phil, director, and CEO, ADC Therapeutics: The patient being first and foremost is not a new trend, but it will and should always be top of mind for biopharmaceutical executives. Patient focus is closely linked to innovation, and harnessing science to create and develop therapies with the potential to transform lives demands an organization that is hungry to work collaboratively and with a sense of urgency. Remote and hybrid models of working is the second key trend, which was jumpstarted by the pandemic. These models have proven to not only be viable, but if managed correctly, major assets for biopharmas. Companies that are open to having employees across different geographies now have access to wide pools of talent and experience. Technology allows us to stay connected with colleagues across the world. However, for these models to be successful, executives must take a hands-on approach to keep colleagues connected and feeling that they belong to something bigger. Frequent employee engagement is vital to building a strong organization and retaining employees. Employee development is key trend number three. The days of tedious year-end employee assessment forms and awkward discussions should be behind us. Our science is innovative, so the growth opportunities we offer employees should be innovative, too. We need to have routine interactions with our employees to give feedback and provide development opportunities. This should not be a once-a-year discussion, but an ongoing conversation.
What U.S. Trend Will Have A Significant Impact On Biopharma Over The Next 5 Years?
Rahul Aras, Ph.D., president and CEO, Iterion Therapeutics: The future for the biopharmaceutical industry looks bright. The field is experiencing unprecedented levels of investment fueled in part by recent approvals of innovative new medicines, including the COVID vaccines. With this success, a major challenge we’ll need to overcome is the talent shortage. While hiring has become difficult for all businesses, the issues are more pronounced in our industry, where specialized skills are often necessary and talent development is expensive. As a small private company in a secondary market, recruitment and retention has become a primary focus. We’re observing a significant increase in salary expectations, the desire to have highly flexible work schedules, and anticipation that job titles will change quickly and often. For the right candidates, we need to recruit aggressively while maintaining the discipline of managing operations for long-term success. The key is creativity and having an open dialogue to understand what matters most to an applicant and how to align these interests with company goals. At the end of the day, a company’s success is entirely dependent on the team it builds. The massive investment we’ve seen in the sector needs to be matched by the right talent to advance products to market.
Judy Chou, Ph.D., president and CEO, AltruBio: As we have seen since 2020, the entire U.S. work ecosystem has seen changes driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most notably, we have seen a significant shift toward increased remote work. During the pandemic, this provided a safe alternative to continue working for many who are fortunate enough to have this option. As we move on, I expect remote working would be integrated in the future. Many roles in the biopharma industry are not excluded from this, and it offers some advantages: Employers have wider access to skilled talent without being restricted to geographic locations and it offers a more flexible work setting for employees. As with everything, there are disadvantages as well. Some challenges that will need to be overcome in this new setting include maintaining an ecosystem or hub for the company and industry and ensuring networking interactions and opportunities occur. Additionally, remote work may challenge the lab environment generally and companies may start to decrease their in-house capacity, so we may see more reliance on CDMOs and CROs.
With COVID-19 we have also seen an increase in interest and investment in biopharma. Investors have shown a greater investment risk tolerance and companies are going into IPO at earlier stages. In terms of development, due to the increased investment, we are seeing a quicker realization of innovative technologies. mRNA vaccines, for example, moved from concept to reality years ahead of the curve. I think this will continue and the speed of product development will continue to accelerate.
Lastly, we have seen a great push in the past year to bring issues of diversity and inclusion into the forefront of people's and businesses’ minds. Many companies have seen that greater inclusivity has driven a wider range of viewpoints in decision-making and innovation. We have also seen companies making a push to reduce the gender gap and showing a greater acceptance of diversity. NASDAQ and other exchanges have required even board gender representation, which has pushed a lot of companies to reevaluate their selection methods and criteria. Diversity of people and thoughts will push the industry forward and help us use novel ideas to solve problems.
James Mackay, founder, president, and CEO, Aristea Therapeutics: COVID-19 changed the way we work and the way we think about working arrangements dramatically, and it will have a lasting effect. During the pandemic, we all realized that we could work very effectively and efficiently remotely and have a more flexible working day and better work-life balance. Although we miss the direct person-to-person interactions, I believe these are likely to take place in the future in a more socially oriented environment, while standard work interactions will remain remote. Over the past 12 months, we successfully completed a financial raise and a collaboration deal without the need for any face-to-face interactions during negotiations, showcasing the lasting effect of the pandemic on how we work going forward. Never again will a pharma executive have to take a 6-hour flight from coast to coast for a 1-hour meeting; those days have gone. Lasting change is inevitable, but what remains to be seen is what the new norm will look like; it will undoubtedly take some time to evolve and settle. Staff will, going forward, have a much stronger voice and, as leaders, we need to embrace that and work with our teams to help create our own new norms.
What Technologies From Non-Healthcare Related Industries Do You Anticipate Having The Biggest Impact On Biopharma In 2022 And Beyond?
Tariq Kassum, M.D., CEO, Celsius Therapeutics: An incredible amount of imagination and energy (in both meanings of the word) have gone into developing applications for blockchain technology over the last few years. Right now, decentralized finance is the hot topic among banks and venture capital alike. But I would argue healthcare and biopharma are also fertile territory for this technology since what is healthcare if not decentralized? Today, fragmented care provided by a network of providers, with each node responsible for complying with privacy requirements, creates multiple potential points of failure. And researchers struggle to gain access to genomic information and medical records to better understand patterns of disease – something many patients may consent to with adequate privacy safeguards and incentives. Therefore, it is not hard to imagine a future where new digital technologies could be leveraged. For example, medical information could be stored on non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which could be securely ported from provider to pharmacies to clinical trials. The patient’s genome could be archived within the token, and a patient could potentially gain income by lending it out to researchers for a fee. As these technologies gain wider acceptance, I suspect applications in our industry are not far away.