Collaboration across the Life Sciences sector

Collaboration across the Life Sciences sector
Published: 17 April 2020

We are currently living in an extraordinary period of time. The world has not faced a situation like this for decades and, in my opinion, the Life Sciences sector is responding brilliantly. Collaboration has always been a key aspect of the pharmaceutical industry, allowing innovation, investment and greater use of unused IP. Yet now, more than ever, we are seeing alliances and collaborations popping up at an unthinkable rate, with more and more drugmakers around the globe teaming up to fight the coronavirus pandemic. 

Competitors are forming alliances that would have seemed implausible six months ago. Leaders from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi, two of the big four players in the vaccine industry, have signed a collaboration agreement aiming to develop an effective COVID-19 adjuvant vaccine. Sanofi will provide its COVID-19 antigen and GSK will supply its adjuvant technology; together, this could see a vaccine enter the market remarkably swiftly with the capability to be manufactured on a large scale.

This joint venture has increased the number of COVID-19 collaborations that GSK have formed with other groups, including universities and smaller companies, to seven. Further to this, Emma Walmsley, GSK’s CEO, stated that the company does not intend to profit from any of these initiatives during the pandemic. Instead, it will reinvest any money it makes into research and pandemic preparedness. In addition, they plan to donate adjuvant to the world’s poorest countries. 

Another key competitor collaboration comes from Apple and Google, who are partnering to allow users to share data in an effort to trace the spread of coronavirus. Alongside public health authorities, the companies will create contact tracing technology, which will include downloadable apps and Bluetooth technology, to actively inform individuals if they have been in contact with a person with COVID-19. 

In addition to these joint ventures, other companies are looking to ‘strength in numbers’ to develop effective treatments. Six companies are working together to try and co-develop a plasma-derived antibody treatment that they hope will prove effective against COVID-19. Rather than compete against each other, CSL Behring, Takeda Pharmaceutical, Biotest, Bio Products Laboratory, LFB, and Octapharma plan to develop the product unbranded. 

Closer to home, it has recently been announced that one of the government's coronavirus testing facilities will be based here, in the North West at Alderley Park. The Medicines Discovery Catapult has been working closely with experts from the regional pharmaceutical, academic and clinical communities to create these facilities at an unprecedented pace. The testing equipment used in the laboratories has been loaned to the facilities by universities, research institutes and commercial companies across Britain. The samples, delivered from across the nation for analysis, will be processed by skilled volunteers from across the scientific community around the clock. 

These are just a few examples of individuals and companies utilising their time, effort and finances to unite to try and mitigate the negative effect that this pandemic is having on both our global economy and, more importantly, our lives. It should, however, come as no real surprise that the industry can adapt so quickly to the changes occurring and create such effective collaborations so quickly. In a research project performed by our colleagues in Odgers Berndtson using Wave assessment, they analysed the highly-regarded traits of the senior leadership teams across different industry sectors, with Life Sciences standing out as being much more collaborative than virtually any other industry.

However, in Odgers Berndtson’s recent Leadership Confidence Index 2020, a staggering 85% of senior executives surveyed from across sectors and geographies lack confidence in their own leadership team’s ability to successfully navigate through disruptive times. Interestingly, confidence across executives surveyed from the Life Sciences sector was one of the lowest. Leaders require the potential for learning and self-growth; they must combine their drive with resilience but also adaptability in order to thrive in times of disruption. It will be interesting to see whether organisations will have increased confidence in their leadership team once this pandemic is contained, or whether the need for new leadership that thrives despite uncertainty will be high on the agenda.

For more information, please contact Caroline Hunt, a consultant in Berwick Partners Life Sciences practice.

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