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What Lessons Can Life Sciences Learn From the Pandemic?

23 December 2021

By Jay Freeman

What Lessons Can Life Sciences Learn From the Pandemic?

Unlike many other industries, life sciences were relatively prepared for an event like the pandemic.

26% of life sciences companies had risk registers containing pandemic/a major health crisis as a top 10 risk prior to Covid-19, the highest amongst industries such as public and financial services, transport and logistics, technology and communications, and agrifood.

Nearly half of the life sciences organisations interviewed had a plan in place prior to the outbreak, compared to the general benchmark of 31% across all sectors. 

The industry has remained resilient, and in many cases, thrived as the pandemic evolves and changes the landscape of work.

But what lessons can life sciences organisations learn from the pandemic?

Enhanced, streamlined collaboration

In a survey, 66% of life sciences companies admitted to relying on outdated processes that impacted their ability to collaborate remotely – this had a knock-on impact on the ability to innovate, upskill staff and implement sustainability goals.

The collaborative processes prior to the pandemic in life sciences tended to be long and arduous, as the norm was to work in silos.

Collaboration needed to evolve to keep up with the pace of developments, and as a result, there is a greater willingness to share knowledge and data across organisations.

Collaborative efforts tied in strongly with supply chain issues, as the global necessity for coordinated efforts increased to culminate in a more robust, resilient supply chain.

In biotech, collaboration has adapted to meet the rapid technology advancements of the sector – rather than the traditional expectation of partnering with big pharma – by working with other biotechs. 

Supply chain efficiency

In the early days of the pandemic, countries with a strong manufacturing sector were best positioned to respond to the outbreak – South Korea, Germany – and scale up distribution and test kits.

Most countries were hit with the issues of a weak domestic manufacturing base for essential equipment such as PPE, and the poor diagnostics that accompanied them. 

Now, life sciences organisations will have to contend with the potential necessity to look outside of a ‘one supplier, one place’ model. 

Such a complex and regulated supply chain model is bound to encounter issues, particularly with such a reliance on outsourcing.

Supply chain readiness and capacity will undoubtedly be an area for improvement for the industry, even for organisations that had resilient supply chains.

Sustainability efforts

Many life sciences organisations had to postpone their sustainability efforts during the pandemic. 

Carbon neutrality is a major goal in many countries, meaning that the importance of sustainability is rising again on the agenda as the recovery period continues.

Reducing the sector’s impact on the world will require organisations to properly integrate sustainability strategies, which also includes using digital solutions.

An example of this change is Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health (J&JCH), who are investing $800m over the next 10 years to improve the health of people and the planet. By 2025, J&JCH expects to provide transparency for all its brands’ ingredients to inform consumer choice.

As a result of the pandemic, some life sciences organisations are utilising virtual consultations and virtual clinical trials which could have the potential to reduce carbon emissions in the long-term.

A rebuilding of the public image of the industry

The role that life sciences has played during the pandemic has meant that there is ample opportunity for it to positively shift public perception.

The pharmaceutical industry in particular has dealt with ranking poorly in public perception, yet with the swift vaccination efforts, public trust is on the rise.

Shifting public image also relates to sustainability efforts, as organisations are expected to show a genuine commitment to positive change.

Additionally, the shift in public image has also led to an increase in the number of people studying STEM topics at university, which could have a significant impact on the skills shortages that life sciences are dealing with.


Central to life sciences is the capacity for innovation.

The pandemic demonstrated that life sciences can respond quickly and collaboratively to change.

Vaccine development steps weren’t carried out in the usual sequential way, but instead, concurrently, in a much shorter time frame.

To accomplish this, new processes were required on multiple fronts, particularly with regulations.

If life sciences organisations can adopt a fraction of this flexibility towards their ability to innovate, it will mean that the sector is more adaptable – something which we’ve seen the value of.

New ways of working

Remote working may have brought a host of challenges for life sciences organisations, yet it also brought the realisation that remote work is possible in the industry.

Though initially there was mass disruption, the opportunities and demand for remote work is increasing at a time when the ‘war for talent’ is also driving trends.

If organisations need top talent, they will have a larger talent pool to pull from if remote working is available – it also means that there are no limitations on locations, which can help towards diversity efforts.

It can be expected that hybrid working will be the focus for life sciences to meet workforce demands, rather than treating the prospect as a passing trend.

Accelerated digitalisation

New collaboration relied on digitalisation – reducing costs, time, and distance – to bridge the gap when face-to-face and traditional working wasn’t possible.

As organisations begin adopting hybrid working models, technologies such as AI and virtual rooms are expected to grow in popularity.

Clinical trials have also experienced accelerated digitalisation, with a shift towards patient-centric trials.

The growth of newer technologies is indicative of both changing workforce trends and the necessity for technology that drives innovation in the industry.

Organisations could benefit massively from remote staff training, analytics to track equipment use and productivity, and predictive maintenance to minimise equipment failures – it could be the key to the success of the recovery period.

In conclusion

The new ways of working that were required during the pandemic have driven significant changes in life sciences, from the adapted forms of collaboration to the necessity to re-evaluate supply chains.

To successfully adapt post-pandemic, organisations will have to consider the new workforce trends and evolve accordingly, primarily through the use of technology, to meet demand.

For expert advice on securing top talent for your life sciences company, get in touch with the Panda team today.

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