How COVID-19 is Changing Biologic Workspaces

April 1, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck

SAN DIEGO – The past four days, hundreds of keynote speakers in academia, biotech, and pharma virtually gathered for the Festival of Biologics.  

Unlike other years, many of the top-producers in the biopharma and life sciences industries discussed how work practices have changed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.  

Chris McPherson, a senior scientist at Samsung Biologics, described how in only three months his company was able to manufacture and deliver drugs in light of what he called the “black swan,” or unpredictable event.  

McPherson explained that a typical technology transfer timeline takes 12 months, starting from the project kick off, to engineering run, to the clinical run. But his team was able to expedite that timeline to three months.

Using four case studies, McPherson illustrated that when his lab experienced supply issues from a shortage of raw material availability, that they were able to resolve the issue by, “leveraging Samsung’s biologics plants at one time.” 

Gimbal-mounted, high-definition cameras, allowed for things such as virtual meetings, data sharing, and client access for audits and tours inside the lab. The cameras allowed McPherson and his team to zoom in and out of various pieces of equipment to show what was happening on the ground floor during a time his clients could not physically be there.  

Mcpherson said these improvements in manufacturing and delivering drugs won’t just happen because of COVID-19 but are sustainable long-term.  

The year 2020 also galvanized efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, as biopharma and life science CEOs looked to providing more roles for women and other underrepresented populations.  

“A lot of companies have gender balance at about 50/50, but when you look at senior roles you see less women represented, and the same is true of diversity as well,” stated Rebecca Sendak, the head of Global Large Molecules Research Platform at Sanofi.  

“2020 was a powerful year for our company,” explained Kristen Hege, senior vice president in Early Clinical Development in Hematology and Oncology at Bristol-Myers Squibb.   

Hege explained that her CEO Giovanni Caforio made a public commitment of $3 million over the next five years to expand health equity and diversity and inclusion efforts, like increasing supplier diversity with Black, African American owned businesses.  

“We trained 250 new racially and ethnically diverse clinical investigators, understanding that to enroll more diverse patients in clinical trials we need more investigators that connect at a personal level with those patients,” stated Hege.  

Other female panelists discussed changes in workspaces such as having “equity audits,” to interrogate policies and practices which don’t align with equity and inclusivity values.  

“I think the George Floyd murder woke a lot of people up and having that graphically captured struck a chord. When those events unfolded, there were people who wanted to talk about it. We scheduled events and brought in guest speakers to talk about things that were once taboo to talk about. We saw a shift from 2020 in that regard,” stated Sendak.  

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