Guest Blog|How do pandemics impact the life sciences industry?
Guest blog by Janita Good, Co-Head of Life Sciences, Fieldfisher
Pharmaceutical, healthcare and biotech companies are at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, from therapeutic drug trials and vaccine development to the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. The industry has a unique ability and therefore responsibility to help the world respond to this global pandemic, both by working collaboratively to deliver solutions to the virus and by maintaining the supply of medical products to those who need them. However, as in all industries, business in the sector has been disrupted by the virus, largely driven by a reduction in patient interactions, as well as redeployment of resources towards the COVID-19 response. This raises the question of how pandemics impact the Life Sciences industry.
Cancellation of elective procedures means that medical devices companies are seeing a near-term negative impact from COVID-19. Orthopaedics and quality of life procedures such as aesthetic surgery and ophthalmic surgery have been most affected, leading to a decrease in demand for devices such as artificial joints and intraocular lenses.
In contrast, telehealth devices, previously considered a novelty, have been invaluable during the pandemic. The COVID-19 symptom tracker app, developed in March 2020 by Kings College London and the health data science company Zoe, had 750,000 downloads in the UK within the first 24 hours and almost 2.7 million users by the end of April 2020. Pando, a communications app for doctors, saw its user base increase by 400% in March as users share notes on how to manage the outbreak.
Clinical trials for non-COVID drugs have also been impacted, with some pharmaceutical companies reporting either delays to the start of new trials or the interruption and delay of ongoing trials. Although the EMA have, in some instances, recommended a temporary halt, postponement or extension of trials and the suspension of new participant enrolment, they have also made a number of recommendations that would allow trials to continue.
Whilst much of the pandemic impact will be short term, peaking over the next quarter in conjunction with the peak of the virus in the US and Europe and settling towards the end of the year, we will likely see some long term structural change as global attitudes towards health shift in the wake of the pandemic. For instance, we may see a revived focus on routine vaccines as the population becomes more concerned about general health and the risks associated with infectious diseases, such as the flu, benefitting firms with vaccine portfolios. Furthermore, telehealth will likely become more popular due to reduced barriers to seeking medical help online and we may see regulatory and privacy law surrounding health data adapt to this. Lastly, if we are a generation that learns from past mistakes, we should see more stockpiling of medicines and other healthcare products to equip healthcare systems for possible future outbreaks.
 Guidance on the management of clinical trials during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic (28 April 2020) <https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/human-regulatory/research-development/compliance/good-clinical-practice#guidance-on-clinical-trial-management-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-section>