The industry response to COVID-19: what’s the state of play one year on?

When the pandemic began, companies across multiple sectors had to change both their ways of working and their focus in order to support efforts to manage and mitigate COVID-19. One year on, we hosted a live Q&A panel webinar with three industry R&D professionals to talk about the industry response to covid-19 and any changes they’ve experienced in technology transfer over the course of the pandemic.

Introducing our panellists…

Alex Moloney (Product Specialist, Tocris Bioscience) – Alex is responsible for bringing reagents and tools for research to market, working closely with academic institutes around the world.

Raymond Chan (Product Manager, Bio-Techne) – Ray manages a broad portfolio of tools for antibody-based research, diagnostic and therapeutic applications and has been part of Bio-Techne’s global COVID-19 product management response team to support researchers.

Michel de Baar (Executive Director (BD&L Europe), Merck MSD) – Michel has experience in all steps of business development and transaction processes, and the goal for his Global Business Development & Licensing team is to augment MSD’s pipeline.


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What was the initial industry response to covid-19?

For many around the world, the pandemic drove a change in the way that industry R&D functioned. Like many of us, our panellists began working from home, and companies took steps to protect life science manufacturing and their workers from COVID-19 whilst still maintaining normal levels of production and supply.

In addition, companies have created internal teams to address the research and innovation challenges presented by the pandemic. This has included assembling core business development groups to evaluate potential technologies for collaboration and commercialisation, as well as webinars and meetings with other other companies and academics to inform research and corporate approaches. Supporting the efforts to mitigate COVID-19 and develop successful interventions has been a priority for industry from the outset, including redesigning existing research and diagnostic tools for use within clinical settings.

How did R&D priorities change?

Initially, companies had a more reactive response to the pandemic. For our panellists, this primarily revolved around repurposing existing research and interventions (such as previous research into SARS) and assessing its applicability to COVID-19. Providing tools to both researchers and clinical settings, and mapping the human-virus interactions was a priority. As little was known about the disease during the first few months, learning and understanding was key to developing future interventions.

The need for speed – getting research to market

COVID-19 has certainly driven a change in the way that universities and industry approach collaboration and commercialisation, as well as pushing it further into the public eye. For our panellists, the key changes have revolved around the speed of conversations. A reduced 3-5 day assessment time for Covid-related research proposals has been established within MSD, and all of our panellists are very keen for universities to continue to reach out with relevant research.

Fast-tracking the paperwork process, whilst being hard work, has meant technologies can be more rapidly brought to market, and there are alternative collaboration models with potential for free access to be considered. Our panellists have also made use of preprints to identify and access potential research in its early stages.

What are the priorities for COVID-19 R&D looking ahead?

After the initial reactive response to a new global disease, we are now learning more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Companies are beginning to look to the future, identifying gaps in their infectious disease pipelines and looking at how we can streamline vaccinations and address future changes to the virus, as well as being prepared for future pandemics.

Our panellists commented that whilst the intensity of their response is reducing, they still operate multiple channels for COVID-19 submissions and rapid review processes. The question remains as to whether the pivoting, reactive change in R&D priorities that drove the development of successful interventions and vaccines supporting our return to ‘normal’ could be a variable response for future challenges.

Access the full recording of the webinar:


Written by Ruth Kirk. Edited by Alex Stockham.

Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed – IN-PART Publishing Ltd., 2021: ‘The industry response to COVID-19: what’s the state of play one year on?’

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