Three scientists working in a biotech laboratory

Be Bold: Biotech Success In Coronavirus Crisis Should Inspire Leaders

Three scientists working in a biotech laboratory
In 2019, biotech organizations ranked highly in The Art of Smart’s index, due to their investment in R&D and pioneering attitude towards collaboration

Long before the coronavirus crisis locked down the world, biotech was identified in the 2019 edition of The Art of Smart as a “standout sector”. In the index – the centerpiece of the content two years ago, founded upon the four pillars of smart decision-making: boldness, growth, innovation, and diversity – biotech was the most prominent subsector in healthcare.

Biotech also dominated The Art of Smart’s growth ratings in that edition: 11 of the top 20 companies ranked by overall growth (across all industries) were healthcare companies headquartered in the United States – and of those, eight were in biotech.

In 2019, according to The Art of Smart’s research-backed assessment, biotech led the way because of a number of commonalities in decision-making. Diversity, smart partnering, and technology-driven innovation played a part in the success. Further, investment in research and development (R&D) was a “major factor” for a sector that, the original article noted, “is continuously having to adapt.”

With an eerie prescience, the article continued: “Thankfully, market dynamics are attractive, given the world’s growing and ageing population, but what investors are really backing is innovation that will lead to important advances and solve problems.”

Given the incredible feats of science and technology in the last year, with a number of vaccines for coronavirus produced at incredible speed, the world owes a debt of gratitude to biotech organizations, whose pioneering approach to decision-making – as identified by The Art of Smart – has paid off handsomely.

Pam Hrubey
Pam Hrubey, Principal at Crowe LLP (USA)

Here Dr Pam Hrubey, Principal, Privacy, Risk and Compliance at Crowe LLP (USA), who provided analysis of biotech in 2019 for The Art of Smart, praises the sector’s boldness and explains what other industries could – and should – learn from the biotech trailblazers. 

When reflecting upon The Art of Smart’s index from 2019 – and considering biotech’s prominence then and elevated standing today, thanks to its hugely significant role in the coronavirus crisis – a couple of remarkable observations come to mind. 

First, the notion of doubling down on research and development and striving for greater innovation has earned the potential for incredible rewards. Just 12 months ago we weren’t sure how widespread and disruptive COVID-19 would be. One year later, and in record time thanks to biotech innovations, we have a range of novel vaccines to treat this scary virus. Because of the speed at which the biotech sector has moved, billions of lives around the world can start to return to some sort of normality, hopefully sooner rather than later.

In addition, it is vital to emphasize that every single coronavirus vaccine success story is one of effective – and in some cases unusual – collaboration. In 2019, we lauded biotech firms for smart partnering, and again that boldness has paid off superbly. These triumphs are spurring others in the healthcare sector, and beyond, to be bolder with their partnerships. In early March 2021, for example, Johnson & Johnson announced a significant coronavirus vaccine-related manufacturing collaboration with Merck. We are seeing partnership on a new level – and that’s in large part to the biotech pioneers.

Around the world, and in all industries, business leaders have been forced to undergo a mindset shift because of the coronavirus crisis, and a large part of that is looking to be more open about where they need an expert partner to support them so they can move forward with agility. Companies are now thinking about how they do things differently, both internally and externally.

Leaders can also learn a lot from how biotech firms moved quickly to spot opportunities to treat patients infected with COVID or to prevent infection when news of a novel coronavirus wreaking havoc around the world was just starting to circulate. This might come across as “old-school” advice, but companies that know where their sweet spot is will stand a better chance of success – especially during a crisis situation.

Second, biotech firms understand that they can lean on other companies with aligning values or goals to augment their strengths and make something truly amazing happen. For instance, the BioNTech/Pfizer partnership is notable, because both of those companies, independently, were thinking about an mRNA-based vaccine. As it happened, the head of the vaccine development at Pfizer knew leading scientists at BioNTech and they contacted one another and said: “We’ve been thinking about this, what do you think?” That collaboration blossomed. The message is: seek others out.

In 2021, I firmly believe that all industries are in the innovation business, whether they like it or not. There is no limit to the number of companies that can grow their value by being more innovative – and the table will always get bigger, so anyone can pull up a chair and find room. As we have seen with the rise in status of biotech companies, society values innovation, so leaders should open their minds to all the ways that their organization could be innovative.

One thing is certain: you can’t sit still as a business. To become more innovative you need to reach out to friends and competitors alike and drive meaningful change. I hope that, as we move beyond the pandemic, leaders learn that if we use building something for the greater good as a filter it will energize the innovation process. It would be very exciting if all business leaders could take the biotech approach and prioritize accelerating unmet needs for the betterment of society. 

My hope is that in five or 10 years we see an even further flourishing of the biotech industry, as people with amazing ideas continue to focus, trust their guts, collaborate and come up with more incredible products that both save lives and make them better. Those in other industries would be minded to follow the biotech lead.