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Business & Regulation COVID-19, Business Practice, Small Molecules, Vaccines

The Pandemic Diaries

Tony O’Sullivan, Chief Commercial Officer at ChargePoint Technology

As a population, we are currently learning how to function during a pandemic. Everyone is claiming “business as usual” – but can this really be the case when there are still restrictions on global travel and social distancing? Actually, for pharma, the answer is (more or less) “yes.” Although delays in receiving APIs and raw materials are one of our biggest challenges, the industry is proving that it has solid business continuity plans in place – and they are working. We need to ensure that the industry continues to come together to help slow the pandemic, whether through direct industry partnerships or via local and regional networks. Every company in the pharmaceutical supply chain must play their own part to keep the wheels turning in such a vital industry.

With the loss of most big industry events, many companies – including my own – are exercising creativity in terms of finding new ways to meet those we would normally network with face to face – for instance, virtual meetings. Suppliers and vendors are also taking this approach on board, with product demos conducted virtually from living rooms and home offices all over the world. Those who are best set up to support their customers remotely will be the ones who thrive in the current situation.

Will Downie, CEO at Vectura

For many years, I spent a good proportion of my working life travelling – constantly flying around the world. But since lockdown, like so many others, I’ve been spending every day of the working week in my home office on video conference calls with customers, investors and our internal team. In my new role, and at the beginning of lockdown, I found it frustrating not to be face to face with my colleagues – but what has surprised me most during the pandemic is how quickly many companies – including my own – have adapted to these difficult circumstances. We’ve embraced technology to keep us all connected. We’ve delivered for our customers. And we’ve stayed flexible, supporting one another through many challenges.

Why have we adapted so well?  To me, the answer is leadership; not just at the top of the company, but as the spine that runs through it. Leaders have had to be more visible (virtually and, where possible, on the ground) than ever before, as well as becoming better communicators and reassuring decision-makers. They have also had to work with real empathy to manage uncharted situations.

This pandemic has held up a mirror to leaders in every organization and I am proud to say that what I have experienced gives me confidence that we will emerge from this crisis as an stronger and more resilient company.

Andy Chaloner, CEO of Stream Bio, and Stephane Argivier, CEO of MIP Diagnostics

The speed and severity of this pandemic has vastly changed business and research priorities for many biotechnology companies and sparked many new partnerships – including one between our two companies. We’d discussed the possibilities of our companies working together in the past, but it was the pandemic that finally cemented the relationship – one we hope will continue long after the pandemic ends!

Our current collaboration focuses on diagnostics. There is a huge need to improve COVID-19 diagnosis times and laboratory testing capacity. To this end, the industry needs appropriate reagents. We’ll be using our Conjugated Polymer Nanoparticles (CPNs) and high-affinity molecular imprinted polymers (MIPs) to create adaptable detection reagents for various diagnostic assays – including ELISA-format assays and lateral flow. We hope to reduce diagnosis times to just 10 minutes.

As the pandemic progresses, it is essential that we have robust diagnostic development and manufacturing infrastructure in place to meet future demands. Synthetic CPN and MIP development times are much shorter than traditional reagents, so if new mutations were to arise in the virus spike protein, diagnostic reagents could be adapted and scaled quickly to target novel variants.

Edward Haeggström, CEO of Nanoform

My area of expertise lies in nanotechnology, and I’ve been delighted to see the field contributing to the fight against COVID-19. The race is on to find an effective treatment and it’s critical that we consider both established and novel approaches. New technologies, including nanotechnology, are playing a huge role in the quest for therapies. This is because the SARS-CoV-2 virus acts at the nanoscale and successful treatments may require an approach that works within this size range. One current avenue of research is the development of drug particles with a similar size to the virus that may be engineered to attach to it and disrupt its structure. Scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are already working on developing new medicines that act in the nanoscale size range, along with sprays to disable the pathogen before it reaches the body.

Nanotechnology also plays a critical role in the development of a vaccine. For example, mRNAs in combination with lipid nanoparticles are being investigated, based on previous studies involving SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. In addition, my university lab has been developing drug-laden nanofiber constructs to help wound healing for several years; the same technology could potentially be used to create next-generation face masks for COVID-19 management. Though there is a great amount of work still to be done, we are encouraged by the collaborative spirit fostered in the past few months and the important contributions from the nanoparticle engineering community so far.

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