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The efforts of scientists working directly in drug development laboratories is well appreciated, as is the role of those outside of the lab, such as people in manufacturing, commercial operations, marketing, regulatory affairs, investors, and, of course, the people who contribute through collaborations and partnerships.

But not all supporting disciplines are valued, recognized or understood. One critical field in particular is public relations (PR) and communications. The lack of communications professionals at board level in life science companies is one well-documented example of how under utilized the field and skillset are. Even those that do recognize the value of communications enough to hire a PR firm seem to have little understanding about what goes on behind the scenes. That’s fair enough; a CEO is mostly concerned with the current status of a company’s product pipeline and does not need to intimately understand each step of, for example, automated CAR-T cell adoptive immunotherapy bioprocessing – or what happens in a PR operation. That said, the CEO does need to know the critical advantages of the company’s profile and its visibility across stakeholders.

For small and medium life sciences companies, one of the big challenges is finding investment – and lots of it. Bringing a new drug to market costs billions of dollars; add to that the years of development time, a high rate of attrition, and the challenges of investors even understanding what they are investing in, and you can see why investors place the life sciences industry in the “high-risk” element of their portfolio. In addition, there is an inexhaustible choice of life science companies for investors to choose from. So how does one company stand out?

Communication and strategy are key. A company needs to be known by – and be able to interact with – all of its stakeholders, such as investors and public funding bodies. These stakeholders need to know about the company, including what efforts the company is making to reach its goals, why it stands the best chance of achieving them, why it’s worth investing in, and why the current senior management are the best people positioned to help the company succeed. It is also important to communicate science in a way that investors will understand – not everyone can make sense of technical jargon! You need to highlight the real benefits of your technology and scientific discoveries. I also recommend putting out press statements and announcements about ongoing activities at a company; a well-developed newsflow demonstrates a high level of proactivity. The benefits don’t stop at potential investors. What about invitations for collaborations or partnerships? Or keeping potential buyers aware for a future acquisition? When you start that conversation at a conference, or set up that meeting, you’re in a far stronger position if the other party knows about you and what you have achieved.

PR can also turn threats into opportunities. It is well known that there is a high rate of failure in drug development. When drugs do not meet their trial endpoints, those that communicate the advantages of their wider portfolio, platforms or technology are better set to ride out the rapids. A well-planned crisis communication strategy is also essential right across the sector; a pioneering industry such as the life science sector involves risk. I’ve managed communications around major toxic leaks, explosions and serious fundamental problems in scientific foundations. Good communication can help companies to thrive post-crisis. 

As technology continues to evolve, through mediums such as video and social media, fresh opportunities have opened up for two-way and more instant communication. Your website is no longer a static shop window – customers, partners, regulators, funders, investors, potential employees and acquisition targets or buyers should all be able to interact with you. But this is only possible if you have a communication and PR strategy. After all, if no one knows about you, they can’t invest in or work with you. Moreover, they are unlikely to work with you if no one else knows about you either.

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About the Author
Neil Hunter

Neil Hunter is Life Science and Corporate Communications PR Director at Image Box PR, UK.

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