All the life sciences CEOs I have spoken to in the past eight weeks have started out their conversations with one central question: How do we better help our patients? Whether that’s developing a vaccine or antibody testing, maintaining existing clinical trials or keeping supply chains running, the life sciences industry is working 24-7 to solve patient problems. As a result, C-suite executives say they’ve never felt more inspired by and connected with their people and teams.
Industry leaders recognize they can make a difference in society and have quickly implemented programs that make a difference. Consider how Bristol Myers Squibb expanded its existing patient support programs to help eligible unemployed patients in the US who have lost their health insurance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its expanded program offers access to any branded BMS medicine for free. Similarly, Eli Lilly introduced the Lilly Insulin Value Program, allowing anyone with commercial insurance and those without insurance at all to fill their monthly prescription of Lilly insulin for $35.
The impact on clinical trials
Life sciences executives have always known they can make relevant differences to individual patients’ lives, but now, many executives are talking about a responsibility to guide change at a societal level. This is the time to show the world that the industry can be a force for good.
Discovering new treatments, obviously, is one way to change the world for the better. But as we all know, the clinical trial landscape has been severely disrupted. Evaluate Vantage has reported it uncovered 170 commercially focused studies that have been suspended since March with Covid-19 cited as the reason. Reviewing April’s data will provide more insight into the impact.
The vast majority of the 170 have been suspended rather than scrapped, so the optimistic outlook is that much of this clinical work will resume. However, because updating clinicaltrials.gov is voluntary it seems probable the disruption may be even more significant. If you look at the numbers from Medidata, a technology company that sells a platform on which sponsors run their trials, the outlook is more concerning. Their figures are extracted from 4,600 active studies, across 182,227 global study sites, and they report new patient starts in March dropped 65% year-on-year, worsening to a 75% slump in the first two weeks of April. The reality is that the pipeline disruption will play out over multiple years versus the next quarter. Some clinical studies will need to start again from the beginning, and some may no longer be competitively viable.
Other impacted areas
Right now, the industry needs to plan for ways to reprioritize the portfolio and resume clinical trials, it also needs to increase resiliency from ongoing disruption. The suspension of clinical trials and the increased number of newly uninsured patients, many of whom may choose prescription abandonment if they can’t afford it, are just two examples of issues that are both current and will likely be ongoing challenges.
At the same time there are questions about how many practitioners and clinics will still be in business in a post-Covid-19 world. Virtual healthcare interactions, through telemedicine for example, is on pace to exceed 1 billion, according to Forrester Research. While this is a necessary path forward, telehealth visits do not off-set other losses, such as reduction in lab tests.
And there are questions about purchasing patterns that impact supply-chain forecasting. Considering many patients shifted to more 90-day prescription fills in February and March, we are going to have to wait until late May, early June to see new order patterns; and therefore, more clearly identify where there is over- and undersupplies.
Given these issues, C-suite executives have been asking for advice on how to resolve current challenges, how to invest in processes and changes that can be made before flu season kicks in, and then how to prep for and respond to the scenarios that will unfold next. For a starting point to mapping out solutions, see our full report.
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