How will COVID-19 impact the pharmaceutical industry? – We surveyed FirstWord readers


We surveyed 98 FirstWord Pharma subscribers from across the top 100 pharmaceutical companies about potential impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on various issues of importance to the drug industry…

Impact on business travel

  • 68% of respondents anticipate a ‘high’ impact as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak indicating that all business travel will be stopped over the next six months as a result.

  • 69% of respondents expect any impact on business travel to last for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • 21% anticipate the impact will be prolonged beyond the duration of the outbreak and 9% believe their business travel will be permanently affected to some extent, making the use of virtual meetings more commonplace.

Impact on working

  • 49% of respondents said that working from home has already been enforced at the companies they are employed by, with a further 31% revealing that remote working is being actively encouraged.
  • 93% of all respondents said that working from home is allowed; 7% said it is currently under consideration.

  • Whilst the level of disruption caused by remote working is ultimately dependent on an individual’s role, 88% of respondents said their job will be disrupted as a result. Half of all respondents indicate the impact will be moderate to less-than-moderate, 16% as ‘significant’ and 21% as moderate-to-significant (based on responses to a five-point scale).

Impact on medical meetings

  • With a number of high profile events already cancelled, the medical meeting circuit has already been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The duration and permanency of this impact remains to be seen and could be shaped in part by how effectively the clinical information presented at these meetings is shared and disseminated in a virtual setting in the near term.
  • Respondents are not unequivocal in their perception towards the effectiveness of virtual medical meetings, suggesting that there could be a strong industry push for these to quickly come back into play when the impact of the outbreak recedes.

Impact on physician meetings

  • Similarly, pharmaceutical companies are expected to significantly scale back (and in some cases eliminate entirely) face-to-face meetings with physicians and other healthcare professionals.
  • Particular impact could be felt by those companies which have recently launched new products and this appears to be a concern of some note to the pharmaceutical industry.
  • A fifth of respondents said they are ‘very concerned’ about the negative impact that the COVID-19 outbreak could have on physician awareness, knowledge and use of novel therapeutics and just one respondent failed to recognise this as an industry-wide risk.

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly then, feedback indicates that the industry is working quickly to provide scientific and clinical information to physicians by alternative means such as virtual meetings or communication via online communities.

Impact on global supply chains

  • The pharmaceutical industry appears less concerned at this stage about the potential impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on global supply chains to the extent that medical professionals’ access to medications and other therapeutic devices is compromised.
  • Over half of respondents described this as a moderate to less-than-moderate concern (based on responses to a five-point scale) at this point, though 9% of respondents indicate their concern around this issue is already ‘significant’.

  • 41% of respondents said that the companies they work for have already put backup strategies in place to cope with supply chain issues caused by the outbreak. 48% of respondents are unaware if such measures have currently been implemented by the companies they work for.

Impact on clinical studies

  • Another potential impact on the pharmaceutical industry is the possible effect of the COVID-19 outbreak compromising or delaying clinical studies being used to evaluate novel medicines.
  • This appears to be an area of particular concern, with over 50% of respondents believing the risk to clinical studies representing a potentially greater than moderate impact on completion and/or data integrity. A fifth of respondents said they are very concerned about the potential impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on clinical studies.

Impact on industry performance

  • As the chart below illustrates there is a not insignificant level of concern about how the COVID-19 outbreak will impact performance of the pharmaceutical industry this year.
  • Two-thirds of respondents are more than moderately concerned about its impact on the commercial performance of the company they work for in 2020 (based on responses to a five-point scale), with 30% significantly concerned.

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