Desperately Seeking Serendipity – Engaging in the new virtual

This year, in collaboration with Dechert, we held a virtual version of our leading Annual Healthcare Investor Conference on the 8th of October. The 12th event discussed how life sciences innovation is driving change – from the myriad international efforts against Covid-19 to how we communicate with the investment community. The virtue of virtual was that we secured an enormous audience with people calling in from Barcelona to Beijing, San Francisco to Switzerland.

The networking rooms really worked and helped start the discussions to spark serendipity, as many said that is what they are really missing. We know who we know and can carry on talking to them, but how do we make the ‘accidental collisions’ that lead to learning about new ideas, fuel new deals, make lasting connections, and achieve success in ways we may never even have imagined?

Where to invest?

Life sciences is one of the few sectors that has been performing well during the pandemic, as it is fundamental to providing solutions to lead us out of this terrible global crisis: from vaccines and medicines in development, to better diagnostics, digital health applications, and the improved sharing of data to inform clinical and political decision-making.

The fireside chat with Dan Mahony, Polar Capital, and Kieran Murphy, GE Healthcare President & CEO, kicked off the conference. It yielded many insights into how this industry leader made decisions,  effectively using its muscle to unleash resources, putting itself in the middle of the crisis and doing whatever it takes to help customers and keep its staff safe. It is essential to follow strategy (and ‘hope’ is not a strategy). Frequent, honest, and raw, internal, and external communications were at the heart of this discussion to provide reassurance that the company’s scale meant it would not only survive but thrive.

The Investment Panel, Chaired by Dechert partner Robert Darwin, confirmed what many knew: the pandemic has not caused a tectonic shift in the sector, as it is generally defensive and resilient. Investors have not only supported their companies with capital but have made new investments entirely virtually without any physical meetings. New themes for investors to watch for include democratization of data around care, and digitalization in general, including remote monitoring of patients. Better genetic understanding of neuroscience conditions is also likely to be a growth area. It is also high time to work out how to encourage industry to develop ways to fight antimicrobial resistance and generate a financial return. If we have learnt anything in 2020, it is that being unprepared for deadly infections is a fatal mistake.

Priorities for Pharma

In tandem, Mike Ward’s session on Priorities for European Pharma in 2021 concluded that ‘this storm will pass’, but it is long from over. Mike Ward spoke with Philippe Lopes-Fernandes Executive Vice President, Chief Business Officer, Ipsen and Peter Stein, Chief Executive Officer, Norgine Group. There were a number of major themes. They agreed that Life Sciences is so much more than Covid-19, but there is a concern that many diseases are being ignored during the pandemic. In the UK, Brexit has helped build resilience, as firms have long been preparing for drastic supply chain interruptions by building extra facilities, increasing inventory and hiring more ‘surge capacity’ staff. Working closely with clinicians and patient groups is critical as is focusing on trials that will demonstrate the value of new therapies. There is an increasing focus on disease prevention and early diagnosis.

Challenging Covid-19: the industry response

The highly awaited panel of the day had to be the Covid-19 session which featured some of those leading the charge against the virus.  Financial Times’ Science Editor, Clive Cookson’s panel picked up on vaccine hesitancy amongst other topics, and the importance of transparency to support vaccine confidence. Read more about the discussion with our awesome panel here:

Just tell it like it is, and tell it now

“Stick to the plan and communicate it.”

This was just one piece of advice from our global IR experts, Oliver Maier, Head of IR, Bayer and Kevin Mannix, Senior VP & Head of IR, Teva Pharmaceuticals, who shared their honest and insightful views on communicating to investors through a crisis. More details on best practice communications will be disclosed in our next newsletter.

These are just some of the takeaways from what was an insightful and thought-provoking afternoon. Mixed in with the virtual networking, it left most feeling that maybe this is the new acceptable way forward in conference planning.

Please do look out for more updates, summaries and videos of the discussions in upcoming issues of #OptimumConnections.