It’s almost been a year and half since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we reveal the findings of our new survey ‘A sustainable future for business post-COVID’, it’s time to reflect on the ways the pandemic has radically transformed the way we live, work and treat diseases.
The pandemic was a wakeup call for the life sciences industry: while it had been progressively moving to digital ways of working, most operations were still done in a physical lab until governments enforced lockdowns. Overnight, entire companies had to learn to work remotely, while delivering critical support to patients and dealing with the biggest pandemic since the Spanish flu at the start of the 20th century. This shift to a completely digital way of working was unprecedented and the industry had to choose its battles. Unfortunately, this meant that many sustainable initiatives had to be put on hold to provide critical support to patients – and do it fast.
Tackling a pandemic using virtual twins The COVID pandemic shed light on many inefficiencies in the life sciences sector: 66% of the companies we surveyed admitted to relying on outdated processes, which prevented them from collaborating remotely during the pandemic. Worse still, 64% even struggled to access COVID-19 research due to these outdated processes. Based on these findings, it’s extraordinary that we’re now able to administer COVID vaccines.
The answer to these problems lies in a speedy move towards digital solutions. Most of the industry quickly adopted solutions to improve digital collaboration, such as virtual twins (71%) as a direct result of the COVID pandemic.
With The Living Heart project, we have shown how virtual twins could be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment on a model of an organ, further projects are underway to create the virtual twins of other human body organs to help with medical treatments. Beyond research, virtual twins have also been used to simplify information sharing among departments and third parties, including regulatory offices and government bodies to speed up time to market for new drug development and treatments.
This success is only the first step for the industry – and should be treated as such. As we look to the world beyond COVID-19, these learnings must become a blueprint for the future.
A sustainable future for life sciences While the industry has rushed to treat the COVID crisis, the sector now needs to look beyond the pandemic. Our survey reveals that almost three in four companies struggled to innovate and to upskill their workforce due to the pandemic. Most respondents (70%) had to postpone R&D efforts into other treatments to focus on COVID-19, leaving the launch of new treatments and products or research into sustainable materials side lined. As the world starts to reopen for business, the sector needs to tackle its next biggest challenge: sustainability.
As a result of the pandemic, most life sciences companies had to postpone implementing their sustainability goals (71%), despite the fact that for example, the pandemic led to an increase in the amount of waste the industry produces. If the sector is serious about meeting ambitious government goals to drastically reduce the country’s emissions by 2050, it needs to make sustainability a priority.
Looking to the world post-pandemic, technology like virtual twins will not only play a part in improving collaboration and clinical trials, but also underpin the industry’s effort to become more sustainable. Respondents to the survey consider that they are integral to achieving a carbon neutral world by 2050.
We now have vaccines being rolled out all over the world, which means that the industry can start tackling the remainder of its challenges – creating a sustainable environment that supports innovation, and enabling workers to develop new skills while reducing the sector’s impact on the planet. The need for better digital solutions during the pandemic has fast tracked the adoption of virtual twins and shown life sciences professionals globally how they could innovate, support patients and each other faster and in a more environmentally-conscious way. As we look to a world post-COVID, it’s clear that the industry has turned to a new chapter – one where products, people and the planet are in symbiosis, underpinned by digital tools and strategies, including virtual twins.
‘A sustainable future for business post-COVID’ is a survey based on the views of 505 business leaders in the life sciences sector in the Netherlands and the UK. The research was conducted by Censuswide on our behalf in February – March 2021.
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