As Covid-19 has swept the globe, no industry has been unaffected, and the vast majority have had to make significant changes to the way they operate.
How have those in the Life Science industry, on the front line of research, had to adapt in a fight against the largest health crisis in living memory?
Household names such as AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline tend to make the headlines, but the reality is that organisations of all shapes and sizes are playing an important role in the fight against Covid-19. Ranging from expert data analysis, supplying critical laboratory equipment, or carrying out specialist technical services.
Broadly speaking, the industry has unsurprisingly done very well this year, as demand from its partners in the Healthcare sector and wider society has surged. However, Life Science truly is a global industry, where even the smallest companies tend to generate income from all over the world. So as the world began to shut down, there were inevitable challenges.
Laboratory machinery and equipment often need installation and regular servicing by specialist engineers. With international and domestic travel becoming near impossible, let alone incredibly risky, many customer contracts came to a standstill.
The supply chain was significantly affected. Even if manufacturers and producers were operating at full capacity, the supply chain relies on a complex band of parties working at full capacity. Logistics, customs, and compliance agencies around the world were not fully operational, which meant big delays. This would cause problems and increase the risk exposure for research projects that require difficult to source samples or consumables, an issue further exasperated if the stock requires strict temperature control, as is commonplace.
For those businesses that do not operate a ‘wet lab’, this was not so much of an issue. Data analysts, such as biostatisticians and bioinformaticians generally functioned remotely by working from home. However, this created a whole different set of risks. By the time summer arrived, the pandemic had become highly politicised with reports surfacing that foreign, state-backed hackers were targeting organisations researching Covid-19.
In addition, the volume of phishing attacks in the UK supposedly increased by as much as 600%. Working from home does not offer the same level of security as working from an office, where firewalls, antivirus and intrusion prevention systems are more robust, and the tendency to use computers for personal use is minimal.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that small companies are not on the radar of international cybercriminals and big pharmaceutical companies are far more likely to be on the receiving end of an attack than small independent businesses. Whilst the larger companies do receive more attacks, they also invest huge amounts of resources into cyber defence, something that some smaller companies just cannot afford to do.
Yet, contract researchers handle and process data that, in most cases, legally belongs to their contracting principal. This intellectual property can be extremely valuable, which is why so many contracts within the Life Science industry contain Non-Disclosure Agreements, and why it can be highly prized by criminals.
From the criminals perspective, there is little point trying to infiltrate a heavily guarded network, when the data being sought is easily obtainable from a network with only basic security. Plus, smaller companies arguably have more to lose, making them likely to be easier to extort. Such incidents are insurable though, and in recognition of their growing prevalence, Bruce Stevenson routinely arranges cover as standard as part of policyholder programmes.
Aside from the increased business risks that Covid-19 has brought, the future for Life Sciences in the UK looks bright. But further challenges lie ahead, particularly for individual directors and officers.
The pandemic has forced companies to make big and often risky commercial decisions. In an industry that is so heavily reliant on third-party private equity, investors may well seek damages directly from decision-makers if things do not go as planned.
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