The pulse on the industry - BioPlan and the Biopharma Resilience Index
For this episode of Discovery Matters we are focusing on industry surveys, including BioPlan and the Biopharma Resilience Index. Both huge reports provide insights into issues within the industry.
Firman Ghouze, Cytiva’s Marketing Director in APAC, discusses how the Biopharma Resilience Index came about, its insights, and what issues need addressing. We are also joined by Eric Langer, from BioPlan Associates, who shared the BioPlan findings, many of which were along the same lines as the Biopharma Resilience Index. Lastly, we were delighted to be joined by Dr. Richard Wang, the founder and CEO of Neukio Biotherapeutics, who shared his insight as an industry leader.
This episode is an informative and accessible discussion on the state of the biopharma industry today. We discuss ways to tackle the most pressing challenges and how, if possible, we can best plan for the future.
CONOR: Dodi, today I want to talk really big picture and then refocus on the industry of biopharma itself.
DODI: How so?
CONOR: Well, by looking at the big picture through some of the industry surveys that are out there.
DODI: Okay, so those big reports that look at issues within the industry and come to some smart conclusions.
CONOR: Exactly. And these really are worth reading. There's a lot of content in them, but they give you great insight into where the industry is going, the possible solutions that might emerge, and show us what the future of bioscience and biopharmaceuticals might be. And that's what matters on today's episode of Discovery Matters.
DODI: It's a big topic, and I have a feeling we're going to come around to 'every day being a school day'. So, where do we start Conor?
CONOR: Well, why don't we start with someone from whom I've learned an awful lot over the years, our friend Firman Ghouze, Cytiva's Marketing Director in Asia Pacific.
FIRMAN GHOUZE: I'm a scientist by training with a PhD in tropical diseases. So, I've known that supply of medicines has always been a challenge, and it has been a challenge for many decades.
CONOR: So, one day, Firman was having dinner at a restaurant with a friend of his, who happens to be a journalist for a well-known publication. And they were talking about this difficulty of when it comes to supplying medicines...
FIRMAN GHOUZE: ...and how it pertains to the industry today, and how we understand those dynamics. We were discussing this and there are many indexes for various other things that people look at to measure. But the discussion we had around this particular topic, and it's a very relevant one, my experience told me that different countries do look at these things differently. And so, as we were sitting down thinking through this, we were discussing what would be the best way to measure these dynamics?
CONOR: And this discussion eventually led to the Biopharma Resilience Index, and its five pillars that we're so interested in.
DODI: Okay, so this is Cytiva's own industry report, what are the five pillars?
CONOR: So yes, we're shilling our own content here, but this is really good stuff. And we wouldn't shill it if we didn't think it was worth paying attention to. So, the five pillars...
FIRMAN GHOUZE: Supply chain resilience, talent pool, R&D ecosystem, manufacturing agility, and government policy and regulations.
DODI: And then the main findings of the Biopharma Resilience Index are?
FIRMAN GHOUZE: The index showed us that there are a few take homes. Talent is probably the number one challenge that the industry faces across the world. And the ability to collaborate through R&D ecosystems was the other big take home that we saw. Another take home is that government policy is very good, generally speaking, and we noticed that manifests itself in a few countries in particular, China, Russia, and India.
DODI: Okay, as you said, Conor, we're shilling our own content, but Cytiva must also have a response to this information.
CONOR: Absolutely. So, there's no point in doing research and then not responding to it. I mean, that's why you do research, right? So Firman says that he's spent a lot of time talking to the market about the findings in the index, and he's had some mixed responses.
FIRMAN GHOUZE: Some say, 'It's great that our country's doing well', others say 'Ah, we should really try to address some of the issues highlighted here'. So, we've talked to various governments and various customers in the regions.
DODI: Okay, so there are other indexes out there, right.
CONOR: Oh, yeah.
DODI: So, how does our Biopharma Resilience Index compare and contrast with some of the other huge reports out there?
FIRMAN GHOUZE: With this report, we looked at quite a diverse set of criteria, we augmented qualitative and quantitative data here. And we got leading industry experts to also speak on the matter that we hadn't had. So, we covered the whole breadth of what may be factors for resilience. The spectrum went all the way through from young talent, to support the industry, all the way through to how well manufacturing could be maintained.
DODI: Okay, so we know Firman, he's part of our team, but I think we should leave Firman for a moment and leave the Biopharma Resilience Index and look at what else is on the reading list.
CONOR: Absolutely. Let's do that. Because reading widely is what leads us to better insight.
DODI: Good, so I think we're going to now turn to Eric Langer.
CONOR: So, much like Firman's Biopharma Resilience Index, everything you need to know about the biopharma industry is in the BioPlan report.
DODI: Okay, so let's get the backstory on the BioPlan report. Was this cooked up over dinner at a restaurant as well?
CONOR: Well, the BioPlan is kind of like the granddaddy of reports!
DODI: It is many, many, many pages, that's for sure.
CONOR: It's a lot of reading, right? And it's worth it. If you really want to get under the skin of the industry, this is where you go.
ERIC LANGER: It started about 18 to 19 years ago. The industry was starting to experience a significant capacity crunch. And if you recall back then, everybody was talking about the Chicken Little 'The sky is falling', there's no capacity, and all bad things will happen.
DODI: Oh, I remember that panic well!
ERIC LANGER: We were seeing companies and investors truly trying to dump investments because they felt that they wouldn't be able to meet the industry's demand. So, we figured what we could do is simply, using fairly basic tools, go out there and assess what percent capacity people were at back then. And compare that, for example, to the industry norm for all industries, where there are several studies that provide industry-wide analysis of capacity utilization. So, we felt that that would be a reasonable thing to do in this small segment. We did it and we realized that there were other questions we needed to ask as well. And every year it got bigger and bigger and bigger. So, now it's up to 500 pages, and the text font gets smaller and smaller each year, the page thickness gets thinner, so we can still continue to send it out. And many of the years, we decide that we cannot continue to ask the same questions, of course. So, they cover dozens and dozens of different topics from adoption rates of new technologies to demand on the parts of suppliers for introduction of novel technologies.
CONOR: And Eric says that all these topics relate to capacity.
ERIC LANGER: The single most important trend in this industry has been, for the last couple of decades, a focus on manufacturing efficiency and productivity.
DODI: Okay, history might be repeating itself here.
CONOR: Yeah, we're doomed to repeat it, aren't we? How do you mean?
DODI: Well, Eric's talking about supply chain constraints 18 years ago, and you only have to open a newspaper or, I guess who reads newspapers now, but you only have to check online, look at your news sources, turn the TV on to see that that's what's happening all over again.
CONOR: Yes, exactly. But Eric says that this time, it's a little different.
ERIC LANGER: Back then it was capacity constraints as it relates to the ability to manufacture something. Now, the issue is capacity constraints as a result of the supply chain not being able to provide one link of that chain – whether it be a vial stopper, or a buffer, or a supplier that's providing a service related to a particular type of plastics, fill manufacturing – can stop everything. And unfortunately, because of COVID, we've experienced that discontinuous manufacturing challenge and many of the supply chain factors and issues that we think we knew were safe are not necessarily the case. The issues of onshoring and bringing manufacturing back to a domestic base are coming to the fore. But as far as we can tell right now, nobody seems to be actively solving those issues, yet. The issues are still being formed. So, the answers are still pending.
DODI: I heard Eric say earlier that this report started when the biopharma industry was much smaller. And we've seen especially during 2020 and 2021, that the vocabulary of the biotechnologist has really come to our kitchen tables.
CONOR: Yes. It's amazing, right? I mean, I was having a conversation yesterday evening in an Uber™ with somebody in the telecoms industry. And they knew what mRNA was. People know the names and manufacturers of their vaccines. I mean, that's never happened before.
DODI: So, what does Eric think about this level of common knowledge?
ERIC LANGER: I think one of the things COVID has brought forward is the impact that biotechnology can have on the global population. Really, everybody gets touched by this literally. And the fact that we're seeing this industry solve this problem, I think is a testament to the industry's resolve. We did a study last year on the impact of COVID on manufacturing, and one of the comments we got from one of the respondents was essentially something along the lines 'This industry has been preparing for a pandemic for the last 20 years, so this is no surprise. By preparing for it, we've been able to meet this need in amazingly rapid fashion'. So, I think what we're seeing is the industry just living up to its own expectations over the last number of decades to be able to meet the needs of this pandemic. On top of that, people, we've talked with literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people in this industry, we find that there's an amazing, remarkable dedication to healthcare and public health. And as a result, what we've seen in our interviews – doesn't matter if you talk about somebody on the manufacturing floor, or somebody on the clinical side of it – they probably entered this field, quite possibly early in their career because of the desire to do something good. And I think what we're seeing is people that are dedicating hours and hours of overtime and sequestering their own personal lives to manufacture these vaccines, or therapeutics, or diagnostics, or personal protection equipment, or polypropylene, people are saying 'I'm stepping up'. And I think that's one of the most remarkable things we've seen resulting from this crisis, but that's just part of the industry's dynamism, I think.
DODI: So, we were talking earlier about the Biopharma Resilience Index, and some of those results, now that the BioPlan report is in its 18th year, what are some of the results in that report?
CONOR: Well, Eric says that one of the biggest themes he sees is the evidence of continuity and strength in the industry.
ERIC LANGER: While COVID pops up as the major factor, in one of the questions we asked, something along the lines of 'What is the biggest single trend you're seeing in this industry segment', of course, COVID, and the impact of COVID, shows up right at the very top. Everything else just gets pushed down, and so when we were looking at the remaining trends, they were similarly in the order they were in prior years.
CONOR: There were just not as many people saying this is my number one trend. For instance, productivity and efficiency took a nosedive.
ERIC LANGER: Because many people who were focusing on productivity and efficiency are now focusing on fixing supply chain issues or shortage of single-use technology issues. And that's become what literally keeps them up at night.
DODI: Conor, I'm really longing for the customer perspective right now. So, customers who are so integral to these kinds of reports and surveys, it's their voices that add up to the conclusions that are made in this report.
CONOR: Exactly, and we are nothing if we're not market oriented in our approach to everything that we do. So here we go.
DR RICHARD WANG: Hi, I'm Richard Wang, the CEO of Neukio Biotherapeutics. We do cell therapies for oncology and cancer treatment.
CONOR: So, Dr. Wang is a Cytiva customer and, what we call in the industry, a key opinion leader. And for him, the talent issue is the most important factor and something that he focuses on when he's reading through indexes like BioPlan and the Biopharma Resilience Index.
DR RICHARD WANG: We're doing something very innovative, and we're working on a new modality. I do think talent, too, continues to be a very big issue for us, especially operating in China, which does not have a long history of developing novel medicines or therapies. Of course, the pandemic doesn't help that either because it's almost stopped people across the board, to have these opportunities to maybe coming back to work in a small startup company like us or going out to get more trainings.
DODI: So where does Dr. Wang find this talent?
CONOR: He says he has to either look outside of China or put in the effort in China to develop it himself.
DR RICHARD WANG: That means it may take a longer time, it may need more patience to develop this talent.
CONOR: But in terms of reaching out, Dr. Wang says he has seen a rise in headhunting.
DR RICHARD WANG: It's really booming! So, there's no way that I don't have a chance to reach out to available talent. There are multiple headhunting services, who try to arrange to have that kind of conversation and interview.
CONOR: And in fact, Firman says it was talent specifically that he wished we had covered a little bit better in the Cytiva Biopharma Resilience Index.
FIRMAN GHOUZE: Talent pool numbers and availability is clearly there. But diversity within that talent pool, 'How do you make the most of the available talent pool within a country or internationally?', wasn't looked at in detail. I think the other area that I reflect upon where the index perhaps isn't so strong is funding and capital flows. As we know there are pockets of biotech innovation around the world, and capital flows tend to align very closely with that. And that's something that isn't captured in the index.
DODI: Okay, so like you promised at the start of this episode, we've gone big picture to detail from our report to someone else's, and then to a customer. How do we sum all this up?
CONOR: Well, for Eric, through all the technical terms and statistics, it all comes down to, in the end, people and honestly, Dodi isn't that what we love about this industry. It's the people in it, it's the expertise that they have! Let's hear what Eric says.
ERIC LANGER: This industry really is not about technology, or adoption of single use or a modular. We can see in so many different ways, much of it's the human aspect of this, and so one of the issues in one of the chapters in our study, is hiring and training. What we found is one of the biggest constraints to growth in this industry is availability of really smart people to take on the responsibilities for a rapidly growing industry. We've seen the challenges of hiring grow consistently in our graph. It's just remarkable how consistent that growth goes year after year, in terms of the inability to find the right people in specific areas. If you can't develop your process, you can't create a lifesaving biologic or drug, so it becomes a people issue here.
DODI: So, put the BioPlan report on your reading list. If you haven't checked it out yet, put the Biopharma Resilience Index on your reading list.
CONOR: And please send us stuff that you think we should be reading to keep up to date with what's going on in your part of the industry. The more we share, the better we get, the better the industry gets, the more impact we can make as a community for patients.
DODI: So true. Thank you for listening to this episode of Discovery Matters.
CONOR: The executive producer of Discovery Matters is Andrea Kilin, and it was produced with the help of Bethany Grace Armitt-Brewster. Editing, mixing, and music by Thomas Henley and Banda Produktion. My name is Conor McKechnie.
DODI: And I’m Dodi Axelson.