December 16, 2020

What We Learned: The Advantages of Being Nimble

What changes will life science companies carry into a post-COVID world?

An agency partner recently shared his thoughts about how life science companies will engage once travel resumes. “We may go back to something closer to a 50/50 mix of in-person and virtual advisory boards in the future, due to the undisputed importance of in-person relationship building,” said Ryan Daufenbach, executive vice president of Interactive Forums. “But once those relationships are established, KOLs have no qualms about synchronous or asynchronous virtual engagements.”

As we talk with more clients and partners about their plans for post-pandemic reality, it’s clear that most are craving the opportunity to reconnect in person once it’s safe to do so. But the general feeling seems to be that face-to-face interaction will supplement a core strategy of virtual engagement – an approach based on lessons learned during the global health crisis.

The impact of increased agility

Clients who began working with us prior to the pandemic weren’t subject to the upheaval and interruptions experienced by many life science organizations in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis. Web meetings went on as scheduled and over-time sessions barely registered any impact at all. These factors alone are a convincing argument for relying on virtual interaction, but as more teams transitioned to virtual amid lockdown measures and travel restrictions, they began to realize some critical benefits.

With logistical hurdles out of the way – no changing flight schedules, time-limited hotel blocks, or last-minute KOL cancellations – pharmaceutical and medical device teams had advisory boards and steering committee meetings up and running in a week instead of months. Deadlines were met, not pushed. With more control over timelines and turnaround, clients began to see the potential impact on team goals, corporate objectives, and ultimately on patient outcomes.

Put simply, the crisis laid bare all the inefficiencies of standard operating procedures around in-person meetings that are scheduled months in advance and at great expense – and in doing so, revealed what’s possible when the focus is on engagement rather than travel and logistics.

Reducing risk with a virtual mindset

For many pharmaceutical and medical device teams, the choice of face-to-face or virtual may come down to risk avoidance. Staking months of planning, significant budgets, and ultimately the success of a project on a one-day meeting that could be derailed by something as simple as bad weather just isn’t good business practice.

Life science companies place enormous value on KOL insight – enough that gathering incomplete information or not hearing from certain KOLs due to scheduling issues could be detrimental to a program’s speed or success. Spending months of internal time to identify a single two-hour window for global KOLs to meet, potentially thousands of miles from their home and work, starts to seem pretty inefficient compared to giving those same people a week-long window to participate in a virtual meeting at their convenience. No travel, no schedule disruptions, no missed time with family or patients.

Post-crisis, a new kind of urgency

In November 2020, McKinsey reported that the high human and economic costs associated with the pandemic amount to an imperative to accelerate and scale medical innovations, and that healthcare leaders should provide the tools and capabilities to do so. As technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning transform the drug development process, teams in the medical affairs, clinical, and commercial spaces must also look for ways to increase speed and agility.

Across thousands of virtual sessions and hundreds of hours of web meetings in 2020, our own clients saw benefits like these:

  • Session planning timelines reduced by 3-8 months
  • Up to 4x more insights from over-time sessions vs. typical in-person meetings
  • Higher levels of participation and deeper engagement overall

Lessons learned during the pandemic will make it difficult to automatically revert to in-person events as a one-size-fits-all approach. Now that life science teams have experienced customized virtual engagements and seen the benefits firsthand, it makes sense to recalibrate the approach to face-to-face meetings.

To understand how our client planned and executed an advisory board meeting for phase IV clinical trial design in weeks instead of months, read the case study.