How we are stay­ing con­nect­ed when we’re apart

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to Amber Tong.

I’ve al­ways been a peo­ple per­son and en­joy the en­er­gy of meet­ing face-to-face with oth­ers. So, when we shift­ed to work­ing in a vir­tu­al en­vi­ron­ment al­most a year ago, it was a hard ad­just­ment for me, and I know a dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion for many of my col­leagues as well.

When the world went in­to “lock­down,” I had been in my role at Take­da for less than a year, and in-per­son in­ter­ac­tions with col­leagues across the on­col­o­gy busi­ness had been a top pri­or­i­ty for me and my lead­er­ship team. Work­ing from home meant we could no longer take the pulse of the team by walk­ing the halls or read­ing phys­i­cal cues in a con­fer­ence room. Like oth­ers around the globe, we were com­pelled to find new ways to stay con­nect­ed and keep every­one en­gaged at the same lev­el as be­fore even though we re­mained apart.

While Covid-19 has brought chal­lenges un­like any we have faced be­fore, it has al­so pro­vid­ed us with op­por­tu­ni­ties and lead­er­ship lessons that will guide us as we nav­i­gate a new, hy­brid world of work­ing to­geth­er.

Equip lead­ers to ef­fec­tive­ly en­gage in a vir­tu­al world

Re­search shows that high­ly en­gaged teams de­liv­er sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter re­sults, yet many lead­ers have strug­gled to con­nect vir­tu­al­ly with col­leagues. It’s hard to show warmth and per­son­al­i­ty in a dig­i­tal en­vi­ron­ment. Too of­ten, team in­ter­ac­tions be­come rote and im­per­son­al. To dri­ve en­gage­ment, vir­tu­al lead­ers must show their teams that they are ac­ces­si­ble and avail­able to sup­port them on both a per­son­al and a pro­fes­sion­al lev­el.

TIP: To help lead­ers be­come more ef­fec­tive in guid­ing vir­tu­al teams, stress the im­por­tance of more fre­quent touch­points — such as week­ly one-on-one meet­ings or in­for­mal of­fice hours — and lead by ex­am­ple. Pri­or­i­tize reg­u­lar check-ins with your lead­er­ship team mem­bers, just as you ex­pect them to do with those they man­age. It’s al­so im­por­tant to set goals and hold in­di­vid­u­als ac­count­able with clear dead­lines, which can help im­prove pri­or­i­ti­za­tion and or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Main­tain a gen­uine hu­man con­nec­tion

In a re­mote world, video or phone meet­ings are your on­ly op­por­tu­ni­ty to con­nect with col­leagues on a mean­ing­ful lev­el. Gone are the days of ask­ing peo­ple about their day or week­end over morn­ing cof­fee or when pass­ing each oth­er in the halls. I have al­ways be­lieved that tak­ing the time to ask per­son­al ques­tions and lis­ten to how peo­ple are do­ing emo­tion­al­ly is just as im­por­tant as check­ing off every item on a for­mal meet­ing’s agen­da. And this is even more im­por­tant to re­mem­ber in to­day’s en­vi­ron­ment. That’s why I’ve made a few im­por­tant tweaks to my day-to-day, build­ing more time in­to my cal­en­dar to catch up with peo­ple — of­ten de­vot­ing as much as half an hour to talk about our lives out­side of work — and spac­ing calls to avoid feel­ing rushed and to main­tain my en­er­gy.

TIP: Re­mem­ber, your en­er­gy im­pacts oth­ers — so make sure you’re giv­ing every con­ver­sa­tion the fo­cus it de­serves.

Use video when pos­si­ble, but nev­er shame oth­ers for turn­ing it off

When in­ter­act­ing with col­leagues in per­son, it’s easy to con­vey en­thu­si­asm through non-ver­bal cues and fa­cial ex­pres­sions. How­ev­er, in our cur­rent vir­tu­al world, it is up to each leader to find al­ter­na­tive ways to set the tone for the or­ga­ni­za­tion. I’ve per­son­al­ly found that the best way to demon­strate my en­er­gy and pas­sion is to be on cam­era as much as pos­si­ble, though I rec­og­nize that this ap­proach doesn’t work for every­one. At times video can be drain­ing in­stead of en­er­giz­ing, mak­ing it es­sen­tial to strike the right bal­ance.

TIP: Use video fre­quent­ly, but don’t make it a re­quire­ment. While there is ab­solute­ly no shame in tak­ing a break from video when need­ed, more of­ten than not, peo­ple will fol­low your lead, turn­ing cam­eras on and be­com­ing more en­gaged in con­ver­sa­tions as a re­sult.

Don’t take your­self too se­ri­ous­ly, take what you do se­ri­ous­ly

There is noth­ing light about the pan­dem­ic, or about fight­ing can­cer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see the hu­mor in the every­day — whether it’s a dog bark­ing through your con­fer­ence call or your makeshift of­fice that used to be a clos­et. When you’re able to laugh at your­self and with your team, the en­er­gy can fill the vir­tu­al room and make peo­ple feel less iso­lat­ed. Re­search has al­so found laugh­ter is linked with high­er mo­ti­va­tion and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty.

TIP: Have fun! Send col­leagues a meal from a lo­cal restau­rant to share a vir­tu­al lunch. Hold an ug­ly sweater con­test. A lit­tle lev­i­ty and hu­mor can go a long way in build­ing a team and a hap­py, en­er­getic work en­vi­ron­ment, es­pe­cial­ly when work­ing re­mote­ly.

While this has been an emo­tion­al and chal­leng­ing year for all of us, it al­so pro­vides a great op­por­tu­ni­ty to change the way we con­duct and ap­proach work for the bet­ter. It’s up to each leader to chart the path to a new nor­mal, lever­ag­ing all that we’ve learned in a vir­tu­al en­vi­ron­ment to stay con­nect­ed, en­er­gized and en­gaged with col­leagues in a new, hy­brid world.

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Efren Landaos/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Pfiz­er makes an­oth­er bil­lion-dol­lar in­vest­ment in Eu­rope and ex­pands again in Michi­gan

Pfizer is continuing its run of manufacturing site expansions with two new large investments in the US and Europe.

The New York-based pharma giant’s site in Kalamazoo, MI, has seen a lot of attention over the past year. As a major piece of the manufacturing network for Covid-19 vaccines and antivirals, Pfizer is gearing up to place more money into the site. Pfizer announced it will place $750 million into the facility, mainly to establish “modular aseptic processing” (MAP) production and create around 300 jobs at the site.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Thibault Camus/AP Images, Pool)

No­var­tis bol­sters Plu­vic­to's case in prostate can­cer with PhI­II re­sults

The prognosis is poor for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) patients. Novartis wants to change that by making its recently approved Pluvicto available to patients earlier in their course of treatment.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled Phase III results Monday suggesting that Pluvicto was able to halt disease progression in certain prostate cancer patients when administered after androgen-receptor pathway inhibitor (ARPI) therapy, but without prior taxane-based chemotherapy. The drug is currently approved for patients after they’ve received both ARPI and chemo.

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Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Yuling Li, Innoforce CEO

In­no­force opens new man­u­fac­tur­ing site in Chi­na

Innoforce is off to the races at its new site in the city of Hangzhou, China.

The Chinese CDMO announced last week that it has started manufacturing at the new facility, which was built to offer process development and manufacturing operations for RNA, plasmid DNA, viral vectors and other cell therapeutics. It will also serve as Innoforce’s corporate HQ.

The company said it’s investing more than $200 million in the 550,000-square-foot manufacturing base for advanced therapies. The GMP manufacturing facility features space for producing plasmids with three 30-liter bioreactors. For viral vector manufacturing, Innoforce also has 200- and 500-liter bioreactors at its disposal, along with eight suites to make cell therapies. The site also includes several labs and warehouse spaces.

FDA grants or­phan drug des­ig­na­tion to Al­ger­non's ifen­prodil, while ex­clu­siv­i­ty re­mains un­clear

As the FDA remains silent on orphan drug exclusivity in the wake of a controversial court case, the agency continues to hand out new designations. The latest: Algernon Pharmaceuticals’ experimental lung disease drug ifenprodil.

The Vancouver-based company announced on Monday that ifenprodil received orphan designation in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a chronic lung condition that results in scarring of the lungs.  Most IPF patients suffer with a dry cough, and breathing can become difficult.

‘Catchy’ de­sign tops big ad buys on­line for grab­bing on­col­o­gists’ at­ten­tion — sur­vey

The cancer drug ads that get oncologists’ attention online are informative and use clear, eye-catching designs. That’s ZoomRx’s assessment in its most recent tracking survey, and while not necessarily surprising, the details in the research do break a few common misconceptions.

One of those is frequency, also known as the number of impressions an ad gets. No matter how many times oncologists saw a particular cancer drug ad, effectiveness prevailed in the survey across five drug brands. ZoomRx measured effectiveness as a combination of most attention-getting, relevant information and improved perception as reported by the doctors.

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Rick Modi, Affinia Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex-part­nered gene ther­a­py biotech Affinia scraps IPO plans

Affinia Therapeutics has ditched its plans to go public in a relatively closed-door market that has not favored Nasdaq debuts for the drug development industry most of this year. A pandemic surge in 2020 and 2021 opened the doors for many preclinical startups, which caught Affinia’s attention and gave the gene therapy biotech confidence in the beginning days of 2022 to send in its S-1.

But on Friday, Affinia threw in the S-1 towel and concluded now is not the time to step onto Wall Street. The biotech has put out few public announcements since the spring of this year. Endpoints News picked the startup as one of its 11 biotechs to watch last year.

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Af­ter M&A fell through, Ther­a­peu­tic­sMD sells hor­mone ther­a­py, con­tra­cep­tive ring for $140M cash plus roy­al­ties

TherapeuticsMD, a women’s health company whose one-time billion-dollar valuation seems a distant memory as its blockbuster aspirations petered out, is finally cashing out.

Australia’s Mayne Pharma is paying $140 million upfront to license essentially TherapeuticsMD’s whole portfolio, including two prescription drugs that treat conditions relating to menopause, a contraceptive vaginal ring as well as its prescription prenatal vitamin brands.

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