Q: How are you growing your business development activities in the absence of conventional trade shows and other traditional business development/marketing activities?

Virtual Business Development

Fabian Stöcker, VP Global Strategy and Innovation, SCHOTT Pharmaceutical Systems

A: Of course, the ongoing pandemic has an impact on our traditional BD/marketing activities in the sense that face-to-face meetings are not possible. Yet, as with most cases, there is also an upside to the story. We actually have moved even closer to our customers through personalized approaches. Individual calls and virtual meetings play an important role for us. Digitalizing the customer journey together is key, but at the same time, digital tools are only one way that support us in staying connected with our customers and partners. In fact, we have established our own digital formats that connect us with the industry. For example, we have set up regular online “Pharmaversity” webinar sessions with our experts on numerous topics, which have been well received by our customers, and we have also introduced our extensive online shop. Besides that, we just recently launched yet another online experience, namely our Pharma World of Innovations. You can picture it as a virtual world, which allows pharma companies and partners to dive into the innovations of SCHOTT’s pharmaceutical packaging.

Isabelle de Cremoux, CEO and Managing Partner, Seventure Partners

A: As an established VC with a primary focus on the healthcare and life sciences sectors, we didn’t experience significant interruption in our business development activities, but smaller firms or those specializing in other areas are likely to have been affected more. With most trade shows and conferences now held virtually, including major ones like the JPM Healthcare Conference, we have moved to digital meetings, which have worked well for us.  

Mark Bridgewater, Chief Commercial Officer, Vectura

A: As the pandemic struck last year, Vectura was embarking on a path to change its business strategy and evolve from a development company into an inhalation-focused CDMO. The business plan to go alongside this involved a program of trade shows, conferences, and other business development activities to make the industry aware of us as a partner and seek out new customers.

The pandemic led to us having to rethink this program, but we adapted quickly to an approach of enhanced inbound digital marketing and social media campaigns, complemented by targeted content-driven outbound campaigns and effective communications to raise awareness of Vectura’s expertise, capabilities, and business offering. This has enabled us to build a prospective sales funnel utilizing established methodologies for our commercial team to nurture new leads and opportunities.

Virtual trade shows and conferences offer different experiences to conventional events. The inexperience in managing such digital models was challenging initially, and we needed to adapt quickly. However, these platforms provide a level playing field for like-minded organizations — regardless of size — to meet and support industry needs. This enables organizations to potentially attend more shows with the elimination of other costly and time-consuming activities, such as international travel and accommodation. The ideal future situation may well be a combination of traditional and virtual conferences

Sidonie Golombowski-Daffner, Ph.D., Chairperson and President, Advanced Accelerator Applications (AAA), a Novartis company

A: This year has brought many new challenges and opportunities across the healthcare landscape. At Advanced Accelerator Applications (AAA), a Novartis company, data and digital are some of our key strategic pillars. We are developing several new approaches to lead the next generation, people-centric and experience-driven engagement with our customers and partners. This is taking the shape of innovations like customizable virtual congress settings featuring interactive experiences and downloadable content, as well as increased virtual seminars and events delivered directly to participants’ desktops or tablets. It has been fascinating to observe increased attendance at many virtual events that were previously only offered live, as the time and budget constraints of travel have been removed from the equation. We are also implementing virtual reality technology to deliver hands-on training and education about our novel treatment approaches to our customers. Engaging experts and influencers in robust dialogue in the public domain through social media, for example, is another “virtual” way to generate excitement and educate key stakeholders. The key to success is developing strong insights into your stakeholders’ perspective and experience so you can create an impactful interaction. Our team is quickly embracing many new technologies to share the fascinating discoveries and advancements at AAA by integrating our fluency in data communications with skillful visualization.

Tim Roberts, Vice President, Global Sales, Clinical Services | PCI Pharma Services  

A: While PCI must earn the right to serve, our customers are in need of services, and pharmaceutical companies need the value that integrated supply chain companies bring. Like many of us, while face-to-face conversations have been limited over the past year, my team has built and grown relationships using the standard communication tools, as well as innovative ones. The lifeblood of PCI is our people, and our customers see that difference, whether they are sitting across from them in an office or on a Teams call. Our commitment to the clients we serve, as well as the patients we collectively support, has remained steadfast. We at PCI have embraced connectivity by leveraging our network of local contacts and focusing on the communities that we serve. We are focused on a community-based approach within such close knit markets as San Diego, San Francisco, or Boston/Cambridge, as well as our other communities across the globe. By staying connected to those we serve, listening to their challenges, and helping to solve their problems, we have not only maintained our success but experienced record-breaking growth, driving additional value to our clients and patients.

Thibault Jonckheere, Deputy CEO, Exothera

A: The lack of conventional trade shows and conferences has refocused efforts on digital marketing and online content. However, customer expectations of the quality of content are increasing. Sharing expertise and insightful information that is valued by customers will be key to having a successful content strategy. 

Companies are likely to invest more in distributing this content via digital channels like online publications and networks (e.g. LinkedIn) with emphasis on using more targeted audience profiling to reach the right customers and give them what they want. Having a consistent and compelling presence online is important when in-person interaction isn’t possible. There is likely to be more emphasis on having the right information available online and making it easy for customers to find by aligning content with their information journey. As a service provider, we believe that we have a role to play in sharing relevant industry insights and engaging with sponsors to challenge current norms for the benefit of both parties.

Phil Vanek, CTO, Gamma Biosciences

A: Gamma Biosciences was intentionally built from the ground up to move quickly and purposefully to address the shortcomings in advanced therapy manufacturing.  As such, we’ve been built on a lean and agile framework, with all of the principals at Gamma operating from remote offices and avoiding the overheads incurred by formal office infrastructure.  So, we’ve always been oriented towards remote work and at-distance collaboration.  Even before the pandemic, we’d taken advantage of our extensive network of portfolio company associates, as well as therapy developers and manufacturers, by using tools such as Teams, Zoom, LinkedIn, and other social media to get our message out.  While we’ve participated in many of the virtual trade shows for networking and information gathering, we’ve really relied more on methodical outreach and disciplined communications to maintain and build our networks. 

Marrie Groeneveld, CCO, SkyCell

A: As more people will want to continue working from home, business development strategies will have to evolve, and this past year has shown us exactly what this looks like in the digital-first world. For SkyCell, it has been a successful experience as we continue to develop new products and increase our network of partners. In the past 12 months, we have added Korean Air, Qatar Cargo,  and Air France-KLM, expanding our number of partners to 10.

For us at SkyCell, the client is always the focus; however, the way we interact with them has had to change. We are constantly in close contact with clients and prospects to be able to provide a service that meets their ever-changing needs. For example, from talking to clients, we realized that there was an increased interest in frozen containers, which led to us developing the 1500F, catering to a growing niche market for APIs and clinical trials.

On the marketing side, we shifted our efforts to digital platforms early on in the pandemic. We hosted online events and worked with online conferences to deliver relevant content for clients and others in the industry. We also kept in touch with customers, partners, and other stakeholders through regular blog updates, social media posts, and newsletters. Our main focus was to maintain a high quality level of content. With the huge boom in online content, we want to continue to provide our clients with relevant and insightful content to make informed decisions during these uncertain times.

Alen Guy, Technical Director, the Pharmaceutical Business Group, IMCD

A: 2020 was certainly an unprecedented year. COVID-19 has impacted and changed our conventional ways of working, as well as our standard business development and marketing activities. Trade shows have always played a key part in what we do, providing an opportunity to strengthen our relationships with existing partners, while also allowing us to connect with new potential ones.

Within our wider digital transformation roadmap, we have implemented additional digital and marketing initiatives to keep engaging with our customers and suppliers. One of the latest ones is the introduction of our Virtual Visitor platform. IMCD launched its first Virtual Visitor event in December 2020, and, following its success, the Pharmaceuticals business group is preparing its edition. With this event, we aim to create a unique and memorable online experience for our customers and suppliers. It will also allow us to stay connected and discuss new developments, technical challenges, global trends, and innovative solutions.

Throughout this pandemic, we have continued to advance new ideas for a healthy future, which is more important now than ever. We have embraced digital communications and technologies to stay in close contact with our partners through online seminars, integrated marketing campaigns, and podcasts. We are committed to keeping our projects running and supporting our partners in their developments and market launches.

Sally Langa, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Alcami

A: Alcami has continued growing despite the absence of conventional trade shows and other traditional business development and marketing activities by adapting to the new virtual landscape. We have embraced technology to allow for virtual meetings and events, remained strategic with our marketing efforts, and, ultimately, focused on our customers and the patients they serve. Although we miss attending trade shows, networking, and connecting and meeting with new and potential clients, we have had to adapt and find different ways to connect.  Nonetheless, it may be a while until we are able to return to the crowded halls of our favorite conferences. Because of this, virtual sales and events are now more critical than ever. We unveiled our new RTP Manufacturing facility virtually to an audience of over three-hundred attendees and are hosting educational webinars every month. High-quality and relevant content, whether a webinar, white-paper, or 360° facility tour, has allowed us to continue reaching and engaging with our colleagues interested in the services we offer. The options for marketing in our current environment are critical, so careful consideration is given to remain customer-focused, result-oriented, and optimized to the specific capabilities Alcami can provide. By tracking our efforts and rapidly making adjustments based on what the data and customers are telling us, we can continue optimizing our virtual approach. 

Christian Dowdeswell, Vice President, Head of Commercial Development, Small Molecules, Lonza

A: Trade shows had not been our primary tool for new business generation for some time before the pandemic, so in 2020 we witnessed an accelerated move toward different ways of working, rather than a complete reset. Everything continues to shift to an on-demand mindset, which can be met through digital means. While small and emerging companies hold the vast majority of clinical pipelines, they lack resources that have driven the conventional behaviors in the past and were more attuned to remote and digital engagement. In particular, we have expanded our use of webinars hosted by Lonza experts that drive discussions around addressing development and manufacturing challenges. Webinars and other digital outreach activities are nothing new, but our increased focus on these channels has served to fully bridge the gap created by the lapse in industry conferences and tradeshows. 

Susanne Jörg, Head of Pharmaceutical Development, Drug Product Services, Lonza

A: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold and change the way we work, many trade shows are indeed being postponed or cancelled. However, the comfort of using virtual tools for customer communications has been increasing at a light speed. Apart from virtual roadshows, meetings, webinars, lectures, and newsletters, we are offering virtual facility and laboratory tours and audits, real-time data monitoring, and videos for our customers. Our strong business and scientific networks help us to stay in touch with our industry colleagues and the market. The direct exchange between our experts and customers remains paramount to offering the best solutions for our customers.

Fatma Senkesen, Head of Strategic Marketing & Commercial Development for Cell and Gene Therapies, Lonza

A: I have to say that Lonza is in a very fortunate position to be one of the more established players within the pharma/biotech world and not to have to be constantly present and visible at in-person tradeshows to be on people’s minds when considering a partner. Having said that, we were able to pivot our marketing activities to utilize more digital platforms, such as webinars and virtual tradeshows with good partnering tools. This gave us the ability to engage a wider audience on a variety of topics, from late-phase commercialization strategies to process and analytical development methods specific to cell and gene therapy modalities. We want to apply our lessons learned from these unprecedented times, and I don’t think we will go back to the same pre-COVID-19 conventional marketing activities and tactics. I think this crisis has accelerated a necessary shift to more efficient ways to do business than constantly flying across the country to sit at a booth in the old traditional congress style, even though some travels and meetings will still be necessary to conduct business. I think it is fair to say that our business development activities continued to be strong and generated a good number of leads for our sales team.

Cell and gene therapies have also not experienced a negative impact from COVID-19 from a pipeline growth and service demand perspective. We recently conducted an analysis of the funding landscape for cell and gene therapies and the general pharma/biotech industry, and our findings show that investors continued to invest in innovator companies.

Meeta Gulyani, Head of Strategy, Business Development and Transformation, MilliporeSigma

A: Like many, we have leveraged technology to accelerate an industry trend of substituting in-person sales and marketing activities for digital engagements. While our “how” has changed, our outputs remain the same. We continue to engage with customers through virtual trade shows, now at even higher numbers and with more flexibility thanks to fewer timing and logistical limitations. We have facilitated knowledge-sharing through virtual customer events (e.g., webinars, panels) and increased customer access through video calls, virtual demonstrations, and online chats. In doing so, we have overcome geographical constraints to more easily engage and partner with customers who were previously difficult, or even impossible, to reach. 

Beyond gaining new business, we also use technology to reinforce our position with existing clients. For example, our Lab Water business offers a broad range of pure and ultrapure water purification systems and services for scientists in diverse lab environments, including academic, clinical, and pharmaceutical. This team has reimagined how they demonstrate equipment use and setup without access to customer labs, employing tools such as augmented reality to help customers visualize how their bench will look once new equipment is installed. In addition, we have leveraged our cloud-based, remote lab water service and monitoring technology, Milli-Q® Connect, to remotely troubleshoot and, when possible, fix equipment, minimizing on-site interventions.   

The shift to virtual customer engagements and digital marketing activities is here to stay, but face-to-face meetings can never be fully replaced. I know I look forward to seeing our customers and partners in-person again (hopefully) soon. 

Ana Collins, Head of Global Marketing and Communications, IPS-Integrated Project Services, LLC

A: If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that relationships matter. In a time when we aren’t connecting in person, we have had to rely on electronic means to communicate and collaborate. Since the pandemic began, we’ve implemented and participated in various virtual networking events with industry associations, clients, vendors, partners, and subcontractors. As a full-service engineering, procurement, construction management, and validation (EPCMV) firm, we understand the importance and the power of collaboration and connection. In our organization, business development is an all-encompassing and inclusive process that brings together owners, suppliers, and service providers. So, our business development activities have consisted of personal calls, messages, and virtual networking events that have resulted in great conversations, accompanied by, in some cases, equally great cheese and wine, sometimes with a sommelier! In these challenging times, we have continued to be successful by focusing on what matters most; the connection and collaboration between us all.

Lan Huang, Ph.D., Co-founder, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, BeyondSpring

A: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected virtually every part of our industry, including how BD activities are conducted. Thankfully, what our team at BeyondSpring has found is that BD activities have not slowed down; they have just changed.

It’s important to note that, with the exception of the face-to-face interaction at conferences, which were a big part of BD activities, most of the introductory meetings and early screening work had shifted to teleconferences years ago. Over the past year, as all of the activity has become virtual, we have seen both the benefits and challenges associated with that. One key benefit is that there’s no longer a need for travel, which has reduced costs and saved time.

But there have also certainly been challenges along the way, including learning curves for a variety of teleconferencing platforms and challenges inherent in working from home with kids and pets in the background. There are also some “softer” aspects that just aren’t the same. It is undoubtedly harder to develop trust, foster relationships, and build teamwork through a screen.

However, what has kept BeyondSpring continuously growing over the last year, including in the BD realm, is our commitment to our mission of raising the standard of care for oncology patients around the world. That has remained at the core of all that we do, and we are fortunate to have been able to continue our work during this time as we get closer to bringing our products to patients.

Smital Shah, Chief Business and Financial Officer, ProQR Therapeutics

A: Dictionary.com named “pandemic” its word of the year in 2020, with “unprecedented” as the people’s word choice of 2020. “Quarantine” came close to the top, as did “lockdown,” “shelter-in-place,” and “personal protective equipment.” Business development (BD) activities, along with every other activity, required pivoting to remain effective.  

Renewed focus on our core BD strategy was essential as travel reduced and shifting to online video connections became the norm. Expanding networks, authentic conversations, enhanced communication skills, and IT access have all been key to maintain and increasing our BD activities successfully throughout this period. With my BD team at ProQR, we amplified our social media profiles, specifically LinkedIn and Twitter, to facilitate greater outreach to professionals and peers, for in- and outbound opportunities.

BD professionals across the pharmaceutical industry increased utilization of the varied online networking meetings, with the addition of new, more targeted virtual approaches.

JPMorgan introduced their inaugural online virtual BD connection tool for 2021, allowing back-to-back video meetings to occur, with multiple participants from around the world. Diminished was the need for our team of BD and scientific executives to traipse between hotels in the rain for a 15-minute meeting reminiscent of speed-dating organized in crowded $1,000 hotel suites.

Historically, the conference spans three days, but this year the tool allowed for a full week of meetings. The only hurdle was to be cognizant of time zones and locating the core counter parties within the thousands of online willing participants.

Newly created online “showcasing” events allow BD professionals to network with peers and introduce our companies, technology platform, and assets using a host of video communication tools. Within the ProQR BD team, this has included targeted geographic orientation events and retinal disease–specific or RNA/oligonucleotide modality–based conferences, allowing us to meaningfully focus our energy and capitalize on our interests.

While the megamergers took centerstage in 2019, pharmaceutical mergers and acquisition activity remains high. The top ten deals in 2020 saw $97 billion worth of biopharmaceutical assets changing hands. Start-ups in the drug development sector were given $9.7 billion in the first half of the year, setting records for 2020 and marking 2021 as a year of significant rebound.

With the acceptance of video calling replacing in-person dialogue, it is no longer the case that physical negotiations are fundamental to execution. Scientific presentation, diligence, deal structuring, and ultimately, final transaction are all effective remotely. Ultimately, with a positive mindset, forward momentum, strong senior leadership engagement, and the right teams in place, BD activity can be enhanced.

Luiziana Ribeiro, Head of Digital Marketing and Communications, BASF

A: The COVID-19 pandemic exposed society and companies to a series of challenges, but it also offered an opportunity to accelerate the use of digitalization. First and foremost, a quick pivot to virtual meetings and digital collaboration spaces, but then an increasing reliance of our customers on our Virtual Pharma Assistants, ZoomLab™, RegXcellence®, and MyProductWorld, providing technical, regulatory, and quality services to our customers instantly and online. Each of these initiatives will continue to impact our business in a positive way for years to come.

With our digital solutions and interactions, we are able to better understand the interest of our customers and provide them with more tailored content. We are excited about the possibilities that projects such as our Virtual Pharma Assistants can bring to our business and to our customers. 

Read Part 1: 2021 Advances

Fabian Stöcker

Fabian, having joined SCHOTT AG in 2012, is Vice President Global Strategy & Innovation for the SCHOTT Business Unit Pharmaceutical Systems Within the management team, he is responsible for strategy, product management, product development, IP management and market intelligence covering ampoules, cartridges, pre-filled syringes and vials for injectable use. Prior to this, he was heading the corporate strategy department of SCHOTT AG, being responsible for corporate development, strategic planning, and portfolio management of the whole group. Fabian studied business administration at the University of Cologne/Germany and the Corvinus University of Budapest/Hungary and holds an MBA from the University of Cologne. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charterholder from the CFA Institute, Charlottesville/USA.