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COVID-19 has presented life science companies around the world with a set of new and evolving challenges. As we are now seeing the first members of the public receiving a vaccination, Stephanie Bristow, Class Underwriter, Healthcare London, London Wholesale at AXA XL, discusses the new risks life sciences companies are facing and how risk engineering and transfer is playing a part in helping to manage them.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health emergency, affecting millions of people. The pandemic has brought tragic loss of life and caused ongoing suffering and lasting health effects for many. Industries of all types have been impacted; not least life science companies which have been, in many senses, right in the eye of the storm.  As well as needing to protect employees, find ways to continue production and grapple with supply-chain disruptions, many companies have needed to divert resources and increase the production of drugs and devices that help ease the symptoms of patients suffering from COVID-19.

Life science companies have also needed to safeguard those patients enrolled in clinical trials, find ways to continue to conduct research and development (R&D) and, of course, many have joined the global effort to find a vaccine.

The risks faced by many companies have shifted, and in some areas been amplified, as they grapple with this new set of challenges. And throughout the crisis, risk consultants and underwriters have been working with their clients to find ways to assess, manage and transfer some of these complex and evolving risks.

The race for a vaccine

In recent weeks, the first vaccines have begun to be rolled out in the UK and there are encouraging signs that vaccines could be widely distributed before the end of 2021.

This is an example of tremendous innovation; development of a vaccine typically can take 10 years or more. The search for a vaccine for COVID-19 has been a global – and urgent – effort. Life science companies involved in this have needed to adapt to changing regulations and a need for speed.

In June, for example, the European Commission presented a strategy to accelerate the development, manufacture and distribution of vaccines against COVID-19. Part of this plan is to adapt the regulatory framework to make it more flexible and allow for greater speed in the development of a vaccine.

This has changed the risk profile of many life sciences companies involved in the fight against COVID-19. Insurance has a part to play here. A new Lloyd’s of London syndicate was set up to cover shipments of vaccines to emerging market countries.

Vaccine will need to be stored and transported at low temperatures. Risk professionals are working on this challenge and also the potential risks associated with a vaccine, such as side effects or mutations of the virus.

While a great deal of attention has, naturally, been focused on the fight against COVID-19, companies have many other vital projects that they have needed to keep working on against this challenging backdrop.

R&D and Clinical trials

Clinical trials, which form a vital step in bringing new drugs to market, have been severely disrupted by the pandemic and the restrictions on the movement of people and goods brought in by many governments to try to halt the spread of the virus, according to research by McKinsey.

That disruption has affected both trials involving new patients and maintaining programs for patients already enrolled on therapies.

According to McKinsey, about 50% of life sciences companies surveyed said they had paused recruitment for most of their clinical trials during the pandemic.

This is likely to have stymied innovation on new, non-COVID-19-related treatments. In the case of so-called “orphan drugs” – those intended for the treatment, prevention or diagnosis of very rare diseases or conditions – the development phase is typically about 18% longer from patent filing to product launch than the average for a new drug, for example.

The direction of resources to fight COVID-19, coupled with the global economic slowdown and its effects, means that much focus has been diverted away from research and innovation into new drugs for these rarer conditions, experts say.

Supply-chain disruption

Supply chains across all industries have been disrupted by the pandemic and its effects. In the case of medical devices – broadly, instruments, apparatus and machines used to prevent, diagnose or treat illness – there have been notable examples of shortages.

Companies have focused a great deal of energy and resource on developing products and devices to fight COVID-19 and its effects. It has been important for them to work with risk experts to understand the potential changes to their liability exposures.

Constant learning

The fight against COVID-19 is an era-defining one. And life science companies have faced unprecedented challenges.

Risk consultants have been continually learning to enable them to work with clients to find solutions to the challenges posed by this evolving and fast-moving situation.

For example, in the case of Virtual clinical trials, which use technology such as Apps, monitoring devices and online social engagement platforms to assess patients’ reactions, risk consultants have worked to understand the new risks and how they can be managed and transferred.

Through insights and communication, risk professionals are playing their part in the global effort to beat this virus.

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Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. AXA XL Risk. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any publication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with this publication, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

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