3 Lessons I Have Learned About Life Sciences During the Pandemic
January 30th, 2020. I was sitting in a Boston hotel room talking with a client who had canceled our face to face meeting. He could barely complete a sentence without coughing and wheezing. It was bad. I was very concerned for him but, was also thankful that I was not sitting across the desk from him either. COVID-19 was just starting to pick up steam in China. While I cannot “prove” that he had COVID, I think it is safe to say that he probably did.
Shortly after returning from Boston, I developed a very dry cough. I cannot remember the last time I had a cough that would not let up. On February 3rd, I went into the doctor. He told me that this is some “virus” that was going around. “Stay hydrated, drink tea and rest”. I remember taking this picture because I thought it was “interesting” that I was asked to wear a mask. I sent it to a few friends as I joked about how weird this was because I was certain that I had a sinus infection.
Like so many of us, I am pretty confident that I “had it”. This was of course before testing was available in the United States before we had quarantines and lockdowns and before most knew what COVID-19 was and how it would impact the world.
Working in Life Sciences during this time has been fascinating. At GForce, we have been working with a number of our clients to provide them with key people to help in the fight against COVID. We have set up CLIA labs to assist with testing, we have worked with clients providing Safety Physicians to meet the uptick in vaccine research and we have helped conduct audits around the globe to assist with keeping the supply chain moving for our customers to ensure they are maintaining compliance. In many ways it feels encouraging to know that our work is helping take the fight to this virus and in some small way, we are playing a part. While we are not first responders by any stretch, our work and the work of our consultants is helping make an impact.
For those of us in Life Sciences or healthcare, I am sure that you have been asked by countless family, friends, and probably some strangers about COVID-19, especially early on. While we are still learning more everyday about this virus, the first few months raised lots of questions.
Shortly after the quarantine had lifted, I remember sitting in the barber chair getting my hair cut. As you would expect, our conversation quickly turned to the topic of COVID-19. What made this even more interesting was when he found out that I was in Life Sciences industry. His questions started to come fast and furious. After doing my best to try and explain that I am not the “smart guy” doing all the work, but that I work with a bunch of really smart people every day that do. He kind of took a step back, clippers in hand and said, “What are the top 3 things I need to know about this thing?”
It was a fair question and one I did not really feel qualified to answer. That was my answer. He did not love that answer, but it was honest. It did leave me to ask myself a question though. What have I learned about Life Sciences during this pandemic and what will stick with me when this is “over”?
“3 Lessons I Have Learned About Life Sciences During The Pandemic”
1. We are fortunate to be in an industry with so many smart people.
This past year, I have had so many conversations with some of the best and brightest in the Life Sciences industry. I have learned so much about viruses, vaccines, therapeutic treatments, and testing. We are fortunate that we live in a time that we are able to have the knowledge, equipment, and tools to attack this virus. A little over 100 years ago, we had 50 million deaths from the Spanish Flu. While COVID-19 has been devastating for the world, our health and life sciences professionals have so many more tools at their disposal than at anytime in history. All of the research, investment and exploration have provided us with a much better handle on this pandemic than any generation before us. We still have much to learn, but we are making progress and I am thankful for those that are working tirelessly to tackle this head on. Who will forget the images of exhausted nurses and doctors that spent 14 hours+ on their feet trying to treat those sick? I am thankful that we have such great professionals that jump into the fight to try and save others. I have also seen firsthand the hours that some of our Life Sciences clients have put in to help create testing, therapeutics, and vaccines. I remember one customer who kept emailing me at 3 AM. When we finally connected, I asked why I kept getting emails at 3 AM? He said that was the only time he had to respond to email. That is dedication and commitment.
2. Science takes time and requires patience, failure, and perseverance.
We live in an instant gratification world. We hate to wait for anything especially something that might help save lives. As COVID-19 continued to spread in the spring, we saw this firsthand almost on a daily basis. We constantly heard about new or old drugs that would help get this virus under control. We heard about vitamins, supplements, sunlight, blood type, herbs and a host of other things. Oftentimes I felt like I was watching an old Western movie where the guy rides into town with his new potion that is “guaranteed to cure” whatever it was that ails you. But in the real world of science, we know that these things take time. We know that we need to run tests, conduct trials, review data and watch for trends and patterns. None of this leads to things moving “fast”. I spent a number of years coaching sports at the high school and youth levels. I remember a saying that I picked up over the years to say to my players: “Be quick, but don’t hurry." That is how science is as well. We need to move quickly and try and find the best way to attack this virus. At the same time, we need to make sure that we are not in a “hurry." I have been so impressed with the professionals I get to work with and how they approach this challenge. They do not want to be just fast; they want to be right. They understand that their decisions can possibly be the difference between life and death. They want to make sure they are following the proper procedures and protocols.
3. We are best when we bond together to attack problems.
A number of years ago, I had the privilege to speak at a session at the National Cancer Institute on a program called caBIG. The goal of caBIG was to provide a technology approach to biomedicine it called a “learning healthcare system.” This relied on the rapid exchange of information among all sectors of research and care, so that researchers and clinicians were able to collaboratively review and accurately incorporate the latest findings into their work. The ultimate goal was to speed the biomedical research process. While I was preparing for this talk about how technology was going to be applied, I remember speaking to a number of people at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to ask them what they saw as the purpose of this new technology. I remember one gentleman looked at me a little funny. “Well, Jim, you see, here at NCI, we are trying to help find cures for cancer. We want to create the best opportunity to have companies collaborate and share their information so we can help accomplish the goal." I remember sitting back in my chair thinking, “you mean that all this research is not shared?” I guess in my naïve youth, I figured that everyone was willing to share what they knew to help fight these awful diseases. Fortunately, he was very patient with me and explained that each company was working on their own research and drug creation to try and find cures and treatments but that most of this was done in a silo or vacuum. While caBIG did not end up continuing, it was my first exposure to the power of collaboration in research.
Fast forward to today, we see a whole different world. Almost daily we see companies working together to attack this virus. Many great companies are partnering to capitalize on their strengths to win this battle. I could list a number of them, but I would probably not even come close to listing all the examples of how this playing out. What I have learned is that we are truly better together and when we get this virus under control and life moves toward “normal” again, we will have so many to thank for their work and willingness to come together to defeat it.
2020 is quickly ending. I am sure that future generations will study our approach and find all kinds of ways that things could have been different. Hindsight is always 20/20. We will mourn those that lost their lives, their livelihoods and the many activities and events that have been changed or canceled. These can never be replaced. My hope is that I will look back on this period in my life and be thankful for the selfless sacrifice of so many. I hope that we will eventually get to recognize some these heroes in the future. While some of the circumstances brought about some of the worst outcomes, they also brought out some of the best in human perseverance and achievement. What can we do but say thank you!
1. "A Learning Healthcare System for Cancer Care". Archived from the original on 2010-03-07. Retrieved 2010-03-09.