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Bayer Pharma Reflections on Innovation: Creating, Collaborating, and Accelerating Discovery During and After a Pandemic

At the 2020 World Medical Innovation Forum, Joerg Moeller, MD, PhD reflected on how Bayer is weathering the organizational challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Moderated by Janet Wu of Bloomberg, this fireside chat covered possible treatments for COVID-19, the challenges of drug development while labs are shut down, and the lessons that the industry has learned due to this pandemic.

How do you continue drug development in the midst of a pandemic when not all of your scientists and researchers can get to work?

“Here at Bayer, we have about 80% of our employees working at home.  We have focused on the most critical areas of focus to keep ongoing experiments running.” One of the downsides to this new remote/limited onsite staff adjustment is the delay of starting new experiments right away.

The path to getting a drug through approval and to market is a very long timeline. Do you see that the timeline now is going to be longer because of the current challenges?

“I think it depends. I think we will see an impact on timelines for studies that are new. I can also share that in our ongoing discussions with regulatory agencies and policymakers, I also see a great deal of flexibility without lowering the standards. I can truly state that the FDA really works with the industry to see what is possible and accelerates treatment options for COVID-19 patients. There has been a great deal of collaboration in the scientific communities and regulatory agencies, which could impact the timeline in a positive way.”

How has this global crisis has forever changed research and development in the pharma industry?

“As difficult as it may be, there may be minute opportunities coming out of it. For example, we’re involved in opening our compound libraries. That would have been something that would have been difficult to agree upon not so long ago.” The positive changes in collaboration and teamwork will also impact the industry. “I am hoping that this collaborative spirit, the speed of decision making, solution orientation, teamwork that we have seen — I hope that we can keep some of that. We will all be able to benefit. That is a positive change driven by the fact that we must go through a difficult situation right now.”

In your position as head of research and development for drugs of the future, what is the biggest lesson that this pandemic has taught you in your industry?

“One of my biggest lessons is that if we just focus on a task, the ability to address the challenge is enormous. What I also experienced is that we can have quick decision making, including by government officials. Solidarity has become more fashionable because we are all in this together. I think people have realized this, and that joining forces and protecting vulnerable populations has been an important lesson. I am hoping we can keep some of that because that will make the world a better place.”

Watch the full panel from the 2020 World Medical Innovation Forum here.