Life Sciences Leadership Forum – Covid-19 | Friday 3rd April

  • Thought Leadership

In response to the Covid 19 Health and Developing Economic Crisis FWB Park Brown is running cross sector as well as sector focused forums for Chairs and NED, CEOs and across most of the main business disciplines.

This week we hosted our first online Life Sciences Leadership forum, focused on Covid-19, which was attended by 15 business leaders from the life sciences sector who participated in an open and varied discussion around the challenges and potential opportunities in the sector at the moment.

Key points discussed:


  • We heard from an investment group that 4 fundraisings which were in planning before Covid-19 hit are still very much going ahead.  These are all in the life sciences sector.  There was a feeling in the group that there must be a belief in continuing to invest although supporting existing portfolio companies is a clear priority at this time.
  • In general, it was felt that High Net Worth and Angel investors are pausing new investments, however family offices and the VC market remain active. For companies seeking larger investment levels (>£5m), deals are progressing. There is a sense that one reason may be that VCs have more time and availability due to the interesting developments in the life sciences sector and their current relevance.
  • In terms of banking, debt options were not felt to be the right solution for most life sciences companies so the Covid Business Interruption Loan Scheme was not felt to be particularly helpful where a company is not yet revenue generating or indeed, may even be loss making.  The feedback on this scheme so far is not particularly positive and is felt to be largely ineffective for this sector.  A better option would be for the Government to provide equity, possibly delivered by existing investment funds.  The BVCA is currently seeking £500m from the Government Covid Fund which would specifically be for life sciences companies.  Additionally, the SLA is lobbying UK Government to change the EIS levels and to reverse the recent reduction in Entrepreneur’s Relief, as both have a particularly significant impact on investment in the Life Sciences sector.
  • A key challenge will be the impact on valuations as well as careful management of cash.  Milestones that funded companies would have hope to have achieved in the current timeline will be challenged and may have to be revised.  VAT and PAYE deferments were seen as helpful but relatively short term and businesses will still have to find the cash for these repayments in 2021 i.e they haven’t gone away, they have simply been pushed further down the road.

Life Sciences Scotland industry contribution to Covid-19

  • The Life Sciences industry in Scotland can and wants to help.
  • Specific activities include the development of an antibody which should be ready this month for Covid-19 testing. The CEO of SLA described the various activities going on around the industry in Scotland as a community building exercise.  The sector is working closely with and responding to the UK and Scottish Government’s requests and the NHS’s requests. The overwhelming sense from the Life Sciences sector is that they are ready, willing and able to help, but that procurement from the customer is currently the blocker.
  • The veterinary and animal health industry is likely to play a key role in understanding the animal link and how covid-19 is spread. This will have a direct impact on the longer-term implications of the disease.

 People challenges

  • All companies represented in the forum were taking up some form of furlough/redundancy/change in shift pattern to cope with new ways of working and a change in demand for products and services.
  • The sector is seen as key to the UK’s response to Covid-19 and its employees, therefore, are mostly categorised as key workers.  There were some early examples of schools not recognising this which resulted in difficulty for parents working in the sector but thankfully these appear to have been largely resolved.
  • There was positive recognition of the speed with which Boards have reacted in the Scottish Life Sciences industry to protect their people and their businesses.  It was felt that this industry would be quite resilient based on the strength and community of the workforce.
  • One of our Contract Research contributors spoke about the potential challenges of completing clinical studies with almost 50% of its staff working from home.
  • In another example, a business working in a lab situation was very much still operational and observing strict social distancing measures.
  • We had a further example of a business fully functioning with several hundred people, 1/3 of them working successfully from home.  The rest are working alternating 12-hour shift patterns over 3 days.  This business is providing services for clients who are working on Covid products.
  • One contributor who is running clinical trials globally has had to close their labs which has resulted in a halt in their research activity.  They are, however, continuing to try and recruit patients for clinical trials in Spain and Italy (non Covid-related).  The general feedback around clinical trials however was that the industry is seeing a lot of work put on hold as recruiting patients as well as the professionals to administer and oversee the trials is becoming increasingly difficult.

Future positive outputs

  • There is some opportunistic funding coming into the market which may become available for companies in the right technology space.
  • This is a time where our ‘audience’ may have a little more time and the right kind of business development was felt to be really positively received.  Taking time for marketing, education and business development so that when the market recovers, our life sciences companies are ready to go at full speed is to be encouraged.
  • Companies in life sciences will look carefully at their regulatory and quality credentials, methodology and training so that they are ready to react to a similar situation more quickly in the future.  This extra due diligence right across life sciences organisations was felt to be a very positive one.

This Leadership forum was hosted by Ailsa Sutherland.  If you are interested in joining this or indeed any of our other forums please contact Ailsa Sutherland via

For a downloadable copy of the above article please click here.

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FWB Park Brown
FWB Park Brown continues to deliver its full range of services which includes providing support and advice during the Covid- 19 Public Health and developing global economic crisis.
We have established a range of cross sector as well as sector focused discussion forums for Chairs, NEDs, CEOs and all the main business management disciplines.  We are also working closely with the Scottish HR Leadership Group to provide constructive support including discussion forums and Q & As.
Summaries of the discussions will be posted on our news section and also on LinkedIn.
For further information about any of these forums please contact us via

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