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How the pharmaceutical sector is adapting to remote working

In the face of the coronavirus threat, many pharmaceutical companies either put into force (or, in the case of the less well-prepared, developed for the first time) business continuity protocols. Central to these is remote working, designed to help physically distance as many personnel as possible by having them work from home. An example of this was at the company Catalent.

In the case of laboratory workers, many of whom need to be at the lab bench, Catalent still found opportunities for some remote work, such as writing reports at home and carrying out tasks like data analysis away from the workplace.

A further measure taken, for core manufacturing staff, was the move to shift work, so that workers are more spread out. This included adopting a 24/7 operation at several plants. Furthermore, the firm also changed shift start times as so to minimize congregation in terms of building access.

Three other examples of a changing landscape are the use of virtual conferences, remote working (and cybersecrity concerns) and online ordering and consultations.

Virtual conferences

The consideration of new drugs is reliant upon interactions between pharmaceuticals professionals and medics. The primary forum or this is the conference. Where restrictions are in place in relation to people meeting face-to-face, the use of virtual conferences has increased. In drawing up a model for the virtual conference, pharma companies need to ensure their new scientific findings are spread impactfully.

The virtual conference consideration also extends to pre-launch and launch activities together with other forms of knowledge dissemination. Evidence compiled by PharmaPhorum shows that social media, especially Twitter, can be useful to help drive conversations between the scientific and healthcare community (although care needs to be taken in relation to certain legal restrictions, such as the rules around advertising and the restrictions in terms of claims made about drug efficacy).

Remote working and Cybersecurity

Remote working has become increasingly common, already prior to COVID-19, due to advances in digital technology. Since COVID-19, the application of remote work has grown exponentially. One concern expressed, by managers, is with maintaining employees performance. This concern can readily be addressed provided managers set clear objectives and guidelines, and provide the appropriate tools. With these measures, remote workers should be able to accomplish their pre-set goals with no added effort on the part of management.

Remote working is not without its cybersecurity concerns and due to the often high value of data, pharmaceutical firms can make for attractive targets. In an assessment of the threats, Blueliv, a European enterprise-class cyberthreat intelligence company, has issued a report titled ‘Sounding the Pharma Alarma‘ (it seems that the misspelling of ‘alarm’ to rhyme with ‘pharma’ was unfortunately intentional). The report offers an overview of the pharmaceutical threat landscape.

Of particular concern are the activities of cybercriminals designed to capitalize on this chaos surrounding the COVID-19 situation in order to steal research and intellectual property, foremost through distributing ransomware designed to freeze organizations out of their own research. The biggest concern is with Emotet, which is a type of Trojan malware. The malicious code is primarily spread through spam emails (so-called ‘malspam’). The infection may arrive either via malicious script, macro-enabled document files, or malicious link. The biggest risk on the part of workers is that Emotet emails often contain familiar branding designed to look like a legitimate email.

Teleconferences and online activities

Another alternation is with routine work shifting to embrace remote consultations in the medical area, with the proportion of telephone appointments rising significantly.

There has additionally been an increase in terms of online ordering, where digital technologies have made the customer buying process easier. While this varies between firms, there is a competiitv advanatge. Data from McKinsey suggests that the fastest-growing B2B companies use digital and inside sales channels more effectively than slower-growing companies. A key concern, however, is with the maintaining of Good Distribution Practice considerations (GDP), something required by regulators. GDP connects to the sourcing, storage and transportation of pharmaceutical products.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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