What is the outlook for the global life sciences industry in 2021? - Thoughts from the Centre | Deloitte UK

By Dr Maria João Cruz, PhD, Assistant Manager, and Emily May, Research Analyst, Centre for Health Solutions


Each year, Deloitte produces a report exploring the outlook for the life sciences sector. This year’s report, 2021 global life sciences outlook: Possibility is now reality, sustaining forward momentum, explores the many ways COVID-19 has accelerated change for the life sciences and MedTech sectors and what can be reimagined and made better. As a result of the pandemic, novel technologies that were expected to advance over a decade were adopted in a few months, weeks, and sometimes, even days and many organisations embraced this unprecedented pace of change. This week’s blog covers highlights from the report, with a specific focus on how sustaining and institutionalising new ways of working, collaborating and operating digitally, can help companies succeed and contribute towards a more compassionate and equitable world.

Redesigning work, workplace, and workforce, while meeting individual needs

We all experienced fundamental changes in our work and home lives as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and, while many embraced a more virtual and technology-driven work, others have felt overwhelmed. For life sciences the role most affected has been sales representatives who have had to adapt quickly to virtual visits. New ways of collaborating have also reduced the time, distance, and cost of communications, meetings, and deal-making.

In-office and remote work are different platforms of work and each organisation and individual will have different needs. Companies now have the opportunity to rethink what work really means and reimagine how it might be done more flexibly to meet the changing needs of the organisation and the individual. Real-estate needs will also shift with life sciences leaders re-evaluating the role of campuses and looking for new ways to maintain culture and drive innovation, including considering shared space with ecosystem partners.

The ability to connect and work from anywhere can extend the capabilities of an organisation by expanding access to new talent and skills as geographic constraints are removed. Remote work is not only changing where we work, but also when we work. These new ways of working have caused the lines of work and life to blur and intertwine and for some created a mental health crisis. Going forward, organisations will need to foster a culture of belonging for remote workers, while promoting their wellbeing, including deploying new more robust products and solutions, and meeting the behavioural health needs to help employees thrive.

Accelerated digitisation: New points of care, new roles for pharma and MedTech

In 2020, as a result of the pandemic, the number of virtual healthcare visits soared across the world. Virtual health enables sharing of valuable data and insights across the complete circle of care (from disease prevention to treatment and ongoing monitoring), which is important for pharma as such data can be used to better understand the role and effectiveness of pharmacology in treatment and improve continuity of care and cost-effectiveness. Virtual health has the capacity to inform, personalise, accelerate, and augment prevention and care, providing pharma companies with an opportunity to understand the benefits of new care pathways.

Accelerated and more widespread adoption of telemedicine across many countries, has been enabled by the easing of regulations and agreement on reimbursement policies. The data generated from multiple devices can help shape biopharma and MedTech’s future opportunities to enhance physician and patient experience and outcomes. In addition, this accelerated digitisation has brought to the fore new points of care, including:

  • Tech giants bring clinical care to the home: The home is becoming the hub of connected living. Amazon Care, along with Intermountain Healthcare and Ascension, created a new healthcare coalition to designate and expand the home as a site of connected clinical services. As clinical trials move to the home or become virtual, smartphones and wearable technologies are becoming important clinical tools. Apple is boosting the number of health-related features accessible on its Watch to facilitate its use in medical research.
  • Digital pharmacies: Demand for pharmacy home delivery surged during the pandemic, from local and major drug retailers to government providers. In the United Kingdom, for example, the National Health Service (NHS) has instituted free prescription home delivery services to patients registered with a GP in England.
  • Retail pharmacies create healthcare supercentres: While pharmacies have always been among the most frequent healthcare touchpoints for patients, the pandemic has elevated the role of the pharmacist and spawned further pharmacy care delivery capability. Retail pharmacies are growing to provide greater levels of healthcare services. With the help of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, the future pharmacist may be a recognised care provider, prescribing acute medications and managing chronic diseases.

These data-driven opportunities will increase competition from consumer tech and empower patients to take control of their own health through the use of devices, data, and other insights in what is going to be a critical piece of health care delivery.

New customer-centric commercial model: Meeting physicians where they are, on their terms, and through more meaningful interactions

At the onset of the pandemic, virtual and digitally-enabled commercial activities became a necessity. Going forward, they will be at the core of commercial models. As we highlighted in our Intelligent drug launch and commercial: Optimising value through AI, life sciences companies will need to utilise these tools to deepen relationships, particularly with healthcare professionals (HCPs), by creating content that resonates with their individual needs, on their terms, where they are, with compassion and empathy.

Physicians really want to understand therapeutics and have meaningful interactions with reps who understand the science and are personally interested in patients’ care. Pharma companies can engage more effectively with physicians by tapping into the potential of virtual visits and on-demand content, which can complement in-person visits. Creating meaningful engagements requires empathetic exchanges underpinned by active listening to gain HCP perspective, advance better patient access and, ultimately, achieve better health outcomes.

New types of collaborations, clinical trials and regulatory processes reshaping R&D

As demonstrated by the speed of the COVID-19 vaccine development, a new streamlined model for life sciences R&D with high efficiency is possible. Many changes to the development and regulation processes occurred during the pandemic, including:

  • Exposing long-standing inefficiencies
  • Reassessing processes and challenging processes previously thought to be necessary and fundamental
  • Fostering new collaborations within and beyond the health ecosystem including with academia, biotech, data providers, platform companies, and regulatory authorities
  • Increasing regulatory flexibility for clinical trial design and the speed at which they can be conducted
  • Emphasising the use of virtual trials and remote monitoring
  • Growing the use of new technologies such as AI and adoption of real-world evidence (RWE) across the R&D processes.

As we also explored in our Seeds of change: Measuring the return from pharmaceutical innovation 2020, this increasingly digital, virtual and collaborative nature of the entire R&D ecosystem is expected to continue. However, this comes with an obligation to ensure that the needs of the vulnerable and marginalised populations are addressed. The inequity of COVID-19 infection severity and access to treatment and vaccines has highlighted the need for a continued focus on access, reach and equity for all. Diverse patients currently account for less than ten per cent of patients enrolled in clinical trials, but the trend towards more decentralised, patient-centric trials or hybrid approaches will allow a more representative population to participate as traditional barriers are removed.

Cross-border reliance intensifies the need for supply chain visibility

COVID-19 has shone a light on cross-border reliance across trade, manufacturing and distribution functions. This has led to major developments across the supply chain, which include:

  • Manufacturing vaccines at risk, i.e. before it is known whether the vaccine will succeed
  • Competitors collaborating to boost vaccine production and distribution amid supply constraints
  • Non-traditional players (auto and consumer industries) stepping up to manufacture health care products.

It is unclear whether any part of this will continue outside the exceptional circumstances and funding that the pandemic brought about. Nevertheless, in 2021, a significant amount of investment is expected to continue in reshoring, especially for capacity shortfalls as companies re-evaluate the resiliency of their supply chains. Additionally, pharma companies are expected to continue to leverage their competitors and partners, instead of manufacturing the products themselves, enabling the continuation of more innovative science and the development of new manufacturing capabilities.

Future outlook

The COVID-19 pandemic has made household names of many life sciences companies, with some now in the top 20 fastest growing brands, with the sector assuming a new role in society with the potential of driving more growth for good. With the life sciences industry at the forefront of people’s minds, its future success will depend on creating collective value for all stakeholders that is transparent and sustainable, including access, reach and equity for all. Life science companies should sustain this forward momentum and continue to build on the unprecedented pace of innovation that has been witnessed across the industry through leading by example, operating with integrity, delivering on patient-centricity and innovating without borders.


Maria João Cruz - Assistant Research Manager, Centre for Health Solutions

Maria João is an assistant research manager for the Centre for Health Solutions, the independent research hub of the Health Care and Life Sciences team. At the Centre, she conducts rigorous analysis and research to generate insights around trends, challenges and opportunities to support the life sciences practice. Maria João has a PhD in bioengineering and more than ten years of experience in scientific research. Her postgraduate research work was developed in collaboration between Imperial College London and Instituto Superior Técnico (IST), University of Lisbon. She holds a both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in biological engineering from IST, Lisbon.

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Emily May

Emily May - Research Analyst, Centre for Health Solutions

Emily is a Research Analyst for the Centre for Health Solutions where she applies her background in both scientific research and pharmaceutical analytics to produce supported insights for the Life Sciences and Healthcare practice. Within the Centre, she performs thorough analysis and research to help find solutions for the challenges impacting the industry and generating predictions for the future. Prior to joining the centre, Emily worked as an Analytical Scientist conducting physical chemistry analysis on early stage drug compounds and previously lived in Antwerp, Belgium where she researched and developed water-based adhesive films.

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