Five challenges life sciences businesses need to prepare for in 2022

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The ingenuity and dedication of the life sciences industry came to the fore during the pandemic, with the discovery of vaccines and seamless collaboration between scientists, governments, healthcare systems and regulators. But what are the challenges that lie ahead for the life sciences sector in 2022?

We spoke to some of our industry experts from around the world to explore how COVID-19 has accelerated change within the sector and the key trends that they predict will impact decision-making this year. We have also gained insights from the latest IBR survey of mid-market companies in the healthcare sector, which reflects the views of almost 200 senior executives in 29 markets around the world.

Our experts agree that the heady pace of change will continue into 2022, and once again test the mettle of the industry. These are the five stand-out trends to watch in life sciences in 2022, and what decision-makers should be doing to stay ahead.

1. People and skills have become a precious commodity

There is a global shortage of people with the skills and expertise needed by life sciences, and it shows no sign of abating. The IBR survey shows that concerns about the availability of people with the right skills and experience has deepened and may only get worse, given strong hiring intentions. Competition between companies for the best talent is intense, with labour costs also rising. This is a significant concern, given the sector’s intention to grow the workforce this year. Without the right people in place, companies will find it difficult to reach their full potential.

What should life sciences companies be doing?

bhanu-prakash-kalmath-s-j-round.pngMoney alone cannot solve this problem, which is why the skills shortage requires a strategic approach by senior leadership. Bhanu Prakash Kalmath S J, Partner at Grant Thornton Bharat in India, says many businesses are looking to implement more employee focussed practices and retention strategies, such as long-term incentive schemes. He also remarks that the firm has seen an increasing trend of Centres of Excellence being set up in India, to leverage the high quality talent in the market.

schellion-horn-120x120-round-image.png“It is no longer just about financial incentives but also about wider social impact,” adds Schellion Horn, Partner at Grant Thornton UK. “People want to be part of something that is making positive change. Companies need to be able to communicate to employees their vision and purpose.”

elaine-daly1.pngElaine Daly, Partner at Grant Thornton Ireland and Global Head of Business Consulting, agrees, saying that attitudes to work have shifted due to the pandemic. Younger workers want careers that have real impact and purpose, which life sciences have shown through vaccines and therapeutics delivered to combat COVID-19. “It’s vital that life sciences companies showcase the impact they have had on the day-to-day lives of patients, to a labour market which has fundamentally changed in its societal outlook.”

tim-glowa.pngThere is no single way to win this talent war but Tim Glowa, Principal – Human Capital Services at Grant Thornton US, stresses the importance of understanding the needs of employees and developing rewards packages that they value and that really differentiate you as an employer. “Our State of Work research found that 55% of employees think their total reward programme is no different to what is available elsewhere. They can get the same benefits by crossing the road and joining a competitor.”

2. Costs are going up

Inflation is a clear and present danger. The rate of inflation has reached a 30-year high across major economies and looks set to persist through this year and 2023. Rising labour costs are a key concern, as are energy costs particularly in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine. Financial costs are also front of mind, with interest rates beginning to rise in all major economies and further increases on the horizon. Despite these concerns, the IBR survey suggests that profit growth expectations remain strong. Meeting these expectations will hinge on the ability of companies to increase selling costs in the face of solid resistance.

What should life sciences companies be doing?

amy-flynn-120x120-round-image.png“Companies are looking closely at their cost base,” says Amy Flynn, Partner and Global Head of Life Sciences at Grant Thornton US. “We can support businesses to understand where their biggest operational challenges and opportunities are, including around efficiency and effectiveness.”

Because of the uncertain outlook for inflation, companies need to be able to respond quickly when circumstances change. “Given inflationary pressures and uncertainty over input costs, we are advising companies to build flexibility into contracts,” says Shellion. “Agreements should reflect the current uncertainties around prices, which are likely to continue on an upward trend for some time yet.”

Supply chains in life sciences tend to be long, which also provides scope for efficiencies. “Supply chain disruption during the pandemic caused significant price variation and made companies much more aware of vulnerabilities,” says Bhanu Prakash. “Supply chain assessments can identify inefficiencies and pinch points and help to reduce costs or mitigate inflationary pressure.”

“Understanding costs in real-time will be key for companies to respond to rising inflationary pressures,” says Elaine. "We can help companies utilise big data, visualisation and advanced analytics to track and dynamically respond to rising costs and maintain efficiency.”

3. More about people and planet, less about profit

Senior leadership teams are increasingly concerned with their organisation’s approach to the environment, social issues and corporate governance and ESG issues are high on the agenda across life sciences. Stakeholders, including institutional investors, customers and employees, are all demanding the adoption of best ESG practice and the regulatory environment around ESG is changing very quickly in the UK, Europe and the US. Mid-market companies appear to be further behind the curve in terms of action or measurement than global organisations, but pressure is growing around setting measurable sustainability targets. Increasingly, procurement decisions in the health sector take ESG compliance into account, which requires bidding companies to be able to demonstrate best-practice. This will inevitably involve additional cost at a time when profit margins are already under strain.

What should life sciences companies be doing?

ESG requires a strategic approach, with buy-in across the whole senior leadership team. “Large, global companies are being very vocal and aggressive with their ESG targets but mid-market companies are not there yet,” says Amy. “They have a vague sense of the reporting requirements that are being introduced but, for the most part, they haven’t defined their metrics.”

“Companies have a couple of years to get their house in order,” says Schellion. “We can advise on ESG disclosures and help pick the appropriate metrics and systems to measure progress towards targets.”

“The increasing importance of ESG can no longer be ignored,” says Elaine. “We can help companies develop a comprehensive approach that meets regulatory, shareholder and public expectations. Additionally, a comprehensive ESG strategy is increasingly a requirement for younger workers entering the labour pool.”

Integrating sustainability into your strategy and business operating model can create real competitive advantage.

4. Technology is key

The IBR survey showed that investment in technology is a clear priority across the healthcare sector, with more than half of companies planning to increase investment over the next 12 months. There is a strong focus on digitisation, which is expected to continue through this year. The life sciences sector made a quantum leap during the pandemic, implementing changes that might otherwise have taken a decade to achieve. Investment in technology is seen as key to increasing efficiency in production and supply chains, helping to offset inflationary pressures. R&D investment trends are strong. As the global COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, the life sciences innovation system is setting new records in the level of investment, activity, and scientific progress, in addition to the number and range of new medicines reaching patients around the world. 

What should life sciences companies be doing?

Companies are advised to explore the growing range of fiscal incentives and grants that are available to encourage investment in technology and innovation as governments seek to create jobs and expand manufacturing capacity. “Technology is one area where mid-market companies have an advantage,” says Amy. “They can be more agile than large global organisations and implement change more swiftly, with less complex structures and fewer people to get on board.”

Schellion is seeing how companies are investing in technology as one way to address the global shortage of people and skills. “We saw real momentum build during the pandemic, with a shift towards remote processes, and this is continuing. Companies are looking closely at how they can introduce or adapt technology to make processes more efficient.”

5. Internationalisation and strengthening supply chains

Supply chain disruption has been a major issue during the pandemic. Across the life sciences sector, companies are reviewing supply arrangements, taking long-term strategic decisions with a view to shortening supply chains and strengthening local resilience to future disruption. There is government backing for investment that helps to develop national capacity and infrastructure and to increase exports of value-added products.

At the same time, the life sciences sector is looking to increase international sales. The IBR survey shows that companies continue to focus on growing internationally, despite the added complications of higher energy costs and concerns about transport infrastructure.

“In India there is a real push to build API capacity and increase overall exports,” says Bhanu Prakash. “India is the third-largest producer of pharmaceutical products by volume, but we are fourteenth by value. There is a huge drive to improve the value chain, which has resulted in increased international investment. The government is also providing incentives for pharmaceutical companies to build and expand their capacity. Both are great opportunities for the industry.”

What should life sciences companies be doing?

thorsten-esser-120x120-round-image.pngThorsten Esser, Senior Manager, Grant Thornton Germany, is seeing how many German companies are planning to invest in Germany to increase domestic capacity. This will improve local supply chain resilience while creating opportunities to increase exports. “The supply chain is seen much more critically now, which is encouraging German companies to focus on investment in Germany or in Europe.”

There also are ESG benefits from shorter supply chains, both in terms of impact and enhanced ability to control and measure.

Amy sees a similar trend in the United States. “Companies are being more thoughtful about where they invest. They are thinking more geopolitically, and I believe this is a trend that will continue.”

Elaine has seen the challenges to Just-In-Time supply chains. The fragility of the Just-In-Time model has been a feature of closing borders during the pandemic. “Supply chain strategy and planning will be become increasingly important to enhance the robustness of supply chains while mitigating against rising costs.”

Staying ahead

The pace of change in life sciences in 2022 is likely to be as rapid and as far reaching as in the previous 12 months. Steering a course through the challenges that lie ahead will require agile decision-making, collaboration and engagement with multiple stakeholders, and deep insight into developments across the global life sciences landscape.

We are here to support you and your senior leadership team to leverage the opportunities that will present themselves during this period of transformation and disruption. Get in touch with one of our global life sciences experts today.