Life sciences: Rising to the challenge in a time of crisis - Q&A with Jenny Yu

In this Q&A, Jenny Yu, the Industry Practice Leader for Chemicals and Life Sciences in the UK and Ireland at Marsh & McLennan shares her thoughts on the impact of COVID-19 on the life sciences sector.

Jenny has over 15 years’ experience in risk financing solutions for corporates and joined Marsh in January 2020 where she is responsible for developing and delivering industry sector expertise and services to clients ranging from SMEs to global corporations.

Many clients have evolved to help deal with the COVID-19 crisis, moving into testing and the development of treatments and vaccines.

Jenny Yu, Industry Practice Leader for Chemicals and Life Sciences, Marsh & McLennan


Can you tell us more about your current role at Marsh & McLennan and what you hope to achieve?

I am the Industry Practice Leader for Chemicals and Life Sciences in the UK. My role is to strengthen Marsh’s offering across all of our UK segments (large corporates, middle market and SMEs) and to support our clients by guiding them on the risks facing their industry, emerging risks and the macro environment in which they operate. My key objective is to ensure that all of our services are tailored to their very specific needs while adapting to the rapidly changing risk landscape.

Life sciences is a sector that is well versed in preparing for critical risk challenges, such as new regulation, cyber security and competition. How are your clients preparing for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the long term?

The life sciences sector has been proven to be resilient and, in many ways, unaffected by the pandemic - except in areas where a physical patient presence is required such as clinical trials, or for elective surgeries, which impact medical device companies. As risk advisers, we assist our clients in reviewing the evolving risk landscape, identify emerging risks, and assess the client impact in order to develop mitigation strategies - so they can focus on their core business and drive growth. Many clients have also evolved in order to help deal with the COVID-19 crisis, moving into COVID-19 testing and developing treatments and vaccines.

The crisis has accelerated the integration of new technologies and digital transformation.

Are there any positive impacts on the life sciences sector arising from the pandemic?

Yes, one of the most positive impacts is that the crisis has accelerated the integration of new technologies and digital transformation within the sector through the increasing adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IOT), virtual clinical trials, and telemedicine etc. Also, throughout the COVID-19 crisis, regulators and those in the sector have worked closely to develop emergency measures in order to support the continuous supply of medical products.

Although some of the initial supply chain issues have been well documented, life sciences firms rose to the challenge by utilising their expertise in production to address shortages during the pandemic, such as with 3D printing and cross-company collaboration in the manufacture and distribution of ventilator parts.

What are the most common questions from your insurer clients so far over the past three months?

The three most common questions are:

  • How are the insureds affected by the pandemic?
  • What plans and measures have the insureds been putting in place to mitigate the impact of COVID-19?
  • Do the insureds expect any material changes to the future outlook of the business?

The work of the life sciences industry has continued broadly unabated although there have been challenges around shortages in products/equipment related to COVID-19 treatment in the early stage of the crisis, clinical trial delays and some short-term demand variations due to stockpiling and delayed medical procedures.

We offered an independent free consultation to our clients to review and assess their mitigation plans. We found many already had robust plans and risk mitigation measures in place, which are considered adequate. In general, the future outlook for the life sciences industry is positive. Many companies are engaged in the development and manufacture of COVID-19 countermeasures. Some fledgling biotechs have emerged as leaders in this space together with the large global pharmas.

COVID-19 aside, what life sciences trends and developments are of the most interest to you and why?

Digital transformation and the adoption of new technologies throughout the entire life cycle of a product are key, as these will affect all areas of the business including R&D, manufacturing, sales and marketing and operations.

Automation, machine learning, AI and cloud computing will have a significant impact on the sector.

Although the life sciences sector is at the forefront of innovation when it comes to the sciences, it is not necessarily the case when it comes to the adoption of technologies. The sector is very strictly regulated and any significant changes require lengthy regulatory approval which has possibly slowed adoption so far. Automation, machine learning, AI and cloud computing will have a significant impact on the sector.

One of the most topical examples is the use of artificial intelligence to help researchers comb through thousands of studies and find relevant COVID-19 information and data for the development of potential treatments and vaccines.