RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Around the world, small businesses have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Life sciences companies have been challenged on a personal and professional level, facing the same economic crisis as other businesses, even though their research is crucial to finding a cure.

For the past few months, Don Alexander and his team at GeneCoda – an executive and professional search firm based in Raleigh – have been compiling data from interviews with over 100 life sciences companies based in the United States. While this project began as research for his company, Alexander realized these business trends could be valuable to a wider audience.

He found the right opportunity this week in a webinar hosted by the NC Life Sciences Virtual Networking Group.

Alexander began the presentation with some background information on how the research was conducted.


“It is all primary data gathered by phone calls from our company,” Alexander said. Since GeneCoda works primarily with developmental-stage companies, most of the data come from small- to-mid-sized businesses. Research was gathered during the second quarter of the year, in the height of the pandemic.

These 100 executives were asked:

  • Are you hiring or what are your plans for hiring?
  • What has COVID-19’s impact been on your business?
  • Are you currently raising funds?

When answering Alexander’s first question, the respondents were roughly even, with 45% of companies hiring while 55% were not. While some companies are currently seeking new hires, many have delayed plans to hire in late Q3 and Q4 of this year.

Regarding the second question of COVID-19’s impact, 37% of companies saw a downturn.  While this was the highest percentage, 9% found themselves busier and 26% saw no impact, meaning a similar percentage as those that dipped operated with business as usual or at a higher capacity. The remaining percentages were reserved for companies with mixed responses, unknown, or were business-line dependent.

In response to the question about raising funds, about half of the companies willing to disclose that information said they are raising funds and half said they’re not.

Don Alexander (GeneCoda photo)

Alexander further broke down these percentages by market segment and focus area. Of the market segments that have plans to hire, there was a notable percentage in CDMO’s [contract development and manufacturing organization], specifically in manufacturing biologics and gene and cell therapy. Additionally, med tech represented a surprisingly high percentage considering the segment’s relatively lower numbers pre-pandemic. The “tools” category held the highest percentage, consisting of consumables, capital equipment, and software. This didn’t surprise Alexander due to the increasing need for data analysis and trends in artificial intelligence.

For market segments not hiring, biotech and CRO’s [contract research organizations] stood out.

Regarding focus areas that are considered net positive, Alexander said, “oncology hasn’t skipped a beat, and drug delivery is still strong.” Cardio’s prominence in this category was another surprise in the study, as those trials were expected to be delayed.

For net negative focus areas, central nervous system, consumables, drug discovery, infectious disease and platform companies made the list.

When GeneCoda began the research in early Q2, the team noted a universal feeling of shock and awe spread throughout the industry. With the entire world in panic mode, life sciences companies were forced to face the pandemic head-on, creating contingency plans while also shifting their priorities to finding a cure. They gained the confidence necessary to function remotely and developed more of a comfort level with operating in labs and manufacturing facilities.

As we finish Q3 and enter Q4, Alexander believes business will continue to grow.

“This quarter will be stronger,” he says. “We won’t beat quarter three of last year, but we are looking at some improvements from quarter two.”

“When you are forced to adapt,” he says, “you do.”

(C) N.C. Biotech Center