Business as (Un)usual During the Covid-19 Pandemic

2 Jul

Andy Merken
Partner at Burns & Levinson and Co-Chair of the Life Sciences Group

Gregory Mannix
Chief Conference Officer, VP International Business Development, LSN

After the major disruptions of the last few months, everyone has readjusted to a new normal. I recently spoke with Andy Merken, Partner at Burns & Levinson and Co-Chair of the Life Sciences Group, to learn his perspective of how things have changed, and how the industry has evolved.

GREG MANNIX (GM): These are certainly crazy times. How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your work at Burns & Levinson?

ANDY MERKEN (AM): Crazy is an understatement. March was a time of uncertainty, with everyone in the business world – clients, their business partners, investors, and M&A  professionals – trying to get their heads around what was happening and how it would impact their businesses and the broader life sciences industry. From a few rumblings in late February/early March to almost a full-blown panic starting in mid-March, client work continued forward unabated but with a growing sense of uneasiness. The first few weeks of April were consumed with helping clients navigate all of the questions – and the almost-daily changing guidance – with respect to PPP Loans, particularly for venture-backed companies. A number of deals were put on hold in April and early May, but the good news is that most of them have now returned, though some with slightly less favorable deal terms, particularly for medical device deals. Deal terms for biotech, pharma, healthcare IT and healthcare services all seem to be holding steady. What we are finding now in early July is that workflow is almost back to normal – both day-to-day matters as well as patent filings, financings (both seed stage and venture stage) and M&A. There is a growing sense of optimism that the worst is over – not with respect to the pandemic itself but as to the long-term business impact that it will have on our clients.

GM: Do you think any of these new ways of communicating, like videoconference calls, are here to stay after the pandemic is over?

AM: Absolutely. I have been pleasantly surprised at how seamless the transition has been from the physical world to the virtual world. After a week or two of people saying, “Zoom? Why would I want people to see me working at my dining room table?”, everyone has jumped on the videoconference and remote working bandwagon in earnest. We are  finding that productivity has not been harmed, and in fact, has actually improved given the loss – in a good way – of commuting time for most people. That being said, there are still business advantages to being able to meet people in person (especially new contacts), to walk down the hallway to chat with a co-worker, and generally to collaborate. For these reasons, I believe that in-person workplaces will return in full force, but with  videoconference calls  remaining much more a part of our daily work lives moving forward.

GM: Burns & Levinson is a sponsor of RESI, and you have been to a number of on-site RESI conferences across the country. Since we had to make the pivot to a digital RESI, what was your impression of the new format? Was it a productive way to interact with people?

AM: The new format exceeded my expectations. The videoconference technology was seamless. Just about everyone that I spoke to, as part of RESI, had the same comments. And, for those doing the 1-to-1 partnering meetings, they benefited from the conference being held for 3 days instead of 1, the ability to meet people from other parts of the country and all over the world who otherwise would not have been able to travel in, and the ability to meet people across multiple time zones. Those that I spoke with were thrilled with the scheduling flexibility and the ability to meet more people than at an in-person event. Nevertheless, people would still like the opportunity to meet live, especially when they are already traveling in for JPM, BIO, Boston Biotech Week and other conferences that RESI is scheduled around. It may be that a hybrid approach is what ultimately makes the most sense – in-person, but with a digital component, as well.

GM: Burns & Levinson will be a Gold Sponsor at both Digital RESI and the new 4D Meets AI conference coming up in September. Is the firm planning any specific educational content for the early-stage companies who are participating?

AM: Yes. We are really excited about being involved with both conferences. We are still in the early planning stages for panels and presentations, but areas that we hope to be able to cover for early-stage companies include overviews of, and issues relating to, seed stage and venture capital financings, patent prosecution, in-licensing and out-licensing,and the FDA process and regulatory scheme.

GM: We all miss the in-person seminars and networking events of the past, and it is hard to guess when things like that will resume. Are you planning any web-based informative sessions or webinars over the next few months to partially fill that gap?

AM: We certainly are. Just last week we hosted a virtual panel entitled “Life Sciences M&A and VC Financing Update: Dealmaking During the Pandemic”. Panelists were Randy Scott of HealthQuest Capital, Tom Miller of GreyBird Ventures, and Ben Conway of Consilium Partners – 2 Venture Capital investors and 1 Investment Banker. Tom and Randy, by the way, are active participants in RESI. We had over 140 attendees register for what was a very informative panel discussion and Q&A, followed by breakout room networking, about the current state of life sciences VC financing and M&A, including changes to valuations, deal terms and timelines caused by COVID-19, as well as predictions for the short- and long-term future. This event took the place of a summer in-person event that we typically run. We have gotten great feedback from attendees and are planning to offer quarterly panels. We are considering a “CEO Forum” for the fall, where life science CEOs can discuss their companies and what they are seeing in the industry. This idea came from talking with one of the attendees, so we are reaching out to our network to source ideas for additional panels – please contact me with ideas!

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