Potential external impact
The start of 2022 was globally marked by steeply increasing infection rates mainly due to the spreading of the highly infectious Omicron-variant. At Galapagos, we hence maintained the strict measures put in place by local governments to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the physical and mental health of our staff during the first months of the year. In most places, the situation improved significantly during the second quarter and the measures taken could gradually be loosened. We nevertheless keep on continuously monitoring COVID-19 infection rates at global and at local level, and have now systems in place to react quicky where needed to guarantee business continuity. We report the following impacts:
At Galapagos, we maintained the measures put in place by local governments to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the physical and mental health of our staff. The majority of our research staff continued to work from the office/labs. For teleworkable functions we continued the implementation of our hybrid working model launched in 2021, in locations where the ongoing COVID-19 situation and corresponding local governmental measures permitted us to do so. For those employees coming to the office, we maintained stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols, and we strictly respected social distancing policies at all times in order to minimize risk of exposure. We further kept our global and site-specific business continuity plans up-to-date and continued to take appropriate recommended precautions.
We learned during the pandemic that most of the international travel could be replaced by virtual meetings, resulting in improved cost efficiency, a better work-life balance, and a reduced carbon footprint. The impact of this new way-of-working has been retained and has become part of our corporate travel guidance. On the other hand, we noticed during the month of March 2022, when infection rates lowered significantly, an increasing appetite to start meeting in person again and to attend professional (international) events. For those who needed to attend or organize events, we did implement a global policy providing guidance on how to safely organize or attend any such professional events, both internally and externally.
- Research portfolio
By prioritizing the most advanced projects very early on, and increasing the flexibility of our staff in the labs within projects, we maintained our research delivery timelines, kept the compound management facility running at all times, and continued our early drug research and the implementation of new modalities for target or drug discovery.
The scorecard of the research department objectives shows a similar productivity compared to previous years, indicating that we were able to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least in the short term.
- Development portfolio
We have a business continuity plan for our clinical development programs. We closely monitor each program in the context of the current global and local situation of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated specific regulatory, institutional, government guidance and policies related to COVID-19. Within the boundaries of these guidelines and policies, and in consultation with our CROs and clinical trial sites, we applied various measures to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our clinical development programs, with the primary aim to ensure the safety of our trial participants and to preserve the data integrity and scientific validity of the trials. These measures were implemented on a case-by-case basis, tailored to the specific study and country needs at any given time, with specific attention paid to vulnerable populations and the use of investigational medicines with immunosuppressive properties. The measures include, amongst others, increased, transparent communication to all stakeholders and the direct supply of investigational medicines to patients. For each clinical trial, we actively monitor and document the impact of COVID-19 to mitigate its effect on the study where necessary and to facilitate the interpretation and reporting of results.
- Manufacturing and supply chain
To date, there has been no impact to the commercial supply of filgotinib as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. All sites involved in the manufacturing of filgotinib are established sites that currently manufacture other marketed products and are in good standing with the FDA and are GMP certified. We became marketing authorization holder of filgotinib in the European Economic Area and Great Britain at the end of 2021, and are responsible for the manufacturing of filgotinib. The same manufacturing sites that supplied Gilead continue to supply filgotinib except for secondary packaging and labelling for which a new vendor has been selected.
- Commercial organization
The form of outreach of our commercial teams to physicians and hospitals was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent travel restrictions, and thus became partially virtual. The teams invested in digital channels as part of the overall commercial build strategy, and these channels are being utilized during our ongoing commercial launch. Thus far we note no material impact on the relative competitiveness of our commercial operations due to travel restrictions, nor have the effects of COVID-19 impacted our ability to engage in market access discussions. Nevertheless, healthcare systems are under pressure across Europe, increasing the volatility in reimbursement procedures and potentially reducing the number of new therapy options initiated by healthcare providers.
Conflict in Ukraine
The armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine could cause a material disruption in our operations. We currently have ongoing clinical studies for filgotinib with CROs located in Ukraine and Russia. If our CROs experience disruptions to their business due to the military conflict in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia, it could result in delays in our clinical development activities, including delay of our clinical development plans and timelines, or could cause interruptions in operations of regulatory authorities. The impact on ongoing pivotal studies such as DIVERSITY 1 has remained limited. We continue to monitor the situation and are taking measures to mitigate the impact on our ability to conduct clinical development activities. Interruptions or delays in our and our CROs’ ability to meet expected clinical development deadlines or to comply with contractual commitments with respect to the same, could lead to delays in our overall developmental and commercialization timelines, which would adversely impact our ability to conduct clinical development activities and complete them on a timely basis. Since 24 February 2022, we have extended the focus of the business continuity plan to closely monitor each program in context of the currently ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict and the associated specific regulatory, institutional, and government guidance and policies.