In a virtual fireside chat, former NASA astronaut Captain Scott Kelly joined Wolters Kluwer CEO Nancy McKinstry to discuss exploration, risk-taking, and their hopes for a post-COVID future.
Captain Scott Kelly and Wolters Kluwer CEO Nancy McKinstry team up to discuss risk management, discovery, and the future of pharma
As society adjusts to the risk of COVID-19, in pharma and biotech risk is business as usual. The fundamental nature of risk in life sciences is governed by the odds: only one in 20 drugs make it to clinical trial. More than 99% fail to make it through to production. And yet despite the low chances of success, expectations of a breakthrough are high. Wolters Kluwer provides risk solutions to life sciences companies across the whole production cycle, from R&D to distribution. What does risk mean to Wolters Kluwer?
“We're in the business of helping missions succeed”, says Nancy McKinstry. “We provide a full range of products to help companies control and mitigate a variety of risks, from operational and financial to legal and regulatory. Through our tools and solutions, we help to analyze risks and enhance organizational decision making.” These things include tools like Enablon, which is a flagship product that helps to control lab safety and helps to improve the quality of products, TeamMate, which helps audit professionals identify and manage risks, ELM Solutions, which help our legal professionals manage their exposure, and CCH Tagetik, which enables faster and more accurate financial analysis, particularly as business context shifts. And, of course, we're a leader in the healthcare industry, and so we have a wide variety of products including Ovid and UpToDate, which helps healthcare professionals improve patient outcomes.”
For Captain Kelly, risk has been at the core of his impressive career, but the rewards always took precedence: “I felt like the job that I was asked to do was important. It's important for humans to push the boundaries of what's possible. It's important for us to explore. It's important from a science perspective to learn new things.”
Risk vs reward
In some ways, the isolation of space is similar to the social isolation many have endured during the pandemic. Captain Kelly once spent 340 consecutive days in orbit, but even with the psychological and physical impact of such a long stay away from Earth he says the mission always comes first. It’s a neat parallel with the search for a Covid-19 vaccine. “We have to take those kinds of risks if we're going to solve this problem in an expeditious enough way that we can get back to our normal lives. I think if we're trying to do things very quickly, sometimes speed and safety are in conflict with each other and we have to be flexible enough and know how to make quick decisions, and pivot.”
For Wolters Kluwer, Nancy said, it's about balancing the risk and reward of innovation. “We reinvest 8% to 10% of our revenues back into innovation. And that has really been the reason that we are still in existence today. I think that you have to be willing to accept risk, you have to be willing to accept mistakes because innovation, by definition, does not succeed 100%.”
Hope for the future
As we edge closer to an end to the pandemic, what are Nancy and Captain Kelly most looking forward to doing? For Kelly, it’s gathering with friends, safely: “I think the more challenging thing will be the first time I go watch a concert or sporting event when you're around tens of thousands of people. I find sometimes when I'm watching TV you see a bunch of people not wearing masks in a group and you think it just looks so weird. But I would say probably the first thing I would do is just go out with some friends to a restaurant and not worry about getting infected – that would be nice.”
For Nancy, it’s travel and the opportunity to see colleagues in person again: “This is the longest period in my life, I mean going back 20 years, that I haven't been traveling and going out and seeing customers, seeing employees face to face. Just having a cup of coffee, sitting around a table, kind of talking about the next new product we're excited about, or just talking about the kids or their families. That part is really what I miss the most: that kind of spontaneous interaction.”
“I have real faith in the pharma industry”, she adds. “I think what's going on is just incredible and I think we will get there.”