Life sciences work – across transactions, intellectual property and regulatory issues – has provided a silver lining in Big Law business in 2020 that companies expect to fuel a 2021 even more promising.
The pandemic, in particular, has created a growing need for regulatory and business experts, among others, as businesses look to the digital world to innovate and address unmet healthcare needs.
In response to the telling moment, law firms themselves are harnessing industry expertise and innovating across practice areas. Leaders in life sciences and healthcare believe that capitalizing on pandemic-related demand means fostering interdisciplinary, forward-thinking teams that will ultimately strengthen their competitive edge in the highly scrutinized, high-intensity world. of life science capital.
The life sciences industry was largely spared a pandemic-related downturn. In part, the law firms attributed the practice area’s growth to their deep legal expertise that allowed them to support a unique event ranging from vaccine development to telehealth.
“We have a very mature life science practice. We weren’t playing catch-up,” said Denise Esposito, co-chair of Covington & Burling’s global food, drug and device practice group. “There are different pressures in different practice areas, but clients kept coming to us for consistent advice.”
Covington has seen 50% of its life science work allocated to pandemic-related innovations among clients including Oxford Biomedica, BioNTech and Gilead Sciences. At one point, the firm was hosting weekly COVID-19 task force calls with lawyers specializing in regulatory, litigation and liability, as well as transactions and mergers and acquisitions expertise.
“I still remember working with Gilead during the Super Bowl on Sunday to get remdesivir to people in China,” Esposito said. “From that point on, we worked with virtually every company developing therapies and vaccines. We have also worked intensively on diagnostics.
Similarly, Ropes & Gray saw coronavirus-related work contribute to 33% net revenue growth in the life sciences and healthcare sector between 2019 and 2020 by the firm’s lawyers, according to Kellie Combs, a partner in the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory practice practice and co-chair of the firm’s interdisciplinary digital health initiative.
In regulatory practice, the work “reflected the different stages of the pandemic,” Combs continued. The firm has advised companies wishing to manufacture personal protective equipment, develop diagnostic tests for COVID-19, host remote clinical trials and launch digital marketing initiatives in accordance with regulations on promotional activities.
Customers continue to come to businesses to solve unmet needs in the space, Covington and Ropes & Gray attorneys said, fueling continued growth in the region.
The current environment has prompted law firms to hone and formalize cross-disciplinary teams capable of meeting the broad needs of companies seeking to integrate technology and artificial intelligence into healthcare applications.
“Over the past 10 years, we have seen a significant upward trend in the market in multi-disciplinary agreements that cut across software and technology on the one hand and the highly regulated life sciences and healthcare space. on the other,” said Megan Baca, a partner in Ropes & Gray’s intellectual property and transaction practices and co-chair of the Digital Health Initiative.
“This upward trend has led us to formalize an internal group focused on industry-leading work in this area,” Baca added. The company’s Digital Health initiative covers data, security, risk mitigation, regulatory compliance, growth financing, licensing and collaboration, litigation and enforcement issues, among others.
Kristin Havranek, who joined Goodwin Procter of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati last month, agreed that the convergence of life sciences and technology is driving massive demand for legal services as well as collaboration across practice areas.
“COVID-19 has given people an opportunity to put their heads together and reflect on the challenges and the solutions they can provide. This has accentuated the continued need and importance of innovation in digital health and life sciences disciplines,” said Havranek.
Some examples include pharmaceutical companies applying artificial intelligence to screen new drug candidates and technology companies looking to incorporate health metrics into their product pipeline.
From emerging to well established
It is nearly impossible to examine the recent life sciences boom without acknowledging the massive capital markets activity and transactions that continue to fuel unprecedented levels of work in Big Law.
“We have been busy within the company and especially in the life sciences sector,” said Brian Cuneo, global president of Latham & Watkins’ global life sciences group.
For example, the industry has seen around 30% growth among biotech companies that have gone public. In part, Cuneo attributed this to the fact that the sector has demonstrated that it is quite recession-proof and therefore a worthy place to allocate investment dollars.
“We expect significant growth in the life sciences group in 2020,” Cuneo continued. “To give you an idea, in our capital markets practice, we’ve made more life science IPOs to date than all of last year.”
In the areas of medical technology and digital health, Cuneo highlighted companies developing technologies that help the development of cell-based products such as Berkeley Lights and Twist Bioscience and the prescription economy platform. GoodRx.
The work starts early for many life sciences companies, which need to be much more intentional about their business strategy and monetization from the start, said Matthew Gemello, Orrick’s business unit manager.
“Our fundamental strategic advantage is that we help these companies enter the market with the idea of being immersed in the sector. It lets us see around the corners and know what’s coming,” continued Gemello.
He noted that “these clients’ innovation often goes beyond regulation,” leading the firm to continue to seek to expand its reach and proactively address legal changes. To that end, the firm has added 10 partners to the practice area since 2019, and it continues to seek both corporate and life science-focused partners.
Likewise, Cooley expects to see its life sciences group – which powers about a third of the company’s annual revenue – grow in 2021 as companies continue to raise capital in public markets, grappling with the legal issues of being a public company and moving their products through development and into commercialization.
These companies are “voracious consumers of capital,” said Christian Plaza, vice president of the company’s global life sciences group.
Another result of the life sciences boom is a massive talent war raging among major law firms that continue to seek life sciences lawyers.
As one of the few law firms to be a “powerhouse” for both healthcare providers and life sciences regulatory and transactional issues, Sidley Austin touts “destination partners around the world, said Meena Datta, the firm’s global co-head of healthcare. practice, pointing to such a team in Washington, D.C.
In January, the company poached co-chairman of Hogan Lovell’s global life sciences industry group, Asher Rubin, along with his partner Adriana Tibbitts and several associates. In total, the company has added 26 life sciences-focused side partners to its group of 200 people since 2019.
“We attract clients because they want a company that has an offering that understands their industry and all the legal issues within it,” Datta said, noting deep expertise in misrepresentation, enforcement and other key issues that impact a risk profile, as well as a healthcare team that works closely with its traditional business team. “We did the work for our clients. We’re not going six inches deep, we’re going to the bottom of the ocean in terms of experience level.
Latham has attracted 17 U.S. side partners and a total of 25 global side partners to its life sciences industry group since 2019.
Last month, the company announced plans to launch in Austin, in part due to the region’s growing tech and life sciences customer base. He added three partners from DLA Piper and Wilson Sonsini specializing in private equity, mergers and acquisitions and emerging growth companies.
“From a strategic perspective, the life sciences space is one of the areas where our company is strongly focused on growth to maintain its leadership position,” Latham’s Cuneo said.
Goodwin Procter has also intentionally built its life science team across a number of practice areas. In particular, the firm added 10 partners to its life sciences practice, as well as seven litigation partners and eight transactional and regulatory partners who have served life sciences clients since 2019.
Cooley also continues to strengthen its market position with recent additions to its 100-person life sciences patent practice. In May, the company added a six-person team from Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough led by IP partner Amy Baker Mandragouras.
Since 2019, the company has added 18 side partners who serve life sciences clients in the areas of transactions, intellectual property and regulatory.