Capital Markets Life Sciences

January 5, 2018

Why investors and the public need ‘best practice’ communications from biotech companies


Headlines such as Biotech Bonanza: Biotech Stocks To Keep Shining In 2018’ and Genomics: the revolution that’s transforming medicine’ offer enticing reasons for investors and the public alike to expect great things of the companies forging a new future based on innovation in life sciences. And, whilst biotech stocks are more volatile compared to the wider market, when you look at returns over the past 5 years, backing biotech companies has enabled some investors to outperform the market.

But the language of biotech can be almost impenetrable to the outsider. And, even to the experienced investor and analyst, the highly technical nature of life sciences R&D means that it’s often hard to follow what progress companies are really making – especially when value growth is measured in clinical trial progress vs. bottom line returns.

It is against this backdrop that the new Best practice guidance for communicating research and development progress to investors and the public published this week by the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) is to be applauded. It recognizes that maintaining trust among investors and the wider public is crucial to the success of not only individual bioscience companies but also the sector as a whole.

The best practice guide is aimed at bioscience companies as a template of how to maintain trust through their communications and was developed over a six month consultation period, led by a number of the sector’s most experienced PR/IR and legal advisors, including Instinctif Partners, and on feedback from the BIA membership and the investment community, through a number of workshops and panels.

Building on the legal requirements companies must follow, the BIA recommends bioscience companies follow these best practice guiding principles:

  • Be well prepared
  • Be consistent
  • Be fair, balanced and understandable (clear)
  • Be mindful of the impact on members of the public to whom it is personally relevant

On the surface these principles might seem obvious, but transposing them into principles of what not to do reveals how easy it might be to slip up:

  • Don’t get caught out when journals post drafts of your peer reviewed publications online or reveal price sensitive information in conference abstracts or collaborators make announcements you weren’t aware of
  • Don’t try to relieve boredom by crafting new ways of telling your story or try so hard to avoid repetition from release to release that clarity is lost
  • Don’t get so excited by the glimmers of good hope in your research that you don’t address the negative results up front or admit that biology has (again) thrown up the unexpected
  • Don’t be so careful to be scientifically accurate that only a minority of experts can understand your news, or be so keen to get your news out to the masses that you fail to carefully and compassionately communicate with the directly affected few

The new guide – which replaces an original code from over a decade ago – recognises that with the increased speed of communications, the broad reach of evolving digital platforms and the changing practices of media outlets, the challenges for companies and their communications professionals has increased.

R&D data and results milestones are critical to a bioscience company’s prospects. They must be communicated carefully to enable all audiences, including less specialist investors and media, to quickly and accurately interpret results and their implications. Communications about R&D progress via social and digital media can be read by everyone and global transmission is almost instant, thus it is more important than ever that companies develop robust communications policies and practices.

The guide is short, but hopefully thought provoking. A free copy can be downloaded here.

See our webinar on the applications of the guide here:

Learn more about our expertise in life sciences here.