Key Tips for Effective Panel Discussions, Codes, Regulations and Compliance

I hope you have had a wonderful summer holiday and are getting ready to head back to the office full of energy!

To help you get started, today’s topics are all practical:

– How not to fail at anything in biotech & pharma
– Key tips for effective panel discussions
– Global, regional, local regulations, codes and compliance
– How to demonstrate integrity

How not to Fail at Anything in Biotech & Pharma

Success is elusive for large and small pharmaceutical companies. While the challenges big and small players face are similar, start-ups have no pipeline to cross-fund failures and are often dependent on one key investor. I sometimes mentor biotech start-ups and I recently presented and managed a panel discussion on the topic “Why biotech start-ups fail.”

Start-ups attract investors by having an excellent idea or product, for which there is a market. The product needs the support of a good team and a realistic strategic roadmap to get the product to the market.

Start-ups often fail due to flawed financial strategy, inexperienced management, lack of requisite skill sets (clinical trial planning, biostatistics, knowledge of regulatory requirements etc.) and bad timing. In my experience, projects in pharma companies fail for similar reasons. Investors invest because they see a huge upside potential to their investment. Senior leaders invest in projects that will lead to a competitive advantage, reduce costs, or reduce risk.

Start-ups often fail because they lack the experience and expertise in house to be successful, and they don’t know enough about the gaps they have, in order to be able to identify the skill set they need to bring in to support them.

Projects in pharma often get delayed because teams rooting for them struggle to communicate the benefit to the business in a way senior leaders understand. When projects do secure funding, it is sometimes hard to deliver, because teams are under resourced or inexperienced. A friend of mine once said, “You don’t learn how to fly a plane by reading an instruction manual, you learn from an experienced instructor.” In other words, it’s not possible to compensate inexperience with intelligence, success depends on both. In order to succeed, it helps to be humble, to accept you cannot know everything and to bring in experts from within your business, or from outside to help you succeed.

Key Tips for Effective Panel Discussions

As a moderator, a key skill is the ability to tease out topics that will interest the audience, summarise different opinions and share key output. Obviously, it helps if you know the topic well. Recently a friend asked me to teach her how to run engaging panel discussions.

Having run many panel discussions over the years I am happy to share the tips I shared with her with you too.


  • First, know your audience. What do they want to know, what are their pain points? Ask registered attendees before the meeting.
  • Second, choose your panellists, aim for diversity: backgrounds, opinions, age, gender, race, geographical location and personalities.
  • Third, have some questions prepared, ask your panellists what they would like to talk about. Weave in questions from the audience.
  • Fourth, engage the audience. Use polls if you are running an online panel. Engage the audience directly if you are in a room with them.
  • Fifth, summarise key points, tell the audience who to go to with further questions after the event.

Be open to spontaneous interjections, follow-on thoughts, and manage the discussion with a light hand. If it suits your personality, inject humour into the conversation.

Things to avoid include: 1) not asking each panellist to answer the same question, this becomes very boring for the audience, it’s an interrogation not a discussion and 2) not asking the audience to provide you with questions and then to not ask your panellists a single one, this is a mortal sin.

Remember you are there for the audience! If you follow the above suggestions, you cannot go far wrong. If you need an experienced moderator to help you run a panel discussion, I’m also always happy to help.

Global, Regional, Local Regulations, Codes and Compliance

Many of my customers work in global roles, some also manage marketing material compliance and face push-back from affiliates regarding what is permitted locally and what is not. Ever since researching European codes and regulations for a book a few years ago and training teams on compliance and promotional review, I have found this topic fascinating.

There are too many aspects to cover here, however, it’s an important topic, so instead of a summary of key points, I am sharing some questions for you to reflect on.

Did you know that in some countries you can use real patients in your materials but in others you need to use actors? Are you aware that some legislators consider the depiction of smiling patients in advertising materials misleading? Did you know that what constitutes evidence to support your scientific claims is not necessarily identical in every country? Have you ever thought about when you can start advertising a product, is it A) following regulatory approval? B) following regulatory approval and reimbursement? What about linguistic requirements e.g., when can you share materials in English, when does it have to be in local language?

Food for thought.

Naturally, I could have just asked you whether you know the answer to this question:
“Are you permitted to give HCP participants to an educational event run by your company a wine bottle as a parting gift?” but that would be too easy!

Key take-away: understanding the legal requirements to do business in different geographical locations is truly as complicated as we always thought it was.

How to Demonstrate Integrity

A research team spent years working on a project. Finally, the results were published. However, after publication, the team discovered that the results were in fact invalid, due to early cross-contamination of the bacterial strains they had been working with. The team could have kept this insight to themselves, being as they are dependent on external funding which depends on their ability to publish. Instead, they retracted the paper. You can read the full article here

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Fab Lentz on Unsplash