Over the past few days, health officials in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reported on a cluster of 26 cases of COVID-19 that were traced to a Biogen (NASDAQ:BIIB) internal strategy meeting held in late February. In response, Takeda (NYSE:TAK), another global pharmaceutical company with a large presence in Cambridge, has told its employees to work from home whenever possible and to avoid all conferences over the next three months.

Two people from Indiana who attended the same meeting have tested positive, prompting Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) to take precautionary measures to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further. 

Bad for science

Work-from-home policies are great for anyone with a long commute, but they aren't so great for the advancement of scientific research. For example, the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research is scheduled to begin on April 24, which means nobody from Takeda or Eli Lilly will be delivering presentations there in person. 

For larger biopharmaceutical companies, missing an opportunity to present data about clinical trials in front of conference audiences isn't the end of the world. But smaller biotechs that rely in part on those presentations to excite investors could find it harder than usual to attract capital.

Opportunity to shine

While the COVID-19 outbreak will be a net negative for the pharmaceutical industry, the months ahead will give internal messaging services from companies like Slack Technologies (NYSE:WORK) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) a chance to show their worth. 

Perhaps the largest beneficiary of big pharma's physical absence from upcoming conferences will be Zoom Video Communications (NASDAQ:ZM). Earlier this month, the teleconference service provider expanded its availability to 17 countries.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.