CIO's Desk: Digital technologies in pharma: Three trends to look forward to

AI and big data/analytics will be major game-changers in the pharma industry

CIO's Desk: Digital technologies in pharma: Three trends to look forward to - CIO&Leader

There has been a greater focus on digital transformation among organizations of all scales in recent years. Pharma, as compared to the other sectors, has historically been seen as little behind in harnessing the benefits of technology. While the sales and the marketing teams still had taken a step or two to transform their processes a decade back, other functions were really slow to embrace the change.

But things are now heading towards the transformation.

As per an industry survey, over 35% of industry leaders in the pharma and healthcare sector believe that digitization has taken a major shift in the sector over the last five years. This includes the rapid growth generic medicine industry, which has experienced acceleration in the last three years. The pandemic has further augmented the growth of the industry. Several experts have termed this as a golden era for digital transformation in the pharma industry.

Now with so much digitization happening across the pharma sector, the three things that the pharma industry will look forward to :

1. Digital Health and Effective Patient Engagement - For long, pharma companies are trying to track the real-time parameters of a patient who are prescribed new pills, earlier which was a concern only in a clinical trial situation. The process which we are looking at should not be invasive but something which can be tracked by smartwatches and trackers, and this is what effective patient engagement through digital health is.

The process also provides pharma companies with a huge amount of data efficacy of medicines and helps to channel patient engagement in real-time.

2. Future of work – Future of work has 4 parts :

a. Digital workplace- Is pharma getting converted to a digital workplace? Yes, it is but at a very slow pace, however, the pandemic has helped in ramping up the digitization in the sector. Along with this, it has also increased digital compliance. Anything which helps in compliance gets a big thumbs up for the future of pharma companies and it reduces the risk. That's where I see a lot of digitization in form of logbooks, batch records, analytical recalls, certificates of compliance, and many more artifacts. Apart from this, integration of equipment with the software system is enabling pharma organizations towards a digital workplace which further boosts digital compliance for sure.

b. Automation- There are now numerous examples of how robotics and automation have catapulted the industry to make major leaps in terms of efficiencies. As the demand for new drugs and medicines grows, pharma is continuously looking for new ways to increase productivity, which will lead to an increased reliance on automated equipment and robotics.

This dramatic growth is underpinned by a solid platform of what benefits robots can bring for manufacturers and distributors. These are clear:- lower operating cost, reduced production downtime, no labour turnover, increased production flexibility, improved production output, and product quality. These benefits will continuously boost demand for automated systems.

The pharma industry has reached a point where it is heading towards being reliant on robotics and automation to achieve a greater competitive advantage and increased profitability. And this is only set to increase as the pressure remains on the industry to continually improve its manufactured and distribution capabilities.

c. Hybrid work environment- A hybrid work environment is where people could work virtually as well physically or a combination of both. A lot of companies are already offering the facility to work virtually. However, pharma companies due to the nature of the industry and regulatory framework have been slow in adopting this as compared to many other industries. Despite the pandemic accelerating the adoption of the hybrid work environment for this sector, it has a long way to go.

d. Gig workers- Gig workers are freelance specialty workers. Today many sectors like- IT, Knowledge, telecom, FMCG, and Consumer Product and Good Industry, have deployed gig workers a big-time, pharma due to its regulatory compliance, intellectual property rights, long learning cycles is yet to adapt to that level.

3. AI & big data – The drug development and reuse process has been shortened drastically which was evident during the Covid vaccine development. Major companies have already been using data. Recently there was a survey report published by GlobalData that showed that 28 percent of companies will be using AI and big data to optimize drug discovery and development processes in the next years, while 32 percent would be relying on big data to streamline sales and marketing. The drug development and reuse process have been shortened drastically which was evident during the Covid vaccine development. Major companies have already been using data

With the increasing volume and complexity of data being generated by the sector from multiple sources, the need to organize and streamline information is a constant challenge. Especially considering the amount of data that can be mined from patient records and registries, real-world evidence, sales and marketing, and connected devices. Herewith so much data, Insight, Analytics, and AI is sure to be the driver of this industry like many. In R&D, AI can be used to design treatment plans, develop drugs, or improve clinical trial outcomes, thereby making drug development cheaper and faster.

The imperative for doing AI on the edge comes from practical needs, such as agility in response-time, the possibility of repurposing the drug, handling a large volume of data, complex what-if analysis, and finally finding the effective drug without compromising the patient safety, fulfilling compliance and privacy regulation.

It is also helping pharma companies to bring resiliency to the supply chain. The digital control tower concept has matured to the next level where the supply of the raw materials, as well as finished goods, could be synced with upcoming demand and capacity of the manufacturing plans using AI-based predictive solutions.

However, despite numerous benefits, many pharmaceutical manufacturers are still wary of AI and Big data, seeing it as a new technology that is too complex to implement. Worries relating to cost, ease of use, and acceptance by staff often discourage companies from adopting the technology, especially SMEs that believe only large manufacturers can afford it. Nevertheless, AI and big data/analytics will be major game-changers in the pharma industry.

The author is CIO, Strides Pharma


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