Digital transformation in pharma: The importance of digitalisation

Originally published on pharmaphorum.com on 21st July, 2023

The digital transformation in pharma has accelerated faster than perhaps once anticipated, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a topic that is causing debate and business pressure, as we navigate how we should effectively utilise technology to change processes that have been in place for decades.

Digital transformation in pharma is an exciting period that will result in greater patient care through improved drug development and delivery, improved stakeholder collaboration, and brand-new innovations. In this article, we’ll outline the importance of digitalisation and the technology-powered operations that are paving the way for the future of the pharmaceutical industry.

What do we mean by a digital transformation in pharma?

Digital transformations have taken place countless times across all industries. A digital transformation can be thought of as an evolution of processes and operations through a technology-focused approach. We leave behind manual task completion that didn’t guarantee quality and accuracy. Embarking on a digital transformation invites a deeper analysis of the purpose of the pharmaceutical industry and the struggles to meet those aims.

A digital transformation is not an overnight process. It can involve some trial and error and it’s helpful to incorporate the viewpoints of innovative technology vendors for guidance. A cultural shift is necessary to view technology as a positive solution and therefore embrace the change that comes with this. The digital trends in pharma impact training, drug development, supply chain, forecasting, the way teams collaborate, and how to reach consumers.

What is the importance of digitalisation in pharmaceutical industry?

Whatever the industry, digital transformations are prompted naturally. The COVID-19 pandemic sparked conversations about the pharmaceutical industry and the future of drug development. How can pharma quickly meet the needs of patients during a pandemic, and what does this look like for other diseases?

We can identify the importance of digitalisation in the pharmaceutical industry by looking at the challenges the industry is facing.

Lack of consolidation.

We’re seeing lots of teams work in silos rather than a unified approach to research. Some have embraced digital solutions, and others haven’t, causing difficulties in sharing information. This results in mistakes and slower discoveries. Tech is connecting global teams.

Ineffective communication.

Long email chains of various versions of documents slow down productivity. The digital transformation in pharma has accelerated the use of SaaS systems such as Microsoft Teams for instant communication, cloud-based file sharing, and consolidated reporting powered by AI tools.

A growing patient demand.

The population is rising and the role of the consumer has evolved into well-informed individuals with research tools at their fingertips. They don’t want to wait for weeks for an appointment to ask questions. Pharma needs to move away from having a big business feel with distance and find opportunities to connect with consumers to create a humanistic approach. Social media strategies should be considered full of videos and informational content, as well as AI chatbots so consumers can receive answers to their specific questions.

Data gaps.

Historically, there has been an underrepresentation of women and other patient groups within clinical trials, resulting in data gaps. Data is a crucial component of drug development. It accurately helps us to predict patient outcomes and the best treatments based on gender, race, genetics, lifestyle, etc. Technology is an enabler; a tool to help us accurately look closely at factors that have been left out in traditional drug testing such as race, gender, age and even pregnancy. Using digital solutions, we not only speed up drug testing but can proactively fill in the existing data gaps for improved patient outcomes. Technology can also accelerate clinical trial outputs by reaching subjects remotely giving access to more global data. This is particularly important for rare diseases, where patient numbers are low, making it hard to conduct a clinical trial in a local area.

Inflation.

Rising costs and limited funding put pressure on pharma to meet demand while maintaining profit margins. Digital solutions could save pharmaceutical companies money by streamlining research so no penny is wasted, optimising the supply chain by improving logistics processes, and automating processes to save time, preventing labour cost wastage.

The benefits of the digital transformation in pharma

When we incorporate technology into the pharmaceutical industry and the future of drug development, here’s what we can expect:

Enriched patient care and enriched data analysis by involving patients. ​

As previously mentioned, today’s consumers want to have a detailed understanding of their health, and this creates a willingness to work with pharma. It’s considered everyday behaviour to check up on your heart rate, track your step count, or log your diet to meet calorie and protein intake goals.

We can use this willingness to monitor treatments, collecting valuable data while also helping patients with precision. For example, programmed smart patches can be placed on the skin to deliver medication at the correct time aligned with the patient’s activity levels, blood pressure, and more.

Greater accessibility powered by virtual healthcare services.

The digital transformation in the pharmaceutical industry is delivering speed, meaning more people can be helped both in person and remotely. One example changing lives is a technology which uses the individual’s smartphone to record and analyse coughing and breathing sounds for the diagnosis of respiratory diseases. There are no long waits to see a doctor with this technology, helping people with health anxiety, who dread the wait before receiving a consultation when booking an appointment.

Effortlessly meeting the industry’s regulations.

Pharma is one of the highest-regulated industries out there to ensure consumer protection and secure data management. Technology is simplifying the processes of maintaining compliance, with electronic record-keeping for secured and backed-up information. With tech, pharma can streamline regulatory reporting to create automated reports to submit to accreditations and to prove legality to compulsory standards and governing bodies.

Opportunities of personalisation and innovation with Artificial Intelligence.

AI is transforming the future of pharma with its incredible capabilities. We’re moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. AI can instantly develop personalised treatment plans by analysing a mass of data including historic patient outcomes, a patient’s genetic information, and lifestyle data.

Another way AI is fast-forwarding the digital transformation in pharma is by using it to expedite data to empower decision-making and instantly identify anomalies. With conversational AI, conversations with patients about their experiences can be transcribed to find common side effects. Trial data can be translated for data consolidation. AI is helping pharma work at a much faster rate to minimise human error, satisfy consumer needs, and fast-track new discoveries.

What is the future of the pharmaceutical industry?

We can expect a continuation of new digital trends in the pharma industry, and this is where investment is focused. A report by Accenture details an expected investment of $30 billion in digital transformation initiatives in pharmaceutical companies. This investment favours AI and Machine Learning (ML) technology to do the following:

  • Accelerate drug discovery – ML algorithms work at an incredibly fast rate to break down data into understandable information and actionable next steps. It can identify drug candidates, helping to create a seamless clinical trial.
  • Monitor demand – Powerful ML algorithms can predict both over and under-demand in the supply chain to prevent shortages and waste.
  • Image analysis – There will be rapid analysis of MRI scans, ultrasound scans, and histopathology slides. With ML, any anomalies often missed by the human eye will be identified.

Final thoughts.

The future of the pharmaceutical industry will be centred around tech-driven efficiency. Embracing digital trends and the changes they bring, will help companies remain resilient and proactive to keep up with the pace of the digital transformation in pharma. The importance of digitalisation in the pharmaceutical industry is clear to meet the current challenges faced.

Author: Maiko Midena

Maiko has been delivering forecasting and analytical solutions for more than 25 years. From his background in econometrics, he is now leading the technical development of specialist forecasting software at J+D Forecasting to address the challenges faced within pharmaceutical forecasting.

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