2023 will be the year when the pharma industry revenues exceed $1.5 trillion. Technological advancement in the sector has grown rapidly over recent years, and this trend will continue through 2023 and beyond.
With the impact of advanced digital technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), increasingly underpinning many aspects of the industry, from drug discovery and clinical trials to supply chain management, we can expect an exciting future with emerging opportunities for fresh talent. Here we will focus on the following areas:
- The forging of digital partnerships between pharma and tech businesses
- Clinical trials
- Cloud computing
- Blockchain technology
- Personalised medicine
Digital partnerships pave the way forward
Pharma giants are deeply aware of the potential benefits of partnering with digital health organisations, and many flavours of collaboration are being explored, including acquisitions, collaborations, investments and more. Such partnerships include various activities and applications, including health apps, remote clinical trials, virtual drug trials, digital therapeutics, drug discovery, diagnostic tools, and secure data management. As a result, the digital healthcare market is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 28% through 2026, reaching $640 billion.
Such partnerships are far more efficient than in-house development, providing the opportunity to develop powerful synergies between both sectors. As expressed by pharma executives, the primary drivers are access to new technologies, reduction of operational costs, and meeting new patient demands.
Testing drugs is a slow, painful and expensive process. Most drug development projects fail at the clinical trials stage, not only because of the non-effectiveness of the therapeutic agent under test but through extraneous factors such as poor planning, patient non-compliance and administrative problems. The failure rate is enormous. Only 3.4% of oncology clinical trials are successful, though this rises to 33.4% for vaccine trials. Most drug development programmes take 10 to 15 years to develop a single drug at a cost of around $1 billion. The overall cost of clinical trial failure is enormous and potentially unsustainable.
Clinical trials generate increasingly colossal data sets – currently three times more data than a decade ago. Unfortunately, this unprecedented amount of data poses handling problems due to the volume and the fact that much of it is poor quality and potentially harmful to the patient. The reasons for poor quality data are attributed to:
- Inadequate industry standards – clinical research includes multiple data capture systems, processes and definitions resulting in chaos and confusion.
- Lack of appropriate skillsets – staff are unskilled at interpreting and analysing data. AI can detect highly nuanced signals; however, their implications are often missed by study groups which are often unable to keep up with the latest AI developments.
- Poor automation and integration – there is still a focus on dashboards and spreadsheets rather than on modern data analytics tools.
Clinical trials must change, and the industry is focused on replacing the current regime with a more effective and efficient approach. One of the leading trends in achieving this is decentralised and hybrid clinical trials. Rather than require patients to travel to a centre for the trial, patients can remain at home while they are remotely monitored. This system makes it easier for participants though it can compromise patient safety.
Another approach is breaking the randomised controlled clinical trial model, which, although rigorous, is expensive and often lacks hard endpoints. Instead, researchers focus on value-based clinical trials that use modern technology to monitor symptoms and endpoints that patients relate to. These are more focused on subjective experience than biological markers.
There is much to be done, with many opportunities for new talent to forge pathways into clinical trials that deliver better results at sustainable costs.
Cloud computing speeds time to market
The pharma sector is awash with data, much of which is highly sensitive and increasing daily. From its origins in the tech sector, cloud computing has blossomed, offering unprecedented speed, resilience and scalability while eliminating the need for high capital investment. It enables innovative analytics in drug discovery and clinical trials within pharma, reducing innovation cycles from a decade to years and months, and providing global access to crucial data. For instance, cloud computing was instrumental in allowing Moderna to provide Covid-19 vaccines for clinical trials just 42 days after sequencing the virus.
In 2023 cloud computing will continue to impact all aspects of the pharma value chain, including research and initial development, drug repurposing, clinical trials, market access, and commercial applications. However, the technology is not without its challenges. Over the next few years, developers must focus on realising the cloud’s potential value to the business.
However, extending the cloud across multiple business areas is difficult, especially in the fragmented research strategies typical of pharmaceutical companies. Strong leadership and talent are needed to drive through a holistic approach to the cloud. Data protection, compliance and security are vital across the industry, and the speed of the cloud means new approaches are needed. Costs must also be carefully managed; while cloud computing is fundamentally a low-budget approach, maintaining legacy operations, migrating processes, and cloud migration can have significant financial implications.
Moving to the cloud requires different technological expertise from more traditional approaches. As a result, new workforce capabilities are likely to be needed. Upskilling the existing workforce and hiring the right talent will be crucial to successful cloud implementation. In addition, the challenges ahead will likely attract and motivate new talent, thus further increasing the business value.
Blockchain technology improves security
Attracted by its decentralised data structure that offers the highest data security and integrity standards, Blockchain technology is being increasingly adopted by pharma, a trend that will continue through 2023 and far beyond. The overriding concerns throughout the sector from drug discovery to drug distribution, include product quality, patient safety, and data integrity. Blockchain technology has the potential to enhance and streamline all of these and more.
One problem confronting the industry is drug counterfeiting, a considerable problem that puts patients’ lives at risk and has significant financial implications. Blockchain technology has the potential to safeguard every step in the supply chain and guarantee that the customer receives the correct product.
Blockchain also can enhance clinical research by safeguarding patient information, validating returned drugs, and confirming intellectual property claims regarding drug discovery. However, there are challenges, not least the lack of blockchain expertise within the industry. Therefore, the best approach could be partnerships with blockchain start-ups and consultancies.
Personalised medicine promises a bright future
Personalised medicine is seen as the way forward for pharma. This emerging healthcare practice is based on taking a patient’s genetic profile to guide disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. It is now increasingly replacing the traditional one-size fits all approach. Personalised medicine is set to transform healthcare in the future as its abilities to treat multiple, and life-threatening ailments are realised. The global personalised medicine market is expected to reach $717 billion by 2025 and $923 billion by 2030.
While personalised medicine is far from new, to an extent, it has been used in oncology for two decades or more for both chemotherapy and analgesia. However, recent molecular diagnostic technologies and AI and ML mean physicians can create optimum drug and treatment plans for their patients. While currently, physicians are likely to choose appropriate drug treatments from those available off the shelf, customised drugs may be explicitly created for the patient in the future. Using state-of-art molecular design tools, standard drug backbones will be modified to suit patients’ specific needs and genomics. The sustainability of such approaches within the pharma industry is yet to be tested, but by harnessing the power of data, many analysts believe it will happen and will be the future of modern medicine.
Innovation challenges abound across pharma – and the industry is currently in an excellent position to rise to them. With funds to spend on new talent, ideas and facilities, the sector is a talent magnet for high performers. In addition, the industry’s demand for AI and data science continues to grow rapidly. As a result, these technologies are now increasingly positioned at the core of most major pharmaceutical research and development areas.
It also makes sense for the industry to continue to pursue strategies involving big pharma and digital technology partnerships. Collaboration is the way forward that will give organisations a competitive edge. Digital health has become big business, and the sector will continue to expand as the industry moves forward to exploit personalised medicine’s full potential.