Technology and the Future of Pharma
Modern day healthcare is characterized by a very strong element of continuous change all while conducting business in a highly regulated environment. Pharmaceutical companies face many operational challenges such as rise in production costs, pricing pressures, the expiration of blockbuster patents, growth of generic drugs and the slowing down of new drug development. In order to stay competitive, companies must embrace new technologies.
With the application of information technology, biotechnology and genomics, the industry is on its way to discovering and developing new drugs, delivering improved therapeutic solutions and creating new and more efficient ways of delivering and monitoring drugs. Technology giants such as IBM, Microsoft and Google have all stepped into the realm of healthcare and are developing medical solutions that could change the way this industry operates.
Although pharma companies have been able to sustain their growth thus far, changes must be implemented in order to continue the upswing. Companies have faced obstacles in discovering and developing new molecules. While the industry’s infrastructure is still very strong, altering the path of discovery and development to reach a stage where patients will have access to better drugs, better treatment options and better safety is crucial.
The future of healthcare and pharma will also see a growth in personalized medicine. Genomics will enable clinicians to consider each patient’s genomic information in order to make personalized treatment recommendations. It is already established that genetics and genomics drive health, disease and drug responses in patients. By using personalized medicine, doctors can more efficiently prevent diseases, diagnose accurately and determine treatment strategies that cater precisely to the patient’s needs.
Another major breakthrough in pharma has been the use of 3D printing. The FDA approved the first 3D-printed drug Spritam in 2015. A growth in the use of 3D printed drugs could change the entire face of the manufacturing process and supply chains would have to go through dramatic redesigning. 3D printing holds numerous possibilities for the industry. Drug dosage forms can be changed, delivery methods could be altered, and new cures could be discovered. There is no end to the potential of this technology because 3D printing can basically create any object by the fusion of different materials – from custom prosthetics and dental implants to printing of pills, human organs and tissues. There is no saying where this technology could take the industry in the years to come.
Most clinical trials are conducted with human participants. There may come a time where drugs could be tested on simulations that model the physiology of the human body and even go so far as to simulate the symptoms of a disease. By replicating these details, a time may come when testing on humans will no longer be required in clinical trials. Instead, technology will pave the way for a more accurate and safer drug testing process.
Another buzz word in today’s technologically advanced business environment is Big Data. The pharmaceutical industry is discovering the benefits offered by Big Data and how they can utilize them. Companies can gain better insight by analysing electronic medical record data, genomic and genetic data, financial data and patient-reported data. They can have access to e-prescribing information and can use the data to track patient outcomes, drug efficacy and safety and market gaps. In addition, digital technology has made it possible to collect patient data in real time. The use of wireless sensors enables medical companies to gather information related to patient health, drug efficacy and drug compliance. This effective utilization of Big Data can streamline new product development and identify areas that still need better drugs and treatment options.
The use of cloud-based applications is another tech trend that is being implemented by pharmaceutical companies. Initially, the cloud market was mainly used as a sales and marketing tool. Now, companies are using this resource to better handle security issues and cut down their operational costs. By utilizing cloud services, pharmaceutical companies are streamlining the cost of purchasing and managing hardware, software and hosting services. Thus, successfully availing the benefits offered by a more advanced and effective IT strategy.
It is important to note that the pharmaceutical industry has yet to utilize technology in manufacturing. Even today, the industry uses labor intensive and inefficient methods of making drugs. The industry still works on batch processes that have been in place since the middle of the 20th century. Production innovation is one area where the industry lacks but it is believed that this will soon change. The pharma industry will adopt a new approach called continuous manufacturing which is expected to transform the pharmaceutical value chain. This new approach is based on technology and has the potential to make the process of drug manufacturing more efficient, more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly. Technology will play a critical role in this regard and the use of digital fabrication could be the path which the industry may adopt to make small batches of medicine.
One thing to remember is that the traditional business model pharmaceutical companies have worked on in the past, is unlikely to work wonders in the future. That is due to the complete change of the industry’s customer profile. Today, the patient is not entirely dependent on the physician. Today’s patients are empowered and are no longer satisfied with limited information. They are aware of how pharmaceutical companies operate and also have the resources to communicate with other patients, caregivers and companies through social media. Patients today have access to augmented and virtual reality. Devices like Google contact lens and Microsoft’s HoloLens provide access to digital information easily. Patients can actually view in 3D how a particular drug works and lab experiments can be monitored with similar equipment. Technology holds great potential to optimize all the major processes of Pharma.
Technology has enabled the industry to better connect with its customers. The increase in the use of smartphones and digital devices, now provide companies the opportunity to engage directly with patients and provide them the most up-to-date and useful information regarding drugs and diseases.
Having an online presence is a must for companies that want to ensure they provide excellent customer service. Social media is another platform that technologically advanced companies can benefit from. Today, companies can utilize platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to build communities, connect with patients, share experiences and get first-hand information about drugs and patient outcomes. Social media is the ultimate resource for understanding patient perspectives, their experiences and problems as well as the market trends and patterns.
Despite the continued and growing investment in research and development by pharma companies, there is a lack of corresponding increase in the discovery of safer and more effective drugs. However, the evolution of new technologies such as 3D printing, DNA sequencing, gene therapy, stem cell research, biotechnology and microbiomics, will change the process of drug development. The industry will have to adopt new and improved drug development strategies and the FDA will also have to amend its rules accordingly.
As the prevalence of new and chronic diseases continue to rise, older drugs losing their effectiveness and the resistance to antimicrobial drugs are areas of concern. Case in point, the Zika virus. Another issue facing healthcare systems is the increase in both cancer and heart disease. An aging population, obesity, and a rise in diabetes are contributing factors to the dilemma. In this scenario, the adoption of the right technology and acquisition of valuable intellectual property can pave the way for a more advanced and more successful pharmaceutical industry. New technology will improve the process of drug development, develop a safer approach to conducting clinical trials, create more efficient healthcare solutions, surgical advancements, and personalized treatment strategies are all elements that will play an important role in the years to come.