The pharmaceutical industry has always been in the throes of change—be it a radical medical breakthrough or unique product and service innovations that are driving the wave of transformation in the sector. In recent years, another gradual but tenacious change that has impacted the industry is the groundswell of digital revolution led by Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and big data, among other technologies.
These digital trends have prompted pharma majors to invest billions of dollars in tech-driven healthcare solutions that could enable them to make more informed decisions, leading to improved patient care. It has made it essential for every organization to adopt an “EngineeringNXT” approach, where it leverages leading-edge technologies to deliver value to customers at various stages of the product or platform life cycle. Recent forecasts emphasize this trend, with big data vendors in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries expected to earnover$5.8b in revenue by the end of 2020. Approximately $1,228 billion was spent on corporate engineering globally while investment from the top 1,000 R&D spenders totalled around $812 billion. The pharma industry contributed a sizeable chunk of this.
Though it is hard to imagine a world without doctors, one has also got accustomed to an Internet-driven healthcare ecosystem that has spawned a host of interactive online resources wherein valuable medical information is available to consumers. To put this in perspective, the next generation of healthcare delivery started with the advent of the Internet. With just the click of a mouse, consumers are increasingly engaging with online medical communities—and each other—to share their personal medical histories, offer feedback and seek solace in patient support groups. Be honest: how often do you find yourself on one of these discussion forums to self-diagnose a niggling health issue?
Gone are the days when doctors would primarily rely on medical journals to stay abreast of the latest medical developments! Today, even the medical fraternity is turning to online information portals to research information. Over the years, the Internet has, without doubt, emerged as an influential force that has enhanced consumer satisfaction and changed the patient-physician dynamics as one knew it. This trend has fundamentally altered healthcare’s traditional business model, and also the future of patient care. Aided by rapid digitization and evolving consumer preferences, the pharma industry has finally started adopting cutting-edge digital technologies. An Engineering Next approach is finally here.
AI: The new ‘miracle drug’ in pharma?
As I see it, AI is accelerating this trend, with leading pharma companies integrating AI into their treatment options and products. This is primarily because the technology is viewed as a gamechanger to develop new drug discoveries for chronic ailments. AI is being used to gain insights into the presence of potential life-threatening diseases among patients by sifting through disparate datasets via a cloud-based analytics platform. Adopting such a ‘digital first’ approach has led pharma companies to build new technology models that will not only help them venture into uncharted territories of medicine, but also aid physicians in identifying rare diseases.
Among other critical applications of AI, several healthcare start-ups deploy the technology to aid in early-stage drug discovery. Biomedical researchers mine curated databases to extrapolate information to enable niche areas of drug discovery by leveraging the combined power of deep learning and machine learning. For example, state-of-the-art machine learning capabilities are applied at every pain point of the drug discovery process, including from anti-body selection to post-marketing surveillance activities. More and more pharma players are embracing a machine learning approach to the process of drug design and development as it cuts costs and improves efficiency. The technology helps researchers understand, identify and develop chemical specificity that will form the bedrock for the discovery of new drugs. Thus, machine learning is slowly paving the way fora new paradigm of science that engages in innovative ways with the new frontiers of technology.
The pharma industry is also developing deep learning tools in biomedical applications to offer personalized solutions for cancer and other diseases. Consider the recent example of the National University of Singapore that helped researchers halt the advancement of cancer in a patient by using AI-enabled tools. The technology analyzes the patient’s genetic profile and prescribed the optimum personalized treatment that will lead to a successful outcome. Such medical breakthroughs are becoming a reality since pharma players are identifying multi-disease biomarkers that generate novel insights into patient diagnosis by employing sophisticated predictive analytics platforms.
In this regard, Wipro’s “Enterprise brain” provides a Medical Domain Ontology driven Meta data platform for ingestion of both structured and unstructured data sources, extracts semantic meaning and relationships, and represents knowledge in a computable form to enable whole new classes of intelligent applications powered by AI and curated knowledge. The knowledge graphs enable new capabilities with a user friendly interface and provide the ability to monitor patient journey including lineage information, analyze marketing effectiveness, and report on business performance.
The road ahead for digital pharma
As patients become increasingly picky about their online and offline healthcare options, pharma companies are striving to deliver optimum value across the patient lifecycle. Besides using technology for radical scientific applications, they are taking other initiatives to improve patient care and scale their operations. This is evident in the way any number of digital wearables and apps are within easy reach of consumers to empower them with vital health information. By doing so, savvy pharma companies are helping consumers stay engaged with their patients. Much of this is possible due to advanced analytics and sensors that help pharma players streamline their business processes and achieve frictionless agility in their supply chain. By offering tailormade healthcare solutions using digitally-enabled products such as wearable electrocardiogram devices, busy physicians save time even as they stay remotely connected with their patients.
At Wipro, we recognise that efficient logistics for pharmaceutical companies is driven by digital technology. For instance, we experienced the transformative impact of technology when the cold chain monitoring solution that we developed for a major pharma company, using IoT and Blockchain technology, enabled it to capture real-time data on temperature, humidity, and location of drug shipments for the first time. Our solution made possible assurance of the safety and integrity of the drug during transport for the organization across 100 countries.
Another key value driver for pharma companies lies in delivering digital technology through an omnichannel approach. Consumers are able to stay connected with their healthcare providers through a plethora of channels such as smartphones, connected devices, apps, social media, chatbots and other digital platforms. This not only ushers in streamlined and real-time business intelligence, but also improves customer satisfaction in the long run.
Winning pharma companies are those that are ready for this changed world, staying hyper-focused on investing in a wide range of new technologies that gives them a clear blueprint for future strategy. At Wipro Industrial and Engineering Services, we recognize this and our EngineeringNXT framework enables products, platforms, and technologies at scale. In anticipation of tomorrow’s world, we have transformed ourselves from being a technology provider to offering our clients a strategic partnership that is built on market customization, faster time to market, next-generation technology integration, enhanced products and platforms, innovation, and reduced risk and investment. We know that with such an array of digital technologies as well as talent and business partnerships, pharma companies will be ready to ride the wave of innovation in the years to come.