The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted major challenges in the life sciences sector – but it has also identified some real opportunities for change and modernisation. There is no question that analytics has a much greater part to play in the pharmaceutical sector in the future. However, other capabilities have also been highlighted.
Improving clinical trials
Perhaps the most obvious impact of the pandemic has been on clinical trials and drug discovery. The pandemic placed pharma companies under serious pressure to act quickly and cooperate. Drug development is normally a long and measured process. However, that was just not possible with COVID-19. Pharma companies were challenged to find suitable new candidate drugs in days rather than weeks. Data is critical during trials, so companies started partnering to speed up drug discovery.
This acceleration was supported by the progress in technology. Pharma companies are drawing heavily on computing power at scale to help them identify suitable targets. The move to the cloud ensures that companies have the flexibility to use more computer power when they need it. This means that pharma companies will no longer be limited by IT infrastructure. And the pandemic has been the push that many needed to make the move to the cloud.
The lockdown has also resulted in changes to the clinical trials process. The first issue was being able to interact with patients. This was a crucial driver towards digitisation and a huge increase in the use of remote monitoring and consultation in trials. This has major benefits for patients, who no longer have to travel to trial sites. However, pharma companies can also capture more precise data. It is now clear that there is potential to use telehealth techniques in trials in the future, too.
Supply chain developments
There is, however, a flip side. Not everything in the pharma world is currently rosy. The pharma supply chain has been an ongoing topic of discussion over the course of the last year. First, it was Brexit-related. However, it is now clear that this is a much wider issue.
Many pharma companies have global supply chains. They rely on being able to source ingredients or basic products from around the world. China and India are centres of manufacturing for generic drugs, and also the source of many ingredients – and when they shut down, so did much of the pharma supply chain. The pandemic has therefore had a huge impact on the availability of drugs like paracetamol.
As a result, pharma companies are starting to think harder about sourcing ingredients. They are also considering issues such as how to manufacture closer to patients to reduce the time taken to deliver, and how to build more resilience into the supply chain. Fortunately, there is now plenty of data available. It is possible to track a product from ingredients to pill to patient, almost in real-time. This makes it easier to see how processes can be optimised.
The pandemic may have other implications for manufacturing. For example, we could see factories moving away from a reliance on physical labour and towards the use of robots, sensors and analytics. This will mean that they can keep operating even without a workforce. The use of artificial intelligence and connected sensors can ensure that manufacturing plants operate more efficiently. It also allows predictive maintenance, preventing downtime.
New ways of doing business
The pandemic has also affected sales in pharma. Historically, much of the pharma sales process was face-to-face. However, during lockdown, reps had to approach health care professionals in other ways. Companies found new uses for analytics to work out how best to approach individual health care professionals, such as email, phone or remote conferencing. They also used analytics to get the content right and help reps decide what to send. This improved interactions and made them more personalised, even though the people involved were more physically separated.
This may or may not turn out to be the future. It seems unlikely that we have seen the last of face-to-face sales or pharmaceutical events. However, there is also no question that digital interaction is very efficient. It therefore seems likely that we will see a better balance between digital and face-to-face in future. Digital may not be the future on its own, but it is certainly no longer second-best.The pandemic may have other implications for manufacturing. For example, we could see factories moving away from a reliance on physical labour. Click To Tweet