This year, more than ever has required the pharma industry to dive into digitalisation in all shapes and forms. With strict restrictions imposed by governments all around the world and new approaches to regulatory affair frameworks, pharma industry interaction, collaboration and exchange of information and data has had to shapeshift and adapt more dramatically and more quickly than ever before.
Digital empowerment in the face of new challenges
COVID-19, has made all industries, with pharma in the spotlight, face new challenges across the board, and revisit their digitalisation strategies. From launching new programmes and conducting clinical trials to manufacturing and logistics and supply chain management – the pandemic has been a disruption which has turned many traditional and established channels and ways of working on their heads. With the pharmaceutical industry carrying so much weight on its shoulders as the whole world is turning to it for a cure to the pandemic, with pharma research and development at the forefront of everyone’s minds, regulatory changes happening at a lightning speed, budding new technologies emerging, as well as the huge void of close human interaction as we know it, even the best-known names in pharma were forced into rethinking and expanding their digital capabilities.
Marketing & Communications Challenge in Pharma 2020
Gone are the days where a company, no matter how well known in their particular niche, could claim to conduct their business and establish connections face to face or by “word of mouth”. Gone are the days where sales, marketing and business development professionals could attend a fair, a conference or exhibition and shake the hands of their counterparts to establish a special bond and win trust and confidence in their offerings to further their business and growth opportunities. Yet through online media and digital platforms in 2020, pharma and biotech companies have started to become household names.
Not only medical professionals, scientists and researchers but also ordinary people everywhere are hungry for information and are actively looking for and analysing the latest data from drug discovery and development companies, labs, clinical trials and diagnostics, in the hope of finding a cure for the novel coronavirus which has already claimed more than 1 million lives globally. And it is not only the loss of lives people are concerned with, but it is also the impact on the economy, their day-to-day lives and the uncertainty of the future, which is driving interest and investment in pharma and biotechnology to levels never seen before.
Pharma Manufacturing Digitalisation Challenge in 2020
The industry has also mostly said goodbye the days where pharma companies could simply rely on their established manufacturing workforce, technology or supply and distribution chains. Yet through heavy investment in digitalisation, big data, AI and other cutting-edge smart tech manufacturing processes are being sustained and in many cases massively improved.
Clinical Trial Management Challenge in 2020
The 2020 coronavirus pandemic has also presented unique challenges for the clinical trial community, both in the rapid establishment of COVID-19 clinical trials and many existing non-COVID-19 studies either being temporarily paused or adapting their processes. Yet, this has seen a new record set for the fastest time to first in human trials – the mRNA1273-COVID-19 vaccine has set a record time by reaching trials in only 69 days after the identification of SARS-CoV-2 as the causative agent of the current outbreak. 2020 is also a record-breaking year for biotech funding, with investors finding a soft spot for artificial intelligence-based drug-discovery startups.
So how did the pharma industry adapt to bridge the gap?
Utilising Digital Media & Communication Platforms
The pharma industry has been using a variety of digital media platforms to broadcast and inform the industry professionals, collaborators, investors and the general public of their R&D progress, their pipeline development, novel drug commercialisation and new device launches, which are eagerly awaited and needed to save lives or slow the spread of the virus. Medical professionals fighting the pandemic on the front lines are still depending on repurposed or experimental therapeutics, currently studied in clinical trials, to prevent the worst outcomes, so having access to the latest information is crucial. COVID-19 testing devices are being engineered, launched and distributed at a lightning pace, and the information about the new devices reliability and availability is of huge importance to governments around, clinicians as well as private individuals in managing the rates of infections. Digitalisation in pharma media and broadcasting outreach has been of unprecedented importance, to ensure that vital information reaches them in time.
Pharma industry media platforms
As one of the top 10 pharma industry websites, according to our current Feedspot ranking, Pharma Industry Review has been fully committed to highlight, publicise and broadcast the latest innovations and technology in the pharma sector and reach scientists, researchers and clinical professionals in every corner of the planet, to foster collaboration and further drug discovery and drug development opportunities, as well as clinical diagnostics from early stages of development through to logistics and supply during these challenging times.
Virtual pharma industry exhibitions
Furthermore, many of the industries leading exhibitions and events have transformed into digital formats, providing a platform for pharma companies professionals to showcase their latest innovations and technologies from the comfort of their own homes. With virtual booths, webinars, presentations and chat rooms, these fast-adapting events have managed to salvage the crucial hubs of communication for companies.
Web conferencing platforms
Web conferencing services by companies like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet have seen the biggest uptick in users in their entire history. And because the pharmaceutical industry is so highly regulated, we have also seen the emergence of new digital communication firms, like Zumedu, focusing on the specific need of the pharma industry, with heightened security and other integrated technologies allowing full compliance with data protection laws, security in exchange of information between users, and the particular regulatory requirements of the industry
Getting more out of Data Analysis
The pharma industry appears to be focusing a lot more now, than ever before on big data analysis, in crucial areas such as optimising manufacturing processed and clinical trial management.
From a manufacturing perspective, pharma engineers require digitalisation in the form of a deeper and narrower focus to achieve fewer variables in order to draw the optimal conclusions and improve batch processing or product quality and cut manufacturing costs. Thus, pharmaceutical manufacturing needs high-quality actionable intelligence from their data.
In 2020, clinical trial management has been more important and more challenging for professionals, with the highly infectious COVID-19 disease having taken a firm grip across every corner of the planet and with tight restrictions governments have imposed as a consequence of it. Therefore, a big focus in the industry this year has been on eClinical solutions, such as Electronic Data Capture and Clinical Data Management Software implemented in animal and human clinical studies, that is fast, accurate, easy to operate and can provide valuable information such as participant contact information, tracking deadlines and milestones. Some of the main advantages of this type of digital technology are that data can be reported in real-time, ensuring safety data are immediately available for central review – particularly advantageous for high-risk trials. Another advantage of EDC, especially pertinent now, is the ability to access trial data remotely, without having to be physically present at the office or medical center.
Hero companies from the niche stood out to us this year. A big mention here goes to Italian, eClinical solutions provider Nubilaria, which was offering its EDC and CDM software free of charge to non-profit research organisations and CRO’s at the height of the pandemic.
Industry 4.0 in Pharma
Know as “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”, Industry 4.0 is the perhaps the biggest 2020 trend in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector, namely, automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things (IoT) and cloud computing. Industry 4.0 facilitates what has been called a “smart factory”. These smart autonomous factories managed with data and machine learning are thought to lower pharmaceutical manufacturing costs, improve quality, as well as reduce capacity constraints. Although the pharmaceutical industry has been somewhat extra cautious and even slow to adopt the new technology, the 2020 pandemic has pushed many to take the leap.
The pharmaceutical industry is seen to be adopting new practices to ensure higher levels of cyber protection, to prevent compromise of operational technology [OT] networks and to deploy responsive suits in case of an intrusion, such as new cybersecurity maintenance processes, cyber hygiene standard practices and control systems security responses.
To conclude, the year 2020 has opened up as many new opportunities for the pharma industry professionals as it posed in the form of challenges. As we continue battling with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has undoubtedly driven the more rapid adoption of digital and smart technologies in pharma and biotech sectors, we would expect the trend to continue into 2021-22 with even bigger and bolder steps being taken by companies to optimise their future strategies in this direction. Even if the COVID-19 pandemic disappears in 2021 trough the discovery of an effective vaccine, our opinion is that the huge benefits of pharma digitalisation are now clear, and companies will continue to move in this direction.