Perspective: A digital disruption in pharma (5 min read)
Christian Pawlu, Head of Divisional Strategy at Sandoz, believes digital disruption is bringing positive change to the pharmaceutical industry. He explains from his perspective how advances in technology are improving access to healthcare and why moving ‘beyond the pill’ will change patient outcomes.
Jun 07, 2018
Digital technologies and data science have incredible potential to unlock the next chapter of medical innovation. The companies that will be most successful are those that view this transformation as an opportunity rather than a challenge; and the leaders will be those who fully embrace the power of data and emerging digital technologies.
In the long run, artificial intelligence (AI) is set to transform the way the pharmaceutical industry operates. As part of the overall data analytics revolution, it could change the way we do business – including R&D, evaluating drug trials and generating real world evidence.
I believe that robotic surgery, fully personalized medicine and tailored disease management will one day be commonplace. There is still a way to go before we get there. Soon, however, we will see the full power of data analytics in action, particularly in clinical trials and healthcare delivery.
When looking at the healthcare sector overall, we see potential across the board.
From a patient perspective, I think the biggest and most exciting opportunity is for individuals to finally take control of their own health in a meaningful way. Digital technologies will offer them better access to their own medical data and the ability to share it easily with those they trust. And new applications will enable them to measure key healthcare indicators in real time, to better manage their conditions. As the healthcare industry adopts data analytics, I think pharmaceutical companies will be among the key players. We are already seeing new entrants including tech giants Apple and Google, who are evaluating healthcare-related opportunities, while Amazon is considering entering the pharmacy distribution chain.
Within the pharmaceutical sector, using and digitizing existing data can make drug trials faster, more accurate and more efficient.
At Sandoz, we see two main applications for digital. We are looking at ‘digital transformation’ of the way we work. And we are investigating in ‘digital enablement,’ using existing technologies for incremental improvements in areas such as e-commerce. Specifically, Sandoz is embarking on three cross-divisional "digital lighthouse projects." Most immediately, in a recently-announced collaboration with Pear Therapeutics, Sandoz will commercialize two prescription software applications, the first of several planned projects in the field of digital therapeutics. In a second project, Sandoz is developing a holistic service offering including a technology platform. This will help Sandoz become a strategic partner for key stakeholders, supporting them on their journey to improve their digital competency. A third project involves using AI to improve commercial efficiency in key markets.
Along the way, the healthcare industry will have to clear a row of hurdles to achieve a faster uptake of disruptive technologies.
All this is part of a broader digital revolution being undertaken by our parent company Novartis, which it believes could increase engagement with patients, accelerate drug development and improve access to treatment. Although the pharmaceutical industry has not always been the fastest mover in the digital field, the potential for rapid progress now – potentially even ‘skipping a generation’ in technology terms – is enormous.
The first obstacles are the technologies themselves. Other obstacles include legal and ethical issues – for instance, around the appropriate use of patient-related data – and these should not be underestimated. Some people are afraid of their health data being misused, and we cannot ignore these worries. However, there are good, practical solutions to such concerns. For example, we believe block chain technologies will play a key role. They offer an inherently secure way to ensure that large amounts of data can be shared without risk of unauthorized modification or alteration.
More generally, we should not neglect the human factor – it is one thing to roll out smart new apps to drive compliance, but it’s something else to make sure the majority of people keep using them once the initial ‘thrill’ has worn off. This ranges from improved diagnostic equipment (at the macro level) to smaller innovations that are already driving access to healthcare at the local (micro) level, particularly those based on mobile technologies. They are making a real difference.
When looking at the big picture, we should not underestimate small, local, technology-driven solutions.
One of my favorite examples comes from the co-winners of our Sandoz HACk competition 2017. They are linking islanders in the Maldives with a database of local hospitals, using geolocation alerts to promote blood donations that can save the lives of children with the blood condition thalassemia. For the pharmaceutical industry, we see great potential in the long run for such technology-based solutions that go ‘beyond the pill.’
Moving ‘beyond the pill’ means embracing innovative developments that improve access and actually change patient outcomes.
Sandoz will continue to develop and sell medical products and services. Yet digital technologies can significantly change the nature of the products and services we offer. New digital therapies also have the potential to fundamentally change the way patients interact with their therapies and, thus, improve patient outcomes. For me, within the overall framework of the data analytics revolution, artificial intelligence clearly has the largest potential for improving access to healthcare in the future.”