By Ed Miseta, Chief Editor, Clinical Leader
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The pharmaceutical industry has historically been rather conservative, especially when it comes to adopting new technologies. For example, the technologies necessary to conduct decentralized and hybrid trials have existed for years, yet it took a world-wide pandemic to get many companies to climb onboard and adopt those patient-centric approaches.
Technology company Within3 has performed some research and produced a paper on the six top trends that are going to impact the pharmaceutical space. It’s no surprise that technology solutions were one of the trends making the list, but also included were factors such as patients, cyber threats, and a growing global marketplace.
Consumer Behaviors Change
The first trend is the continued shift in consumer behavior and attitudes. This is a factor that has been impacting the healthcare space for years and was likely ramped up during the last two years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Internet and social media have increased patient awareness of diseases and treatments, and that trend is now making its way into clinical trials as well. Patients have choices when it comes to trials and want a greater say in the design and execution of those studies.
The Within3 paper points to research conducted by Deloitte which notes several trends that have been accelerated by the pandemic. This includes the increased use of digital technology and the willingness to share data. Consumers are now more willing than ever to use digital tools to monitor their health and communicate with healthcare providers. Consumers also believe these tools and trackers will change their behaviors for the better.
Another trend is the use of telehealth services. Virtual visits grew from 15% to 19% between 2019 and 2020, but then jumped to 28% in 2021. Big pharma is reacting to this shift in consumer behaviors and is quickly embracing a patient-centric approach to trials. Done correctly, this approach should result in better communication, collaboration, and openness. This approach is expected to impact many stakeholders, including patient advocacy groups, physicians, health systems, payers, regulators, and technology vendors.
Digital Solutions Gain Traction
New technologies, especially those such as digital solutions that impact patients, were already gaining acceptance in the clinical space prior to the pandemic. Still, the emergence of the pandemic and the need to create decentralized and hybrid trials created a pressing need for these products. One example is telehealth services, which increased patient-centricity but also helped protect the safety of individuals participating in clinical studies.
While telehealth services provide benefits to patients, research conducted by BMC Public Health found the services also reduce the use of healthcare center resources, improve access to care and care givers, minimize the risk of COVID transmission, and provide a convenient and affordable way for clinics and healthcare centers to perform routine checkups.
Digital platforms are another tool suddenly playing a large role in the life sciences. These tools can now track medical supplies and enable remote auditing and product releases, which will improve efficiencies.
“This demonstrates that biopharma companies are more willing than ever to embrace technological tools that help them provide better, more effective therapies,” notes the Within3 report. “This type of disruptive innovation in pharma will become critical for companies in order to keep up and provide quality solutions.”
Patient Engagement Is Vital
Today’s patients are better informed and have access to more information than ever before. As a result, they want a greater say and more involvement in the decisions impacting their healthcare. For life science companies, that will mean involving patients in every step of the development process, from discovery through to clinical trials and regulatory approval.
Sanofi recently announced its efforts to become a patient-informed R&D organization that will incorporate the patient-voice into every step of the drug discovery process. That is the type of approach that will need to be adopted by more pharma companies if they want to understand the wants and challenges of today’s patients.
Of course, digital technologies will be at the forefront, enabling sponsors to better serve patients while making trials available to a greater number of patients and increasing diversity efforts.
High-tech solutions are another trend noted in the report, with new innovations such as AI and machine learning playing an increasing role in drug discovery and clinical trials. AI, for example, holds the promise of building drug development pipelines, eliminating drug failures, and accelerating the drug discovery process. AI is also expected to streamline processes and save companies 3% to 5%.
There are many roles AI is expected to play in the life sciences, including drug discovery, drug screening, designing drug molecules, advancing product development, advancing pharma manufacturing, supporting quality control and assurance, optimizing trial design, and improving product management.
According to the Global Startup Heat Map, the top 10 areas of focus for technology companies within R&D include AI, big data, blockchain, RWD, and digital therapeutics. Massive shakeups are expected as those technologies continue to evolve and become permanent fixtures in the drug development space.
Many pharma companies are forced to go global to gain access to the patients needed to conduct a clinical trial. The Global Pharma and Healthcare Market Forecast expects global expansion to continue to be a focus of companies in the life sciences space.
The Forecast notes the drug development market size is expected to increase from $1.12 trillion in 2020 to $1.57 trillion by 2027. While North America currently controls 50% of the consumption market share, the hottest area of growth is the Asia-Pacific market, which now controls 25% of the market share. International growth has been made possible by new solutions enabling communication, collaboration, and logistics. Research teams can now operate seamlessly from many different countries. New technologies also make it easier for sponsor companies to communicate, share information, review data, and engage stakeholders.
R&D spending in the life sciences is not slowing down. Pharma spent $83 billion on R&D in 2019, and that spending is expected to increase to $202 billion by the end of 2022. The primary areas where those R&D dollars are spent is invention, development, innovation, product differentiation, and safety monitoring. As that spending increases, the trends noted here will play an increasing role in the development of new treatments.
The final trend noted in the report was the increase in cyber threats due to digitalism.
For more information on the Top Trends Report, please click here.