The Tech-ification of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Future of Industry

The pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of our lives and left many industries and businesses reeling with losses. But, for some industries, it caused the opposite to happen – Pharma being one such industry that’s seeing immense growth. Valued at about $1.5 trillion in 2021, the industry is expected to continue on its upward trajectory for the next couple of years. This is primarily due to the vaccine rush and the symptoms caused by the newer variants of Coronavirus.

So what is happening in this giant of an industry right now? How is it progressing? Who is fighting for the lion’s share? Let’s take a look…

It is the AI way.

Pharma companies are currently tying up with AI companies to hasten and expand their manufacturing, research and overall development. Soon, nearly 62% of healthcare organisations will be investing in their own AI. Just in the U.S. alone, AI and machine learning (ML) in the pharmaceutical industry could generate nearly $100B annually across its healthcare system.

Subroto Mukherjee, Head of Innovation and Emerging Technology at GlaxoSmithkline, one of the companies producing COVID vaccine says in his podcast that the top uses of AI and ML in the pharma industry are:

  • Disease Identification and Diagnosis
  • Digital Therapeutics and Personalised Treatment
  • Drug Discovery and Manufacturing
  • Predictive Forecasting
  • Clinical Trials

Essentially, the processes that were dependent on human cognition can now be exponentially scaled with the use of AI and ML, making it beneficial for the manufacturers, physicians, patients, regulators and even insurers.

Some companies on the AI track include Roche, Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca, GSK, Sanofi, AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Johnson & Johnson. Novartis, a few years ago partnered with MIT to transform its pharma design and manufacturing systems. CRISPR technology and AI have also been instrumental in enhancing the drugs available to fight COVID-19. The list goes on. Companies that do not climb aboard the AI bandwagon are expected to phase out soon. The Big Pharma have all chosen the AI route.

Big data and analytics

Think about it. The pharma industry has always depended on empirical data for all of its trials. With the way data sciences have exploded in the last couple of years, the pharma industry has invested over $4.7 billion in big data analytics. This has helped result in reduced research costs, precision medicines, better trials, escalated drug discoveries and so on.

What else is happening in the industry? Oh yes, with its immense growth rates, the tons of data, the huge profit margins, and the potential for mechanisation, Big Tech is now sniffing around the Pharma industry.

Big tech in pharma

When we say ‘Big Tech’ what do we mean? The super-powerful puppet masters of course: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple.

Why do they care about pharma?

  • It is a huge global market.
  • Their existing resources, network, and branding mean that they do not have to go out of their way to advertise this new branch.
  • You can almost picture the Big Tech salivating over the digital innovation that is taking over the pharmaceutical industry. Whether it is AI or ML or Big Data, you need to accept that no one is better equipped to handle it than Big Tech.

Where do they come in?

Research and Discovery Clinical Development Manufacturing and Supply Chain Launch and Commercial Monitoring and Health Records
Mining data to identify targets

Understanding disease mechanisms

Candidate generation and selection

Patient recruitment

Patient Monitoring

Digital biomarkers

Drug manufacturing

Demand and Supply planning

Supply chain

Physician support

Prescription delivery

Digital Pharmacy

Medication adherence

Remote patient monitoring

Patient Data Solutions

Who is involved
Google, Microsoft Google, Microsoft, Apple Amazon Amazon, Microsoft Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple

Source: CBS Insights

Competitions, Collaborations and Partnerships
Take a look at this list…..

  • Google’s collaboration with Sanofi S.A. for using AI in discovering new drugs. Google has also acquired FitBit. In January 2021, Boehringer Ingelheim, a German company signed an agreement with Google to use their quantum computing tech for their problem solving needs and data analysis.
  • Microsoft has teamed up with Novartis in their drug production. The company is also actively investing in tech for genomics research
  • Apple for now is focused on devices like the Apple Watch which can even do an ECG. The watch can also help manage diabetes.
  • Amazon has acquired PillPack, an online prescription service, for over $750 million. It has also launched an online pharmacy in the U.S.–Amazon Pharmacy. It is also piloting Amazon Care, a virtual health clinic with in-home follow-ups for employees in Seattle.

At the moment, Big Tech and Big Pharma seem to be on a collaborative course as opposed to a competitive one. It is possible that the needs of the pandemic are sustaining these partnerships. But we know how Big Tech works. They have the resources and the labor-power to slowly but certainly occupy the centre stage in the pharma world as well. The advantage is that global health care will improve and will constantly be innovating. But it is also a scary picture of the powerful assimilating more power. Questions of privacy, which is integral to healthcare, will need to be addressed.

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Future of Industry


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