Continued Focus on R&D. Life sciences companies operate in an extremely competitive global market where they have to work on new products against a backdrop of competition from generics and a global concern over rising healthcare expenditure. Apart from regulatory challenges, they also face immense competition from local manufacturers as they enter each new market.
Re-thinking their Distribution Strategy. Sales and distribution for many pharma and medtech organisations have been traditional – using agents, distributors, clinicians, and healthcare providers. But now they need to change their go-to-market strategies, target patients and consumers directly and package their product offerings into value-added services. This will require them to incorporate customer experience enhancers in their R&D, going beyond drug discovery and product innovation.
Tracking Global Regulations. Governments across the world are trying to manage their healthcare budgets. They are also more focused on chronic disease management. The focus has shifted to value-based medicine in general, but pharma and medtech products are being increasingly held accountable by health outcomes. Governments are increasingly implementing drug reforms around what clinicians can prescribe. Global Life Sciences organisations have to constantly monitor the regulations in the multiple countries where they operate and sell. They are also accountable for their entire supply chain, especially ensuring a high product quality and fraud prevention.
The global Ecosystm AI study reveals the top priorities for Life Sciences organisations, focused on adopting emerging technologies (Figure 1). They appear to be investing in emerging technology especially in their R&D and clinical discovery and Manufacturing functions.
Technology as an Enabler of Life Sciences Transformation
Discovery and Development
With the evolution of technology, Life Sciences organisations are able to automate much of the mundane tasks around drug discovery and apply AI and machine learning to transform their drug discovery and development process. They are increasingly leveraging their ecosystem of smaller pharma and medtech companies, research laboratories, academic institutions, and technology providers to make the process more time and cost efficient.
Using an AI algorithm, the researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered an antibiotic compound that can kill many species of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. MIT’s algorithm screens millions of chemical compounds and chooses the antibiotics which have the potential to eliminate bacteria resistant to existing drugs. Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is manufacturing 3D printed organ-on-a-chip to give insights on cell, tissue, and organ biology to help the pharma sector with drug development, disease modelling and finally in the development of personalised medicine.
Life Sciences are also engaging more with technology partners – whether emerging start-ups or established players. Pfizer and Saama are working together on AI clinical data mining. The companies are developing and deploying an AI-based analytical tool where Pfizer provides clinical data and domain knowledge to train models on the Saama Life Science Analytics Cloud (LSAC). Saama was identified as a partner at a hackathon. Sanofi and Google have established a new virtual Innovation Lab to develop scientific and commercial solutions, using multiple Google capabilities from cloud computing to AI.
Tech providers also keep evolving their capabilities in the Life Sciences industry for more efficient drug discovery and better treatment protocols. Microsoft’s Project Hanover uses machine learning to develop a personalised drug protocol to manage acute myeloid leukaemia. Similarly, Apple’s ResearchKit – an open-source framework is meant to help researchers and developers create iOS-based applications in the field of medical research.
Manufacturing and Logistics
The industry also faces the challenges faced by any Manufacturing organisation and has the need to deploy manufacturing analytics, and advanced supply chain technology for better process and optimisation and agility. There is also the need for complete visibility over their supply chain and inventory for traceability, safety, and fraud prevention. Emerging technologies such as Blockchain will become increasingly relevant for real-time track and trace capability.
The MediLedger Network was established as an open network to the entire pharma supply chain. The project brings a consortium of some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and logistics providers to improve drug supply chain management.
Since the data on the distributed ledger is encrypted, it creates a secure system without any vulnerabilities. This eliminates counterfeit products and ultimately ensures the quality of the pharma products and promotes increased patient safety. To foster security and improve the supply chain, the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) successfully completed a pilot with a group including IBM, KPMG, Merck and Walmart to support U.S. Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) to trace vaccines and prescription medicines throughout the country.
Diagnostics and Personalised Healthcare
As more devices (consumer and enterprise) and applications enter the market, people will take ownership and interest in their own health outcomes. This is seeing a continued growth in online communities and comparison sites (on physicians, hospitals, and pharmaceutical products). Increasingly, insurance providers will use data from wearable devices for a more personalised approach; promoting and rewarding good health practices.
Beyond the use of wearables and health and wellness apps, we will also see an exponential increase of home-based healthcare products and services – whether for primary care and chronic disease management, or long-term and palliative care. As patients become more engaged with their care, the life sciences industry is beginning to serve them through personalised approach, medicines, right diagnosis and through advanced medical devices and products.
An online tool developed by the University of Virginia Health Systems helps identify patients that have a high risk of getting a stroke and helps them reduce that risk. This tool calculates the patient’s probability of suffering a stroke by measuring the severity of their metabolic syndrome – taking into account a number of conditions that include high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels and excess body fat. Life Sciences organisations are increasingly having to invest in customer-focused solutions such as these.
Wearables with special smart software to monitor health parameters, gauge drug compatibility and monitor complications are being implemented by Life Sciences organisations. The US FDA approved a pill called Abilify MyCite fitted with a tiny ingestible sensor that communicates with a patch worn by the patient to transmit data on a smartphone. Medtech companies continue to develop FDA approved health devices that can monitor chronic conditions. Smart continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) and insulin pens send blood glucose level data to smartphone applications allowing the wearer to easily check their information and detect trends.
What is interesting about these personalised products is that not only do they improve clinical outcomes, they also give Life Sciences companies access to rich data that can be used for further product development and improvement.
The Life Sciences industry will continue to operate in an unpredictable and competitive market. This is evident by the several mergers and acquisitions that we witness in the industry. As they continue to use cutting-edge technology for their R&D practices, they will leverage technology to transform other functions as well.
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Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI), an organisation established under Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, is an affiliate of Enterprise Singapore and focuses on technology innovations in the industry that can empower enterprises to develop new processes, products, and services. IPI has identified Blockchain Technology for Food as an area where the industry can benefit from innovation. The ecosystem will also benefit from the information gathered, with the potential to further improve the production chain.
Taking supply chain visibility a step further, Blockchain technology is being used for fraud prevention – especially payment fraud. Financial transactions are complex and involve multi-step processes and human intervention – involving collaterals, settlement, currency denominations, third-party mediation, and so on. It is often the prime target for fraudsters. The most common instances of fraud involve bank to bank transactions, mobile payments, and digital identity fraud, essentially by tampering with ID or using it an unsanctioned way – providing unauthorised access to digital systems and falsifying information.
Blockchain helps automate preventive measures enabling real-time information sharing which is transmitted on a chain of connected devices where all the nodes in a system verify the transaction. Since it stores the data on several nodes and every other user on the network has a copy of the entire data on the Blockchain, it is virtually impossible to hack or destroy it completely.
Earlier this year, Standard Chartered Singapore showcased their cross-border trade finance transaction which digitalises trade processes and financing documentation. Blockchain enabled the transaction between parties by digitally streamlining the documentation process while providing security and transparency between the partners. Not only does it support the clients’ entire supply chain, but it also creates a transparent way to provide same-day trade financing.
Non-profit organisation BitGive Foundation uses Blockchain technology to provide greater visibility to their donors into the receipt of funds and how they are used by sharing financial information and project results in real-time. The GiveTrack project is built on Bitcoin and Blockchain and is a user-friendly, data-centered and comprehensive user interface. People making donations can precisely track the donations and how the funds were used.
Legal & Compliance
In industries that have higher Compliance & Regulatory requirements, Blockchain can enable safe, secure, and scalable data-sharing. The industry is seeing instances of self-executing contracts, smart registries, secure and time-stamped documents with Blockchain. Blockchain is introducing abilities to record events for a long duration which might include indisputable claims, criminal records, case procedures to support the potential legal work.
Dubai launched a city wide blockchain strategy. Dubai Land Department is implementing blockchain to make property transactions secure, transparent and immutable, thereby reducing fraud and eliminating reams of physical documents. This impacts the entire ecosystem – customers, developers, the land department, utility providers, payment channels, and municipalities – to work in collaboration.
Shipping companies that need to enforce global contracts daily are also benefitting from Blockchain. However, the biggest use cases will eventually come from the Public Sector – across citizen services and criminal justice systems. For instance, National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) is testing Blockchain e-voting facilities. The project is still at the pilot stage and aims to tokenised voting which makes it easy to conduct test and audit for the votes. This allows the regulating authorities to access real-time data, and at the same time, provides means to audit the regulators.
73% of global organisations believe that a data breach is inevitable, according to the Ecosystem Cybersecurity Study, and only 18% of them use some form of tokenisation and other cryptographic tools. Blockchain technology offers several capabilities in mitigating cybersecurity risks and detecting and combating cyber attacks. For example, Blockchain can be used to prevent DDoS attacks, and crypto secured biometric keys can replace passwords providing robust ID authentication systems, more secure DNS and decentralised storage. Blockchain implementation can also prevent man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks by encrypting the data in transit so it is not manipulated during the transmission or accessed by unauthorised parties – thus maintaining data integrity and confidentiality.
eGovernment initiatives will also benefit from Blockchain. The biggest stumbling block for providing eservices has always been cybersecurity, where the Government cannot be sure that the citizens are able to access their own records in a secure manner. It has always been a question of responsibility and liability – is the Government liable for a data breach that happens because of a citizen’s fault? Estonia is using Blockchain to protect their digital services such as electronic health records, legal records, police records, banking information, covering data and devices from attacks, misuse, and corruption.
The ultimate benefit of Blockchain will be realised when it is used to enhance Customer Experience (CX). It brings transparency in doing business, gives on-demand data visibility and fosters trust in customers. A company that shows all transactions between the company and the customer, and in a secure manner, can create a better relationship, increase overall customer satisfaction and retain their customers in a competitive market. For example, Blockchain technology can allow more secure and transparent loyalty programmes, through token creation that can be redeemed on-demand, without customer service intervention. Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer structures their payments and loyalty programme with Blockchain. Their digital wallet enables members to convert KrisFlyer miles into KrisPay miles instantly to pay for their purchases at partner merchants. The users can pay through an application by scanning a QR code at a merchant’s location .
Customers will increasingly look for ease of use and security in their transactions. Bank of America has filed a patent for Blockchain powered ATM, for securing records and authenticating business and personal data. This will boost the transaction rate and facilitate various transaction experience with full encryption and security. Blockchain-enabled transactions can be registered and completed with greater easy while lowering the transaction costs for customers and keeping the network safe.
While Blockchain technology is continuing to evolve for a range of applications and industries, it comes with its own share of risks. Adoption should not be based on the hype around the technology but should be evaluated carefully. The starting point should obviously be a real business needs analysis.
Speak with an expert today to evaluate whether your organisation can benefit from Blockchain.