Sink or Swim: The Need for Industry to Embrace New Technology

13th June 2017 (Last Updated July 18th, 2018 12:16)

CTA staff writer, Charlie Abrines, says it time for the industry to embrace technological innovation, or risk being left behind

Sink or Swim: The Need for Industry to Embrace New Technology

There is a significant technological lag within the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. Most large companies have not made the most to adapt and customize current technologies to suit their internal needs and improve their efficiency. Although the industry knows this, many companies are waiting to see what their direct competitors do to best understand the challenges and actions which can arise from implementing these changes before they roll out their own.

Meanwhile, the possibility of a greater liberalization in the American pharmaceutical market, something which the current administration seems keen to pursue, adds a new pressure to the industry. Consequently, many companies are going to have to adopt these technological advancements if they want to minimize profit losses. Remaining on the fence will inevitably allow new players to enter the game and greatly disrupt the status quo. Therefore it’s paramount that industry uses currently available technology and customizes these for the individual needs as it would enable the industry to improve its efficiency, minimize wastage and maximize its budgets.

Increased market competition, as a result of lax regulation, could be overcome through this technological revolution. It would enable companies to streamline their processes by improving the connectivity of their various global operations through the linking of sites and expediting trial times. For example, improved GPS tracking of shipments, coupled with devices which notify the Supply Manager if there has been a temperature excursion, can allow for a quicker reaction time and to place a new shipment if need be. By having the ability to monitor the last mile in real-time significant delays could be avoided or minimized.

Similarly, technology can enable a better connection with patients through the development of smartphone apps. This means investigators can keep in constant communication with patients who can report on symptoms or effects of the trial drug in a real-time manner. This allows for improved follow-ups and monitoring if problems arise, while also enabling the expansion of the trial radius to rural patients who may not be able to access the site regularly. Consequently, these platforms enable improved delivery timeframes to remote drug sites, reduce delays in accessing the required amount of trial drug and by allowing patients to enroll on trials through portable software it can ensure sufficient drug is delivered at trial sites an reduce the likelihood of overages.

While this prospect may appear daunting from the onset, the reality is that such technology is readily available and only requires a small initial investment to maximize its potential. The use of smartphone and wearable technology is something which the industry needs to factor within its forecasting for two main reasons: firstly, the infrastructure needed for this investment to ensure returns is improving and developing year on year; secondly remaining idle has the potential to enable other players to enter the field who could supplant the current heavyweights of the industry. 

But what is preventing pharma from making the most of what’s available to them? An industry-wide inertia is limiting the drive for innovation and development. Many large companies are institutionally geared to stick to models that have worked for years, if not decades, even if this could cause their long-term demise; hesitating is the business of the day.

Pharma could be compared with the technology industry here. For example companies such as Yahoo and MSN started off being significantly larger and stronger than their competitor Google. Nonetheless because Google was competing against heavyweights, there was an internal drive to adapt as not doing so would have resulted in its own demise. While larger companies can indeed change slowly these are not exempt from changes in the market as a whole, remaining static is not a wise long-term decision for any company. Consequently by not developing these technologies large pharma is delaying the inevitable.

Given how it’s become more and more difficult for the pharmaceutical industry to carry out business as normal, it’s essential sponsors find a viable solution to this problem. However, before these challenges can be addressed, the industry as a whole has to recognize that this is a problem, as only then can it start to find the antidote that’s preventing the much-needed investment. By recognizing this issue, large pharma will start to see firsthand that their technological struggles are similar to those suffered by their main competitors. With a little fortune, this should in turn prompt an industry-wide conversation towards improving the problem as a whole.