Big pharmaceutical companies are undergoing an unprecedented change, primarily due to the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. These companies have strategically prioritized maintaining and expanding their research and development units, adapting technological transformations, and increasing their global market presence. This article discusses the role of pharmaceutical companies in accelerating the development and application of new technologies.
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Owing to the pandemic, biopharma companies have faced innumerable challenges that include suspension of many ongoing trials for drugs against diseases other than COVID-19, delayed pharma product launches, disruption in the supply chain, and an overall setback in drug commercialization. It has also urged pharma companies to function in the virtual and digitally-enabled environment, i.e., from trials to sales and other strategic operations.
Pharmaceutical Companies and Data Technologies
Scientists revealed that innovative cell and gene therapies have raised hopes in patients with rare diseases, which were previously thought to be incurable. Artificial intelligence and machine-learning approaches have played a crucial role in designing innovative therapies that would not have been possible by solely focussing on conventional methods. Typically, conventional methods are more time-consuming and expensive. Scientists stated that the application of data-driven technologies could benefit various sectors of pharma, i.e., manufacturing, supply chain, and the entire healthcare system.
Tonnes of valuable data are available, which are untapped and underutilized because of them being in a variety of structures. Technology can effectively translate specific data useful for developing treatments against a particular disease. Technological tools, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, have been associated with data integration, enrichment, and management. These technologies help pharma leaders make better-informed decisions to improve their existing processes and business models. Big pharma companies process data using technological tools, which could be implemented in research to develop effective treatments.
Collaboration of Big tech with BioPharma
Recently, large technology companies have focussed on the healthcare sector, and, invariably, they have crossed paths with pharma companies. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated collaborations between technology-based companies and big pharma. For example, pharma giant Pfizer collaborated with BioNTech, an mRNA technology vaccine pioneer. As a result of this collaboration, the COVID-19 vaccine was manufactured within a year. Subsequently, it received emergency use authorization (EUA) from global regulatory bodies.
Recently, this pair has teamed up with other pharma companies, such as Novartis, Merck, and Sanofi, to manufacture mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines faster. Collaboration of the big tech with big pharma is like converging two experts to solve issues that impact humans intensely. Interestingly, researchers have observed a growing culture of collaboration between big pharma and big tech, as both groups stand to gain significantly from this collaboration.
In mid-January 2021, Boehringer Ingelheim, a big pharmaceutical company, teamed up with Google to apply the tech giant's quantum computing expertise to their research and development. The main goal of this collaboration was to perform fundamental research by assessing existing relevant research methodologies via quantum computing. Compared to classical computers, the utilization of Google's quantum computing could benefit the pharmaceutical industry significantly.
Specifically, it could optimize drug discovery and design and increase the speed of data-rich practices associated with research and development processes. Additionally, it would significantly reduce the time required to introduce medicines to the market. Scientists stated that this collaboration is a testament to the power of data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to accelerate research conducted by pharma companies. Accelerating the use of quantum computing would help understand diseases better and design innovative treatments for patients faster.
Biogen Inc. teamed with tech giant Apple Inc. to explore ways to detect and monitor cognitive decline. This collaboration is expected to accelerate the development of digital biomarkers associated with cognitive decline at an earlier stage using the Apple Watch and iPhone. Novartis collaborated with Microsoft Corp., Amazon Inc.'s Amazon Web Services, and Tencent Holdings Ltd. to improve the company's digital capabilities.
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Modern Technologies have Benefitted Pharma Companies
Changes in the behavior of consumers towards the use of technology and willingness to share data has helped pharma companies in various ways. For instance, they can now access the efficacy of a drug through real-world evidence. Accelerating this trend, i.e., collecting, maintaining, and analyzing tons of data, is critical for pharma companies' future growth and development. This trend would help improve patient-centric strategies.
Pharma companies believe that they will be focused on transforming functions via digital platforms for the next five years. Survey reports have indicated that biopharma companies have made digital investments to understand the changes in customer behavior, improve the efficiency of the research and development process, and accelerate products to market. Presently, biopharma companies believe that they have come halfway to attaining digital maturity and learning new models.
Most pharma companies have business models focused on specific geographical locations and customers. Big Pharma companies are under tremendous pressure to accelerate research and development innovations, rapidly evolve with the developing health care ecosystem, and meet the expectation of society and their investors. Additionally, they have increased investment focused on developing home-based health technologies, such as sensors, monitors, at-home diagnostics, and digital therapeutics.
The development of devices and user-friendly applications will encourage more individuals to provide health-related data, which could be used for holistic and longitudinal analysis of health outcomes.