Under normal circumstances, the life sciences industry, while innovative, is weighed down by standard operating procedures, regulations and old habits that make it slow, inefficient and expensive. But in 2020, the life sciences industry has proven it can be nimble having developed vaccines for Covid-19 in 10-to-11 months.

While some of these operational improvements may not be permanent, industry experts feel that there some strategies that will stand the test of time.

Pharma 4.0 is here to stay
As pharmaceutical executives continue to grapple with an ever-increasing array of complexities, costs and regulations associated with operations, a greater number of them are turning to Pharma 4.0 manufacturing as a possible solution to help enhance the bottom line. Simply put, Pharma 4.0 is a framework for adapting digital transformation strategies within the context of pharmaceutical manufacturing. Pharma 4.0 means more connectivity, more productivity, simplified compliance, and the ability to identify and respond to problems as they emerge – in real-time.

“Pharma 4.0 is evolving before our eyes, and is being powered by technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics,” stated Anupam Nandwana, founder and CEO of P360. “These technologies are now being used in tandem to create human-to-digital networks that enable more efficient, error-free operations within manufacturing facilities. And these systems help support manufacturing by automating processes across both digital and physical domains.”

P360 specializes in the development and implementation of digital solutions for life sciences organizations. One of its newest products is an IoT-enabled smart device called Swittons, which has been recently configured for Pharma 4.0 initiatives. The goal is to improve operational efficiency through analytics, automation and connectivity. By equipping specific process areas with IoT technology, companies can gain deeper insights into manufacturing efficiencies. They can also monitor processes and automatically trigger responses based on real-time inputs, helping to mitigate potential problems before they even occur.

“While Pharma 4.0 includes a variety of technologies, it’s the Internet of Things that ties it all together,” added Nandwana. “IoT-powered smart devices are the center point for bringing people, data and machines together across the entire enterprise. Because of this, IoT can provide valuable insights that help manufacturers make faster, better-informed decisions that result in an improved bottom-line.”

While technologies such as IoT and AI have enhanced opportunities for process improvements within manufacturing in general, the unique environment in which life sciences organizations operate has slowed adoption relative to other industries. However, the promise of Pharma 4.0 and its ability to unlock new potential for productivity and quality makes it a necessity for executives looking to embrace a digital future.

Telemedicine will drive a new era of direct-to-consumer
Although telemedicine has been around for many years in some form or fashion, the Covid-19 pandemic should be credited with making it mainstream. Faced with limited access to physicians and other health professionals, health consumers turned to telemedicine in record numbers for care. Recent advancements in Internet conferencing solutions and patient management systems should also be credited with making this possible.

This consumer adoption of telemedicine makes it easier for life sciences companies to engage them.

“The Covid-19 pandemic made clear that life sciences companies can, and should, play an important role in public health,” said Dr. Michael J. Garbade, Founder & CEO of the National Coronavirus Hotline (NCH). “We created the National Coronavirus Hotline as a way to help vulnerable populations gain easier access to healthcare and services during the pandemic. We see life sciences as being a key partner in our efforts, as our platform serves as a direct pipeline to patients for life sciences products and services.”

NCH was developed to provide free or low-cost healthcare services to underserved, underrepresented communities during the pandemic. Both NCH and its technology platform are designed to help public health departments and stakeholder groups deploy healthcare services quickly and easily, at low cost to vulnerable populations during pandemics and other public health emergencies.

With the right implementations, telemedicine platforms like NCH can significantly shorten the patient journey to the right diagnosis and treatment. This is why telemedicine is poised to become a great direct marketing tool for healthcare and pharmaceutical brands because it allows for direct engagement with prospective customers. However, the issues regarding health data privacy and direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising pose significant hurdles.

Nevertheless, telemedicine platforms like NCH are beginning to work with life sciences organizations and healthcare providers to explore partnerships that are a win-win for both patients and those that treat them.

Decentralized Clinical Trials
As hospitals and clinics continue to limit non-essential patient visits for clinical trials, life sciences organizations face increasing pressure to figure out new options. According to some reports, more than 1,200 clinical trials have been put on hold since the pandemic. To contend with this dilemma, Clinical Research Organizations (CRO) and life sciences organizations have been scrambling to incorporate remote processes for operating clinical trials.

With the emergence of clinical trial management systems like Trials360, SimpleTrials and Science37, CROs and life sciences organizations are now able to more easily perform decentralized, virtual clinical trials. And the practice of administering decentralized clinical trials is picking up momentum, both because of the pandemic and the cost savings they provide. This, according to some experts, has made decentralized clinical trials a must for CROs.

In a recent news release, Science 37 CEO David Coman said, “as the clinical trial model becomes more dependent on decentralized methodologies to connect patients and providers, many CROs need to rapidly bolster their operations accordingly to compete.”

Although the practice of decentralized clinical trials is still in its infancy, some 50 life sciences and healthcare organizations looking to accelerate the adoption of decentralized clinical trials have joined to form the Decentralized Trials & Research Alliance (DTRA). Formally launched in December of last year, DTRA plans to unite industry stakeholders with a singular mission to make clinical trial participation widely accessible by advancing policies, research practices and new technologies in decentralized clinical research. This commitment to decentralized clinical trials ensures we will be seeing a lot of new developments in the space this year.

Although it’s always hard to predict exactly how things will all shake out, executives that keep Pharma 4.0, direct-to-consumer engagement and decentralized clinical trials on their radar will feel the pulse of where many in the industry are heading.

Picture: Hollygraphic, Getty Images



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