Life Sciences Go Digital

Turning to the cloud

Despite their cutting-edge prowess in many other regards, pharma companies in large part lagged behind other industry peers in the adoption of cloud technology and other emerging tools mainly due to concerns over data privacy.

“Most life sciences companies now agree that cloud-based technologies add value,” asserted Infionic’s CEO, Subramanyam SP. “There remains apprehension about using shared cloud databases, so a mid-way solution is a private cloud.”

Infonic has made many implementations in pharma on the cloud that follow a model similar to a private cloud format, meaning the application and database are connected to only one company. In this way, Infionic offers its ERP solution as well as its electronic document management system to cover the document’s lifecycle.

The heightened acceptance of more digital platforms has boosted demand for companies like RxS that offer prescription drug sampling services and technology, including tools for rep sample management, healthcare dedicated contact center services, and digital, client, and patient engagement. Mark Jara, the company’s principal and managing director, believes the pandemic accelerated this adoption trend for prescriber engagement. Before March 2020, the predominant pharmaceutical selling model had centered around personal selling in the doctor’s office. “For many brands there were months when prescriber engagement activities simply stopped while digital operations were spun up and, in many cases, reluctantly embraced,” said Jara. “Tele-health tactics gained momentum and our clients made their pivot, like other industries, to fully remote operations.”

While the pandemic may have accelerated an inevitable shift to certain digital platforms for activities such as tracking prescriber engagement, in other use cases it highlighted the importance of preexisting structures. For example, the number of counterfeit drugs in the American market skyrocketed over the past two years as it became more common for companies to distribute pharmaceutical products using online platforms. “The pandemic has created the perfect storm for counterfeiting as no one knew what Covid-19 related products looked like and where they would be available. It started with counterfeit test kits followed by counterfeit vaccines appearing online,” explained Steve Tallant, director of market development at Markem-Imaje.

Markem-Imaje offers services including track and trace, serialization, and brand protection to help regulate supply chain security. The use of digital tools like Markem-Imaje’s digital e-Fingerprint that can authenticate products anywhere along the supply chain helps combat the problem of products entering the gray market and of the sale of counterfeit drugs altogether.

Across the product lifecycle and distribution process, digital solutions are fundamental tools for success. With the advent of technology companies creating products specifically designed for the life sciences, their clients are able to adopt systems that are essentially tailor-made to help them succeed.

What can’t AI do?

Artificial intelligence has long been used within the life sciences, particularly on the clinical side to help researchers discover molecules faster. As the technology driving AI progresses, companies are finding increasingly novel ways to apply its benefits to the sector, transforming the speed and scope of what is considered possible.

One key use of AI is to help turn copious amounts of data into actionable information quickly. “The amount of data companies collect today is astounding, and we saw a need for a platform to help these companies leverage their data in a way that is fast, scalable and easy to use,” said Rohit Vashisht, CEO of WhizAI, a company that offers the only augmented consumer platform currently available to life science companies in particular. “We live in an increasingly connected and on-demand world, where everybody is available online. We do not see a reason why analytics should be any different. We want users to be able to have key facts on hand instantaneously rather than having to sift through various dashboards and reports.”

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the platform is its ability to continuously learn. Whenever a user asks a question, it further automates the system to understand context and intent, meaning that each time the product is used, by virtue of its design it improves.

“What we learned from our customers is that in terms of approvals and BLS being issued, drug pipelines are accelerating exponentially. However, upon securing approval, the product development process and tech transfer manufacturing lag behind that acceleration. Our technology has proven to be more adoptable in bridging the gap between securing approval and the final manufacturer.”

Rajiv Anand, Founder, Quartic.ai

Quartic.ai offers an AI solution to speed up the process of bringing drugs to market. Its edge to cloud intelligent manufacturing operations management system helps make manufacturing a more autonomous and continuous affair. While the company covers the entire drug lifecycle, it has invested more heavily into its services geared towards the early stages of product development. “What we learned from our customers is that in terms of approvals and BLS being issued, drug pipelines are accelerating exponentially. However, upon securing approval, the product development process and tech transfer manufacturing lag behind that acceleration,” explained Rajiv Anand, the company’s founder. “Our technology has proven to be more adoptable in bridging the gap between securing approval and the final manufacture.”

According to Anand, the company has witnessed adoption rates accelerate rapidly, particularly in parallel with technologies related to RNA that progressed at lightning speed during the pandemic.

AI technology can be used in ways beyond improving operational efficiencies. In the realm of understanding patient behavior, the use of artificial intelligence may have the power to pick up on queues from people’s actions even better than humans.

AiCure offers a platform that uses phone-based video and audio to produce digital biomarkers from facial expressivity, voice and speech, and general movements. From there, the solution applies quantitative measures that yield data that is more comprehensive than what would be gleaned from occasional in-person visits, according to Rich Christie, the company’s chief medical officer. “AiCure’s technology allows us to approach problems in a previously unthinkable manner, bringing you into the patient’s home to experience the disease in their own environment,” Christie said. “The technology is intuitive and can capture even more than what a doctor observes and hears when sitting across from a patient.”

Harnessing the patient’s voice, both literally as achieved by AiCure and figuratively through the collection of words and statements, has become a more tangible reality. Talking Medicines is an AI-driven patient intelligence company that works to transform the voices of patients into actionable insights for pharma marketeers by gathering and sifting through immense quantities of information from social media and other forums.

Patients are empowered now more than ever by access to information. The pandemic exacerbated the tendency of people to conduct their own research online about different products on the market given the disruption towards seeing doctors in person. They found communities online in the form of support groups, shared tips and experiences, and in doing so generated copious amounts of information. Talking Medicines aims to wield this catalogue of voices into information companies can use to track the efficacy of their marketing campaigns.

“The alternative means of collecting this information would be through running a research group, which has inherent bias because one person’s opinion can sway the whole group. The data Talking Medicines sources is more representative because it draws from larger, disparate populations.”

Jo Halliday, Founder & CEO, Talking Medicines

According to Jo Halliday, CEO, the pharma industry spends US$30 billion annually on marketing but has shockingly low accountability for measuring returns. She believes her company’s platform offers the most comprehensive and organic way to gain insight into this. “The alternative means of collecting this information would be through running a research group, which has inherent bias because one person’s opinion can sway the whole group,” explained Halliday. “The data Talking Medicines sources is more representative because it draws from larger, disparate populations. We are also able to see if there are certain outliers, particularly a select few people who post a disproportionate amount.”

From deriving actionable meaning from online support group comments to streamlining manufacturing operations, the applications of AI within the life sciences are boundless. Of course, there is still significant room for growth. “The use of AI in data analysis will expand significantly to improve early detection across a variety of diseases, as it has in oncology,” posited Olga Potapova, founder, CEO and scientific director of Cureline, a global translational and precision medicine CRO that provides biobanking and laboratory services. “Unlike tech companies, however, the biomedical field has yet to fully capitalize on advances in AI and machine learning that can combine the specimens, conduct populational studies, and develop predictive models to understand the best and most economically viable approach.”

According to Potapova, her company has completed over twenty large projects for companies seeking to harness the power of AI in this manner.

Overall, companies are springing up to take advantage of current industry needs, both in clinical and operational settings. This is paving the way for a world in which the use of artificial intelligence is not revolutionary, but rather expected. It is likely that within a decade we will think of companies using AI in the same way we think about how companies are harnessing the power of the internet – we do not and simply take it for granted.

Image courtesy of Talking Medicines