Pharma companies have traditionally been late adopters when it comes to digital transformation. However, it may provide us the most benefits out of any industry in terms of living longer and healthier lives. Digital transformation is becoming the latest buzzword that has many different meanings to many different people. Digital transformation is now used as often as mobile, cloud, and big data. Pharma is going through a digital transformation that could be much more personally impactful than other industries because it impacts how medicines are discovered, developed, and supplied to patients.
In years past, with all the blockbuster drugs, Pharma focused its research on the masses by developing small molecule medication that had a long shelf-life. The business downside is small molecule drugs are easy to replicate by generic organizations once they are off-patent. The downside to patients is that small molecule medications do not solve complex, life-threatening diseases like cancer.
Large molecule compounds called Biologics are focused on treatments for individuals, not the masses. These specialized medicines align with the DNA make-up where mutation may have occurred along the gene sequence. What works for one patient might only work for thousands instead of millions like it did for small molecule medicine.
Biologics studies create more opportunities for more treatments in solving diseases like cancer. These studies have also driven more extensive collaboration among many more partners around the discovery and development of next-generation medications. This next generation of personalized medicine has also driven the need for more specialized equipment in the lab and manufacturing processes.
Many of these types of equipment have sensors to make sure the costly materials to create biologics do not put quality at risk by being produced at the wrong temperature, pressure, or other environmental factors. The same environmental challenges are in the supply chain because the products need to be transported quickly and stored at the proper temperature. The shelf-life of biologics is very short so identifying when and how much the product will need to be delivered is also a challenge to ensure there are no stock-outs or excess waste of the product.
But IoT (Internet of Things) sensors are not enough. What pharma companies need are applications that can process the data about the ‘events’ taking place across their supply chains and manufacturing processes, allowing them to take appropriate actions in real-time. Thankfully, it’s become easier and easier to build such applications today.
Pharma is not the leader in digital transformation – yet. However, there is a significant upside. Pharma R&D costs are at all-time highs while the returns are at all-time lows. Pharma is not ahead of the curve with respect to their supply chains – like consumer product goods and retail – but it can learn from these other industries. All of these challenges for Pharma will create opportunities through digital transformation by changing the ways our treatments are developed and supplied.
Chris Ganacoplos is the Director Northeast Sales at VANTIQ and has many years experience helping customers in the pharmaceuticals sector to understand how to improve processes through technology.