Strive for digital reality with artificial intelligence

As industries across the board move toward a world that is only digital, pharmaceutical companies need to account for the various technologies that are transforming the R&D process.

Pharmaceutical companies have long played a crucial role in our lives, even if they are in the background. However, COVID-19 has pushed the pharmaceutical industry to the forefront. Governments and communities are putting their hopes in the industry to help prevent the next epidemic while continuing to find cures for known health conditions and diseases.

Navigate a complex and rapidly changing landscape

In the wake of the pandemic, pharmaceutical companies face an increasing number of challenges, especially in relation to research and development (R&D). Costs have risen over the last decade. By 2020, R&D spending in the pharmaceutical industry was around $ 200 billion globally. The journey from preclinical research to marketing can take anywhere between 12 and 18 years, pushing any kind of return on investment (ROI) into the distant future and increasing the risk to the company’s finances and especially liquidity. On the contrary, COVID-19 has set a precedent and expectations for the rapid development of essential vaccines.

Growth in generic medicines is eroding market share, and the rules have become more complex. Pharmaceutical companies that do not comply with the rules can expect not just fines, but greater damage to reputation than ever before. The development of drugs to combat new and sometimes poorly understood conditions is particularly time-consuming and expensive. On the other hand, it is also challenging to develop treatments that provide truly significant improvements over existing products. Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has signaled its desire to bring more competition to the pharmaceutical market in an effort to reduce the cost of medicines.

To remain competitive, pharmaceutical companies need to invest in their R&D systems to speed up the discovery process. As industries across the board move toward a world that is only digital, pharmaceutical companies need to account for the various technologies that are transforming the R&D process. Digital adoption is the future of the pharmaceutical industry, and it is important that pharmaceutical companies understand which technologies can deliver faster and more efficient research and development.

Unleash the enormous potential of AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) enables forward-thinking pharmaceutical companies to revolutionize their drug discovery and development processes. Insilico Medicine, based in Hong Kong, for example, has used artificial intelligence and deep learning to design, synthesize and validate a new drug candidate in 46 days – 15 times faster than previously thought possible.

As the case study from Insilico Medicine shows, it is already clear that AI, controlled by humans, has the potential to handle the large number of complex permutations required for drug design. This rapidly evolving technology enables the aggregation, harmonization, and analysis of multiple data sources necessary for discovery, design, and clinical trials, thereby shortening the drug development process.

AI can increase the discovery of new drugs, minimize potential drug interactions, increase understanding of disease mechanisms, accelerate drug design, identify biomarkers, run preclinical experiments, design clinical trials, and provide deep insights more effectively. It can be used to predict the drugs that will ultimately work and those that will not, thus helping to reduce investment in candidates who are unlikely to enter the market.

By becoming fully digital, pharmaceutical companies can gain real-time competitor insight and be on the lookout for changes in drug regulations across regions. With the use of AI and data analysis, they can streamline knowledge gathering through available public and commercial data sources. This instantly gives R & D teams the necessary insight into their competition as well as intelligence on local rules, new conditions in a particular regime and the release of new drugs on the market.

AI and data analytics can process huge amounts of data, some of which are unstructured, in a fraction of the time it takes humans. AI can “learn” what trends and developments to be aware of in the data and only warn people about what is relevant.

Promote CI with AI & Cloud at the center

Cloud-based platforms allow pharmaceutical companies to become more agile as they provide an instant, interactive and customizable way to store Competitor Intelligence (CI) data. With a cloud-based platform, users can access insights across devices such as tablets, smartphones or desktops – through highly secure and hassle-free authentication. This is especially important for sales representatives or participants in conferences and meetings, as vital information can be quickly shared between all relevant parties in the organization.

Pharma teams can integrate their cloud solutions across enterprise systems in a way that combines both Business Intelligence (BI) tools and commercial data. These platforms can be customized to display internal and external news, competitor profiles, and sales and pricing information via easily accessible dashboards and layouts. By combining valuable data analytics insights, AI and cloud-based platforms, gaining market insights for R&D teams becomes streamlined.

Insights from CI have always enabled pharmaceutical companies to identify their core strengths in relation to their competitors. In addition to transforming drug development, AI can improve CI to cope with rapidly evolving markets and major disruptions. The more detailed, accurate, and timely CI can help companies target unmet needs by transforming not just their offerings, but entire business models. The analysis of the competitive environment can also govern their own R&D focus. This helps benchmark performance, identify strengths and highlight priority areas. Overlaying business and CI results helps pharmaceutical companies identify new ways to differentiate their brand and meet market needs as they emerge.

Cloud computing can be used to complement AI-powered tools as they harvest data from millions of website pages to gain valuable insights by tracking a competitor’s entire digital footprint, both on and off their site. Together, technologies can measure everything – from changes in the price of competitors’ products to new agreements. Natural Language Processing (NLP) can analyze the feeling that competitors’ brands experience on social media, read customer reviews on a wide variety of platforms and convert it into useful data and action-oriented information.

Cloud computing enables companies to easily increase or decrease their storage requirements for CI data. The insights they develop can also be easily shared across all departments, from R&D to finance, across a variety of devices using intuitive interfaces such as dashboards.

Involvement of the obvious challenges

As small and large pharmaceutical companies rush to adopt these new technologies, they need to run into obstacles. Currently, for example, patent law does not recognize AI as an ‘inventor’. Therefore, AI inventions cannot enjoy the same protection as traditional innovations. With increasing variation and scope of data used, including genetic code, security risks are also evolving, necessitating new management measures. AI will be limited by processing speeds, requiring pharmaceutical companies to use new technologies in their efforts to maximize AI impact.

As competitors may compress years of product research, development, and launch efforts into just months, companies will need to ensure that their CI can keep up.

Even the largest pharmaceutical companies need to look for reliable technology partners to help them reap the full benefits of artificial intelligence. As they focus on their core competencies, they can work with these partners with their specialist knowledge and competencies to develop a roadmap for the introduction of artificial intelligence. Their partner organization must be able to identify the right solutions and then enable them to be scaled up quickly in a controlled environment.

CI platforms such as PRECIZON from WNS have built-in readiness for the rapid acceleration of R & D enabled by AI. The pace of the market will increasingly require Machine Learning (ML) intelligence for real-time user recommendations and content rating. Delivered in the cloud, such technologies can be integrated into other core systems with personalized content available through all devices. As AI increases the pipeline pace, such scalable enterprise tools become important to ensure insights from robust automated systems that enable collaboration.

Ranking is an ML technique for recommendation systems such as intelligent CI. In what are known as “clustered approaches”, information about user behavior can be used to recommend elements. These recommendations are generated with user-user or item element similarity. Based on these similarity goals, the resulting suggestions are given to the user. By predicting these user preferences, the portal delivers effortless user engagement.

The time for accelerated innovation is now

Interestingly, these new, innovative technologies feed each other. As the growth of artificial intelligence and automation drives various facets of pharma operations to become digital only, companies will increasingly find themselves storing data on cloud-based platforms. They must now start integrating these new technologies into their daily workflows in order to stay relevant and ahead of the competition.

Innovation has always been at the heart of the pharmaceutical industry. However, new drugs are more urgent than ever, although risks and uncertainties continue to rise. Properly implemented, AI and other technologies will enable agile, forward-thinking companies to manage these risks, take advantage of new opportunities and deliver to their employees, shareholders and patients worldwide.

Akhilesh Ayer is Head of Research & Analytics Practice and Mark Halford is SVP-Client Services, Life Sciences and Healthcare Practice at WNS, a leading provider of Global Business Process Management Services (BPM).

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