Sameer Lal, Indegene's Senior Vice President of Enterprise Medical Solutions, discusses their new study 'Reshaping Pharmacovigilance in the Age of AI'
Can you tell me about Indegene’s new study 'Reshaping Pharmacovigilance in the Age of AI'?
Sameer Lal: One part of my business is very focused on pharmacovigilance is also commonly also known as safety. And we wanted to get a sense of what are our customers feeling like, right in terms of their day-to-day challenges in terms of where they are in their journey. And we commissioned this study, done in July. We tried to get a representative sample of about 100 of our customers. We met folks who had a focus in the US focus on EU also with the global remit. And similarly, who are based in different geographies to truly get across sample, we also tried to get a cross section of folks in terms of the actual focus areas and not just in terms of TV end to end. But perhaps they might be focused on one aspect and not the other. So, we really want to get a comprehensive view. And I thought that we did a pretty good job of that.
Your study reports that only 5% of the organizations have used AI/ML technology. What's the hurdle that companies are struggling to get over and really utilize this technology?
SL: There’s two parts, if you'd asked me this question about a year back, it would have been different response because at that time our biggest hurdle was actually technology itself. It had not developed to that extent, and we still were not comfortable and confident in terms of the outcomes that we were getting. But cut to today, I think some of those barriers from the technology side has started to dissipate. But the barrier, which also remains on the customer side is change management, right? Because whether we like it or not, there are six ways of doing things. That's the way things have been done for so long. So, it takes time for human behavior to evolve and change. So long short of it has been some of it from the technology side, which has started to evolve. And some of it has been on customer side for them to change their ways of working to get the best outcome possible. And perhaps that reflects in that 5% data point. But if I were to do the survey today, I'm pretty certain that number will be five times that already, because we've seen that change start to happen since.
Instead of downsizing, where can companies take employees who have had their job tasks lessened by the AI and plug them in to keep utilizing their knowledge?
SL: I’d like to start with an analogy. If you're like me, I'm pretty certain you haven't washed your car in a little while, right? I go to a neighborhood carwash, I pay $15. And that gets done in 10 minutes. However, when it comes on the other side, I go to a site where they actually have vacuums, I use them by hand. And I also do the final detailing on my car myself. And the end, I get a feel something which I'm truly happy about right. Now what it has done is that I have not spent the hour which I would normally do, it now gets done in 10 minutes, obviously, I have to pay more, which I in the past, I would have done free. However, I can use that time well. And in the end, I still need to do the finishing touches to get the product, but I want. Now if I take that to our business world, with technology coming in perhaps the first draft, if it's a medical writer, may come from technology. However, we'll still need much higher level of supervision, we need a higher level of data fact check come because you know, technology comes with what is called as hallucination to make sure it's accurate is fit for purpose. It has a narrative which only humans can do. So, my premise is that with technology, right, the role of humans can actually get elevated. And it's up to us to actually embrace this change, right and get the best out of that.
Can you tell me more about the automation trends you saw in your study? How are companies building their automated offerings?
SL: If you know the PV value chain starts from the intake side and traditionally, it's been very heavy on using a call center right or email and so on. So, we starting to see a huge amount of automation focus on the intake side. So, speech to text as somebody's calling, can that get converted into text using your smartphones, things of that nature. And from there is technology being used for actual case processing. So, this process has traditionally been very, very manual. So, we've seen companies starting to push the envelope in saying, do we really need as many people can technology help to do some of these pieces. And then is the final piece, the reporting aspect of it now, and once again, I mentioned earlier, can we look at large amount of data and then create first start, which then human can take to the finish line. So, we've seen customers willing to engage in all of these pieces, a lot more work has happened on the intake side. But from our vantage point, we see a lot of traction and interest on processing as well as aggregate reporting, work still needs to be done in the signal detection side, but I'm sure that day is not too far away.
Where do you see the industry heading in the next five years?
SL: From my vantage point, I feel generative AI/ML in general is a tectonic shift, similar to what internet happened a couple of decades back move to cloud computing happened recently, right? This is that third generational shift, as far as technology is bringing to bear. And I feel there's opportunity here to look at anything which is being done on a repetitive nature, can that be done using technology, anything? Which is production development. Does it need to be done by humans at all? And third, can humans have to truly value-added work, and therefore the opportunity is to do things human like but at scale? Right. So, at the other end, it could be generated using technology, but it's quite flawless as compared to, perhaps humans are capable of, we're still not there, we still a couple of years away. But the flip side of that is, as humans, I believe that we have a much higher expectation of technology. Again, taking another analogy, look at self-driven cars, we all hear headlines of suppose self-driving car causes an accident and somebody unfortunately, loses their life. But you know, how many lives get lost when humans drive a car every single day? It's in 1000s? Do they make headlines? None at all? So, we as humans, keep technology at a much higher pedestrian, so to speak, and rightly so. No, right? But hopefully, as we start to become more and more comfortable, we will make this truly incorporated into our daily lives. Right? And then some now will all becomes very seamless. So, I'm very, very hopeful nobody sanguine five years from now. Our industry will definitely be far better for it. And ultimately the pharmaceutical industry is known for innovation, right? So, if nothing else, we will be the harbinger of change.