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Digital Tools are Key to Advancing the Tech Revolution in Pharma

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive: February 2023
Volume 43
Issue 02

Their integration across enterprise remains pivotal driver for success.

Advances in pharmaceutical medicine over the last 100 years have largely been accredited to the pioneering research of scientists and technological breakthroughs developed by engineers, who discovered, commercialized, and produced new medicines at scale.

As technology took on a more significant role in pharma, it was mainly thought of only as operations support, providing computer services (such as hardware and software assets), manufacturing, security and data processing, and management.

Today, technology is an engine of innovation, integrated throughout the enterprise to accelerate advances in discovery and innovation. Nowhere has this been more evident—and vital—than in the pharma industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as researchers, data scientists, digital technology professionals, engineers, and others worked hand-in-glove to fast-track the development of COVID vaccines and antibody treatments that saved millions of lives.

As the events of the last two years have made abundantly clear, the goal of discovery and innovation within pharma is to bring new medicines to patients with speed and purpose and to make life better for people around the world. But what is the “secret sauce” to achieving those goals? Among the most crucial ingredients is how we leverage digital tools, like machine learning (ML), across the enterprise.

The potential of ML in drug discovery is no more evident than in its power to develop and discover models of new and existing molecules that warrant further research as potential new medicines. For generations, the process of drug discovery has been a time-consuming and tedious process, dependent on the exceptional skills and intuition of scientists and researchers to painstakingly identify, through trial-and-error, potential new drug targets.

Today, we must use our expertise to employ ML to distill billions of data points that can develop 3D modeling of the most promising molecules and targets for those molecules. This model-driven drug discovery gives scientists a better, more accurate starting point for their research and offers the potential to shorten the time it takes to bring new medicines to patients by several years. Additionally, digital tools need to continue transforming clinical trials, especially if we are to reach diverse and underserved patient populations.

Digital tools and connectivity give us the power to gather large amounts of real-time data in new, more efficient ways, bringing entirely new ways to track patient symptoms. Whether it is a wearable heart rate or sleep monitor, or even the new digital watch, these devices can remotely monitor health status in real time and produce digital biomarkers that can completely transform how we conduct clinical trials. In the past, physicians and researchers would have relied on subjective reports from patients.

This remote monitoring capability is making clinical trials more accessible to people who would otherwise be unable to participate by reducing or in some cases eliminating the burden of the time and travel necessary for the multiple clinic visits that have been the hallmark of most clinical trials. This also helps improve diversity in clinical trials, a topic of importance in the industry today. Just as important, these devices provide more accurate real-time and objective information that can significantly reduce the time it takes to conduct a trial. Once a new medicine has been approved, the connectivity of these monitoring devices, integrated with the therapeutic itself, can help a patient work with their physicians to maximize the health benefits of their medicines.

Finally, pharma will need to develop data platforms, often referred to as “sensor clouds,” that enable data and analytics experts to access the most appropriate information more efficiently, leverage ML, and create algorithms that better reflect a patient’s disease journey. The industry can then translate that data into information patients can use immediately—empowering them with connected apps and delivering a patient-first approach to their care.

The integration of technology is having a profound and powerful impact on pharma. While the industry continues to test the mettle of these digital tools, we are again experiencing ways to continue to revolutionize pharma via faster, more efficient clinical trials, empowering patients, and discovering critical new medicines.

Diogo Rau, executive vice president and chief information and digital officer, Eli Lilly and Company

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