Expert Roundup: How Technology is Shaping the Future of Life Sciences

Industry leaders share perspectives on moving the life sciences industry forward.

Technology is continuously reshaping the way we live, work, and interact, including how we research, develop, test, and handle data in life sciences. To share perspective into how the industry is preparing for the future, we gathered leading voices from across the life sciences and digital health communities for our annual summit, Breakthrough. Our virtual conference featured two days of discussion on the technologies, innovations, and trends powering the next generation of life sciences. Pharma leaders shared their own perspectives on the life science industry and presented advancements in areas like clinical development, patient safety and regulatory affairs. A recurring theme is that artificial intelligence (AI) and automation have the ability to propel life sciences into a new era.

Here are the top trends we learned from Breakthrough2021.

Driving change through enterprise automation

Intelligent systems are making mundane tasks a thing of the past and accelerating the pace of innovation for R&D teams that have traditionally been plagued by inefficient and time-consuming manual processes. According to our 2021 State of the Industry Report, a majority (83%) of the life sciences community is now using some level of automation across their R&D processes.

Pharmacovigilance is one of the main areas driving increased automation adoption, which will continue to grow within global safety functions. In the words of Priyank Agarwal, head of IT global medical safety at Johnson & Johnson: “Intelligent automation became an outright catalyst for this transformation forcing fundamental and structural changes in how businesses perceived and conducted shifts in market environments.”

But as our own VP of Marketing, Sam Stein, points out, only 4.7% of organizations report a mature adoption of cognitive automation, “signifying that, broadly speaking, we are just in the early stages of advanced digital transformation.”

Indeed, within patient safety there is great potential for the life sciences industry to accelerate growth by combining today’s rich and diverse data sets with AI and machine learning (ML). Beena Wood, vice president of safety product management at ArisGlobal, weighs in: “Safety case volumes are rising at 30%-50% annually. It's no longer the solution to add more and more human resources to tackle this problem. However, having intelligent and innovative technology such as automation, including AI, robotic process automation or also known as software robotics, and rule-based automation, is the answer.”

Industry leaders agree that automation will increase speed to market, streamline processes, and deliver safer, more effective treatments. But, with all of the hype about automation, organizations should understand that automation will not entirely replace human beings. Christoph Koenen, MD, EVP and Chief Medical Officer at Otsuka Pharmaceutical Development & Commercialization, Inc., shared that “digital innovation will be key while still incorporating the human touch throughout the entire journey to provide personal support when and where it is needed.” In this way, it is imperative to understand that the AI and ML processes are powerful and efficient, but technology is still at its optimal performance with human oversight and input.

Intersection of technology and healthcare is just beginning

We live in an increasingly connected world that has created an explosion of rich and diverse data sets. Combining this flood of data with advancements in AI and ML, the possibilities of what can be accomplished by the life sciences industry have grown exponentially. But a faster pace of change can also bring complexity, and the potential of digital health is just being realized.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the life sciences industry is embracing technology and using it to help drive fundamentally better outcomes. Our industry is increasingly converging with digital healthcare, which can include categories like telehealth and telemedicine, health information technology, and wearable devices, and continues to grow rapidly. According to Sean Duffy, co-founder and CEO of Omada Health, “$14.1 billion in capital was invested, and there were 637 new digital health companies spawned, just in 2020.”

There is clear excitement and potential as key players in the life sciences value chain begin to lean into technology and start their digital transformation. Rohit Sood, executive vice president of complete commercialization at EVERSANA, shares his thoughts: “Data is unlocking new doors which marks a fundamental shift in the market. The cost of processing data has gone down dramatically. The data and technology available to us allow us to make better decisions, faster decisions. The life sciences industry is learning to incorporate data and analytics in a very meaningful way.”

Wout Hesen, director of application lifecycle management at Astellas, agrees that data will play an increasingly important role in life sciences and envisions how technology will affect the regulatory affairs space. “An interesting fix we may see in the future is away from documents and more toward data. I think there are going to be a lot of things happening in the regulatory space, not just from a technology perspective, but also from stakeholders and eventually regulators.”

Collaborate to advance life sciences

One of the consistent themes brought to the forefront during Breakthrough2021 was the concept of collaboration and integration as a means to advance life sciences. To progress, life sciences organizations need to eliminate the silos that exist between functions, from the medical affairs and safety areas to the clinical development and regulatory affairs space.

My colleague, our Chief Product Officer Pat Jenakanandhini, put it well by saying that, “the trends in the life sciences industry are making teams more interconnected than ever. To succeed, teams must collaborate more closely, data must flow more freely, and business processes must be streamlined. Successfully executed, digital transformation strategies can have a huge impact on drug development and patient lives.”

Arvind Bellur, head of safety systems and data management at Sanofi, also underscores the importance of constructive collaboration and using technology to enable this collaboration. “If we can simplify the way we collect information and increase quality then transfer it efficiently to regulators and have that conversation with them, we are learning. We are sharing the information with regulatory and industry peers so everyone can benefit.”

We are at a transformative period in life sciences, propelled forward by automation, technology adoption, and a renewed approach to collaboration for the greater good. Thank you to all of the leaders, innovators, and adopters that joined us for Breakthrough2021. The future looks promising, and I am excited to see what medical breakthroughs you are able to accomplish next.

Sankesh Abbhi is the President and CEO of ArisGlobal