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Find the Solutions That People are Actually Asking for

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive: September 2023
Volume 43
Issue 9

Embrace the tools that solve real problems and make life easier.

Mike Hollan

Mike Hollan
Assistant managing editor
Pharmaceutical Executive

This summer, I attended several conferences focusing on new technologies in the life sciences industry. While these events were mainly focused on devices and software, there was one common theme that is relevant to the pharmaceutical industry. When it comes to problem-solving and finding solutions, it’s important to make sure that you’re doing two things. First, you’re actually solving a problem. Second, the solution doesn’t create more work.

These two concepts are important for leadership in the pharma industry to remember. As the industry moves into the digital age, more and more companies are looking for ways to incorporate new technologies into drug development and marketing processes. Leadership needs to keep in mind that, just because a new technology can do something, it doesn’t mean it’s making life easier for their workers.

Instead, leaders should listen to their workers and understand the problems they’re facing. This way, they can help find beneficial solutions, as opposed to trying to force a technology into the workflow that doesn’t help (and might actually make things more difficult).

Many companies are embracing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies and software. From a leadership perspective, these advancements are exciting because they seemingly open new possibilities. For example, I’ve previously written about how researchers at BioXcel are using AI for a process they refer to as “re-innovation.” The technology is used to find unexpected connections between drugs, targets, and indications. The company focuses on neuroscience, where it has discovered that molecules designed to treat one condition may impact other systems in beneficial ways. AI is used to analyze the data and find all possible connections these drugs may have. This information is then presented to human researchers, who determine if the connections are of any significance.

This is an example of new technologies being used the right way. Researchers were allowed to identify a problem and then design a platform to solve it. From a leadership perspective, it can be easy to want to add something like AI to every process, but it’s important to remember that it might not actually be solving anything.

Joe Brew, PhD, CEO of Hyfe, spoke with Pharmaceutical Executive® about this issue. While Hyfe is a software company developing a program to detect and quantify coughing, many of the lessons Brew learned still apply to leadership in the pharma industry. According to Brew, the default stance that many companies take is to try to find the coolest thing that new technology can do, but that isn’t always the correct approach.

“AI has the potential to do so many really interesting things, but you have to look first and foremost at the end user and figure out what problem they actually are trying to solve,” he says. “It’s not about doing something that feels magical, but instead doing something that may not feel like anything at all. AI is often built by engineers in Palo Alto who have never been in a clinic or seen a patient. They have these ideas to fix things that nobody is asking to be fixed.”

At the aforementioned tech conferences, there was no shortage of companies showing off new AI-based products. There was also no shortage of experts discussing AI and how it isn’t always being implemented where it needs to be. While a lot of companies were developing tech and software that would allow doctors and researchers to take on more work, that wasn’t something the doctors or researchers were looking for. Instead, many said that they were searching for solutions that would allow them to spend more time on individual projects, as opposed to adding more projects to their workflow.

“The right way is to see what people are saying their problems are that require solving,” says Brew.

There is a lot of exciting technology being developed at a pace that’s difficult to keep up with. Leadership needs to remain focused on the goals of their organizations and not get swept up in the excitement.

AI is the latest new technology trend to grab headlines, but it likely won’t be the last. A few years ago, many were developing decentralized blockchain technologies. Before that, the focus was on smart tech and apps. It’s easy for companies to get caught up in trends, but it’s important for leadership to recognize that it should listen to their employees and only push to include new innovations that actually solve the problems that need to be solved.