Digitalization In Pharmacy

Disruptive technologies and emerging trends such as robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, precision medicine or patient design will impact the manufacturing and distribution of pharmaceuticals. In order to prepare successfully for a better future of healthcare, the pharma industry has to embrace new technologies and put a greater focus on prevention and digital health.

Hi, I’m Ali Mirzaei, The Pharmacy student, and in this blogpost, I’d like to talk about what we can expect to see from the pharmaceutical industry in this new decade. With leaps in A.I., patient empowerment and 3D printed drugs, I want to present 5 pharma trends that will be the focus of pharmaceutical companies in the coming years.

A.I. for drug R&D

The revenue of the worldwide pharmaceutical market is 1.2 trillion dollars. With such capital at stake and with the pace of technological disruption, the pharma industry has to adapt to the changing times. They have to embrace new technologies, therapies and innovations and put a greater focus on prevention and digital health. Smart pharma companies are already making moves into these spaces, so let’s take a dive into the five trends how big pharma will adapt to these changing times. A.I. for drug R&D A recent report forecasts that the market of artificial intelligence in global healthcare will reach 31 billion dollars by 2025. A.I. ‘s myriad of applications can bring speed and savings in this sector, so pharma companies were quick to recognize that. Companies like Atomwise, Turbine and Deep Genomics use artificial intelligence to identify the most suitable drugs for medical conditions. Compared to traditional methods, they are doing it way more efficiently, and in record time, while they actually manage to cut down on the costs. A prime example is Atomwise, a company that’s providing its algorithm to perform drug research in developing a treatment for treating Ebola. The algorithm predicted that two compounds would prevent the Ebola virus from entering the cell. This analysis, which typically would have taken months or even years, was completed in days! With the potential that lies in A.I-aided drug design. I even expect to see a startup using A.I. for drug design becoming a pharma company itself and soon running its own clinical trials soon.This will allow such a company to have more input in a drug’s fate and see it through from conception to fruition, rather than just lending its algorithm and having big pharma take over the rest of the process.


Patient design

Patient design, we talk a lot about how patient design is the way forward and I fully expect drug companies to realize that too. If they want to stay ahead of the curve, they will undeniably have to involve patients in their decision-making processes. In our connected world aided with health trackers and online communities, patients are more empowered than ever to make their demands heard. in the case of diabetes, patients basically barged through an impenetrable ivory tower of big pharma, after they failed to provide innovative products to better attend to their needs. The community decided to not wait anymore and took matters in its own hands. This movement led to initiatives like open-sourced DIY artificial pancreas, discussion platforms and cloud-based solutions like Tidepool, which makes diabetes data more accessible and actionable. Heeding to the patient’s demands, the FDA approved the first artificial pancreas two years after the DIY artificial pancreas was made publicly available. By further embracing patients’ input, the FDA created its own patient engagement advisory board. Pharma companies need to follow the FDA’s move. The rise of DIY medicine movements show that people want their voices heard when it comes to making medicine more available and affordable.

In Silico Experiments

Drug companies must involve patients in drug designs, trials and even decision-making to better attend to their needs. In silico trials You’ve heard of in vivo and in vitro experiments before, now you’ll have to get used to in silico ones which are experiments conducted by a computer simulation. Yes, we are getting close to simulating organs, and testing the effects of different drugs and treatments on them. This technology can completely bypass in vivo clinical testing. Besides the obvious time and cost effectiveness, in silico trials completely circumvent animal testing as well and side effects on human and animal participants. As it stands today, the technology and biological understanding are not there yet to simulate clinical trials at 100%, but with big players like the FDA betting heavily on in silico trials, key players are envisioning a future where we’ll eventually get there… New technologies in the supply chain Technological innovation not only impacts drug development but also the drug supply chain in. As I said, with A.I., pharma companies can slash the time of drug development from years to days, saving cost and time while shortening the drug production cycle so they reach patients faster.

New Technologies in the Pharmaceutical Supply Process

Further shortening the cycle is the integration of robotics. Companies like Denso Robotics offer robots to automate tasks in the manufacturing processes. Robotics, in the form of exoskeletons, can further augment manual labor by assisting them with heavy loads and long hours. Security along the supply chain can also benefit from a boost with a technology originating from the financial system: blockchain. Counterfeit drugs might offer a cheaper alternative but they are the cause of tens of thousands of deaths worldwide, while the fake drug trade continues to be a profitable multi-billion-dollar business. In Asia, Africa and South America, such drugs make up around 10-30% of the total medicines on sale. Blockchain could bring a radical security measure to the drug distribution chain via a barcode record system that can be tracked from the manufacturer to the end user. This way, medicines can be tracked in real-time by authorized parties and patients, making it much more difficult for criminal networks to thrive. By being a simple yet secure measure, we will see pharma companies investing more and more into blockchain.

New business strategies of big pharma companies

New drug strategies Rather than focusing on traditional drug manufacturing and marketing, pharma companies will focus on newer approaches relying on technology to appeal more to providers and payers.  The “around the pill” strategy is one such approach. It means that rather than just producing and selling drugs as they are, It’s about developing a drug and attaching a digital health technology to it instead. Let me show you an example: When pharma giant Roche saw a potential in a technology-centric approach like that, they acquired the mySugr app diabetes management app and paired it with Roche’s Accu-Chek Guide glucose meter. With that method they allowed diabetics to have a new, gamified experience to manage their condition. By logging in their blood glucose levels, completing tasks and challenges, users can “tame their diabetes monster”. Today, Roche’s head of diabetes-care unit, forecasts that “the way forward will mean selling a total experience, not just a product.”

To offer another glimpse into the future, soon you can even print your medications at home. Since the FDA approved Spritam, the first 3D-printed prescription drug to treat symptoms of epilepsy, the technology has been slowly but surely improving. Researchers are now even investigating the manufacture of multi-layered “polypills” via 3D-printing. These are made to contain several drugs with the aim to help patients adhere to their regimen and better manage their medications. Drug companies will definitely need to invest in developing this technology further to better help patient treatments. So, these are the five trends I expect big pharma to follow in the upcoming years. Cheers!


Ali Mirzaei

Ali Mirzaei


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