April 11, 2019
Reaping the benefits of artificial intelligence in life sciences will depend on the human workforce
By: April Davis

The life sciences industry is often seen as lagging behind other industries in adopting advanced technology solutions, such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA), natural language processing and machine learning (ML). In part, this is because of regulatory restraints that support patient safety and patient data protections, but also because of rapidly advancing technology and the need to put the right workforce in place to maximize technology’s potential.

To drive the discovery and development of life-changing treatments, life sciences companies must take advantage of AI technologies, as they can give us the power to solve real challenges, particularly in product development, drug safety and pharmacovigilance (PV).

Defining AI

Before we look at the opportunities offered by AI technologies, let’s center on a common understanding of what we mean by AI. It’s tough to find a single definition of the term, simply because it’s a collection of technologies that can be brought together to enable machines to act with human-like levels of intelligence—to sense, comprehend and learn.

AI technologies can include the following, and more:

  • Intelligent agents and products
  • Text, speech, image and video analytics
  • Biometrics, facial and gesture recognition
  • Personalization within a digital experience
  • Automated recommendation systems
  • Intelligent automation
  • Collaborative robotics

Not surprisingly, harnessing the power of these advanced technologies can spur new discoveries and drive transformation.

AI Opportunities and Challenges

With a capacity to perform complex analysis much faster than a human can, AI can help researchers comb through complex data to find different uses for existing drugs, help define new drug combinations, or identify opportunities for personalized, targeted treatments. AI technologies are also being used to increase efficiencies and reduce costs and can enable companies to rethink business process challenges and solve critical problems.

However, deploying AI within the life sciences industry without anchoring it to robust compliance and core values may expose companies to significant risks, including employment and human resources, data privacy, health and safety issues. The potential fines and sanctions can threaten a company’s existence.

Applying AI to Pharmacovigilance

Accenture is working with many of its clients to thoughtfully implement AI technologies. Some of the key AI initiatives we’re helping clients with in my area of expertise—pharmacovigilance—are to:

  • Better maintain compliance with regulations and adhere to regulatory reporting guidelines.
  • Close technological gaps and gain incremental efficiencies, implementing automated solutions for risk management, as well as adverse event (AE) data management and reporting.
  • Expand data analytics capabilities, using enhanced signal detection, for example, to advance pharmacovigilance insights.

In addition to implementing the right tools, we’re finding that clients must also ensure that they bring their workforce along as they advance AI technologies. To align the human workforce with AI, clients need to invest in change management programs to encourage a culture of innovation, as well as train and/or hire people with the right skills. While AI can emulate human capabilities, it ultimately must be overseen by actual humans who can manage the risks and reap the rewards of AI’s potential.

In the end, it will come down to delivering on the promise to improve patient outcomes. By combining AI technologies with skilled human workers and smart processes, life sciences companies will be able to more effectively advance discovery, manage drug development and deliver solutions that will make a difference in patients’ lives.

If you would like to learn how Accenture supports companies in their PV automation efforts, or you are interested in talking to me about the PV services we offer, contact me directly. Or better yet, stop by our booth at the World Drug Safety Congress, April 15-17 in Philadelphia—I’d love to meet you there!

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