Many life sciences organizations have been experimenting with digital technologies to meet the needs and expectations of patients, employees and business partners. From genomics and biomarkers to companion technologies, diagnostics, and delivery methods, science and digital technology are driving growth, improving R&D and clinical outcomes, and transforming patient experiences.
In our 2019 Life Sciences Technology Vision, we identified several key trends that are contributing to this growth: DARQ Power, MyMarkets and Human+ Workers. Collectively, these trends are driving transformation and the majority of companies recognize their importance. The challenge now is to move from siloed pilots and small-scale integration to deploying them at scale.
Embracing the post-digital landscape
Accenture Research found that New Science, which combines science and technology, is projected to drive 54 percent of industry growth through 2022. Adjusting to this new digital landscape won’t be easy, but for those companies who are willing to embrace advancements in digital data, genomics and diagnostics, as well as new methods, technologies and therapeutics, opportunities abound; those who don’t will face significant challenges.
Already we have seen key players in the industry making significant moves to capitalize on the opportunity. Earlier this fall, global healthcare company Novartis announced a five-year partnership with software giant Microsoft. The partnership is designed to help interpret huge amounts of data generated from Novartis’ lab experiments, clinical trials and manufacturing plants. By bringing Microsoft's AI capabilities into Novartis' drug development pipeline, the partnership will focus first on treatments for age-related macular degeneration and then on improving manufacturing of CAR-T cancer therapies.
What is interesting about this is that the partnership was championed by Novartis CEO, Vas Narasimhan, rather than the company’s CTO. This signals a shift in how Novartis defines its core business drivers, moving digital technology from a supplementary role into one at the center of operations. For those of us working in life sciences, the Novartis/Microsoft partnership should serve as a harbinger for the transformation that is underway. The time has come to move beyond piloting and make real investment.
Trends that are driving the future
Accenture’s 2019 Life Sciences Technology Vision report revealed several trends that are collectively paving the way to the future of life sciences. The successful biopharma and medical technology companies of the future will run toward, not away from, the changing technological and market landscape.
Of the trends that we identified in our report, three drivers emerged as key to navigating transformation.
DARQ power is a suite of technologies that includes Distributed Ledgers, AI, Extended Realty solutions and Quantum Computing. Our report showed that 71 percent of life sciences executives believe the combination of these technologies will produce extensive or transformational change over the next three years. An example of the DARQ in action is the quantum computing software company 1Qbit, which released a solution, QEMIST, that allows researchers to accurately calculate and predict molecular structures before they are synthesized in a lab environment. This significantly reduces the development timeline while increasing likelihood of success in of new drugs.
Another key trend is MyMarkets, which delivers unique patient data through wearable biometric devices. As our world has become increasingly more digital, patients are likely to already be using digital tech and wearables and have grown accustomed to personalized services outside of healthcare. Understanding how patients interact with technologies can provide valuable insights into their usage of future digital health solutions, such as more detailed data in clinical trials.
Consumer wearables like Apple Watch are, for the first time, introducing FDA-approved apps on their devices, further accelerating their use for clinical care. Eighty-eight percent of life sciences executives agree that integrating customized services and real-time delivery will usher in the next wave of competitive advantage, furthering the importance of MyMarkets.
With life sciences companies expanding their use of technologies across the value chain, they increasingly require a workforce that is capable of unlocking the power of technology. Human+ Workers are empowered by their skillsets and knowledge, as well as a constantly growing set of capabilities made possible through technology. Eighty-two percent of life sciences executives believe that technology has increased the need for re-skilling of the workforce. New approaches to talent acquisition and training powered by AI and other technologies will be help unlock the full potential of their Human+ Workers.
Moving the needle: Taking steps beyond experimental
Some of the technologies behind this year’s trends are new while others are already in use but applied in new ways. In order to capitalize on the opportunities, it is important to identify barriers to adoption—including, leadership that is resistant to change, a lack of fully interconnected databases, the fear of failure, and insufficient funding.
By identifying the barriers, we can look toward solutions. Case in point, Accenture’s acquisition of ?What If!, a UK-based firm that uses an experimentation-driven approach to help clients incubate new products, services and organizational cultures. ?What If! serves FTSE 100 and other leading companies across a variety of industries—including healthcare, finance, high tech, industrial, mobility and consumer goods and services—through a process of experimentation to de-risk bigger, bolder solutions and accelerate them to market. For life sciences companies who typically move at much slower pace, engaging with ?What If! can help accelerate drug and medical device development.
As companies become more inquisitive, with new systems for sharing data, the likelihood of discoveries increases. Previously siloed data can now be linked between researchers, clinical trials, scientists—the entire value chain of development—in ways that haven’t been possible until now. There is still work to do here, but as we create a standard language across all data sources, the ability to locate and identify information from huge sets of data presents an enormous opportunity.
We are at a convergence, where the tech that can facilitate breakthroughs exists, it’s just a question of deploying it at scale. Accenture’s INTIENT Platform is helping solve this challenge by enabling the application of artificial intelligence and advanced analytics to vast datasets—delivering insights that can lead to better patient outcomes, faster than ever before.
Changing the narrative
There is a belief that regulators will be slow to accept new technologies, but it isn’t necessarily true. As an example, the FDA has already released draft guidance for brain-computer interface devices, an emerging technology that allows users direct control of devices with their thoughts. In addition, they have released a discussion paper on the use of AI in clinical trials—something that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.
While many people in the industry believe that regulators will be a bottle neck during this transformation, the opposite has been shown. Regulators understand that technology and new science will indeed drive the future and it is important to change this narrative from inside the industry and engage the regulatory agencies early in the process.
The challenges taking place can sometimes seem overwhelming, but it is important to take the first steps. For years, many life science companies have been stuck in a sort of pilot paralysis, but as an industry we are making significant moves to go beyond pilot phases, with proper investment and the opportunity to deploy at a larger scale.
Over the past 18 months, we have seen the conversation evolve from, “Can this new device provide data that might be interesting?” to “What new data would be valuable to collect?” Further, we are moving from a “What do we have to do differently to be able to use data in a meaningful way?” to, more recently, “What are the business imperatives these technologies can enable, and what do we need to do to deploy them at scale?”
As this last question comes to the foreground, it is encouraging to see how it is making historically siloed organizations work together differently to reimagine existing processes—all with the patient as the core focus.
For more information on the survey results, please read our 2019 Life Sciences Technology Vison: Post-digital technologies for next-generation care.