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PA OPINION

Is technology really an opportunity for pharma?

Everybody’s talking about the disruptive effect of technology on healthcare. Yet is there really any money in technology-enabled services? And how fast will change come?

Our recent webinar, hosted with industry commentators eyeforpharma, featured expert panelists Simon Hall (PA Consulting Group), Ricardo Hermosilla (Roche), Hans-Peter Frank (Vifor Pharma) and Chairman Paul Simms (eyeforpharma) debating these questions.

The discussion started with an old problem - big companies usually aren’t very good at innovation, especially when it comes to embracing new technologies. Pharma companies, with their ‘perfection-based’ models, aren’t set up to experiment, and certainly can’t fail fast. There are too many rules, a restrictive culture and a lack of forward-looking skills.

How can this change?

The panel of experts agreed collaboration with others, through innovation hubs and joint ventures, would be the best way forward. But that was underpinned by a worry that companies can end up getting distracted by the range of new technologies emerging. Successful innovation still requires focused effort.

For an industry concentrated on product, new tech’s emphasis on services can be tricky. But it’s patients who drive demand and their support can determine whether a new device or approach gets approved. To succeed in this new world, companies need to be more customer-oriented and embrace innovation.

Whatever direction pharma goes in, companies will try to follow the money. Our experts didn’t agree whether service-based models would ever provide the same kind of returns as products. They worried that they’re not scalable and they cost more once you include patient support. But there was some evidence that they’re working in specific geographies and patient groups, not least in rare diseases. 

Innovation Matters: What are the 'innovation leaders' doing right?

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Why are pharmas struggling to keep up with technology leaders in driving customer-facing innovation?

More than half our participants felt the problem was pharma’s traditional approach. And with the likes of Amazon entering the healthcare market, our panelists thought pharma should be worried. These new entrants are comfortable with disruption, can scale up fast and are happy with loss-leaders.

But pharma is starting to evolve. Using new technology such as remote monitoring, data capture and artificial intelligence in drug development, for example. Much of this isn’t highly visible but it’s happening and has the potential to be commercialised.

Our panelists thought there was an answer to the technology problem – stick to the core business because that’s delivering returns, while making sure companies prepare for tomorrow. As ever in a discussion about new tech, there was lots of uncertainty about how fast things will happen and what the real impact will be. But there is a clear consensus - change is coming.

Watch the full webinar - Pharma's tech opportunity: can we seize it?

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