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Current Pandemic: Digital technologies to the rescue for Pharma
Aditi Chakraborty Senior Manager - Life Sciences & Healthcare | May 26, 2020
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Co-authored by Ajay Tomar

We are going through trying times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Driven by various government mandates around lockdowns and social distancing, organizations are faced with a difficult choice of ensuring business continuity without compromising on employee safety. Practicing social distancing and not allowing a large congregation of people at one place has led to disruption in social life, businesses, and people attending offices, meetings, and conferences. Organizations are compelled to devise methods to enable work digitally and remotely in order to support mission-critical activities during this period of social distancing. Life Sciences and Healthcare (LSH) is probably the most important industry that absolutely must keep the lights on and ensure maximum business continuity at this critical stage of disease spread and social distancing. Organizations within this industry are looking at immediately embracing digital solutions for all their stakeholders—employees, patients, HCP, suppliers, and customers—as a part of their crisis management initiative.

Life Sciences & Healthcare is probably the most important industry which must keep the lights on and ensure business continuity at this critical stage

Acceleration in Virtual Collaborative research to combat COVID19, while addressing the values around collaboration in terms of Data Share, Privacy and Transparency concerns, is of primary importance

Virtual team collaboration and new life sciences consortiums to accelerate COVID-19 therapies have mushroomed in the wake of this crisis. However, the LSH industry is regulation driven and deals with sensitive and confidential data at almost every step and hence few critical aspects need to be considered before adopting newer ways of collaboration. So the pertinent questions here to be ascertained can be:

  • What collaboration systems are there already in place?
  • What information do various business units (like R&D, manufacturing, supply chain, and commercial) need access to, share with others across divisions and medium, and at what frequency to collaborate?
  • How can we have provisions for easy access and better data sharing while handling data security at every level?
  • How to tap into HCP/Patient social media and virtual communications for harnessing the potential of RWE based decision making?
  • How to handle the compliance related aspects when it comes to health data portability?

These questions are crucial if we keep the following perspectives in mind:

  • Ongoing focus on drug data repurposing, sharing proprietary compound libraries, sharing pre-assessed efficacy and safety data to identify potential candidates, get theories corroborated with leading institutes globally, and shorten the clinical testing cycle.
  • Companies are being asked for RWE data on COVID patients to perform analysis (AI/ML based) to help generate the following information:
    • Prediction on the spread of the disease.
    • Tracking of essential resources in the health system such as ventilators and oxygen.
    • The potential impact on pharmaceutical stock and alternative treatments.
  • Shift to a virtual trial approach is recommended by FDA after this pandemic, across the study lifecycle. These include—fast deployment of trial-specific apps, including clinical decision support systems, device provisioning, remote device management, real-time data collection and storage, tracking direct-to-patient services, other telehealth based services to connect the trial personnel with HCPs, and the trial participants with the help of digital channels.
  • Ensuring rapid management of operational activities, such as admission, consent management, notification to sponsor, data capture, etc., for live trials. Remote monitoring of all of these as a seamless connected process with near real-time information flow. This is important from an investigator’s perspective in this COVID scenario.
  • Real-time data gathering and visualization of any disruption to workflows across the supply chain networks that are beyond regional boundaries via digital channels.
  • Maintaining connection with product/devices/ equipment suppliers and manufacturers, and potential prospects for product-specific updates to ensure business continuity in the ongoing travel restrictions.
  • Self-upskilling and tutorials to build up on scientific knowledge and new discoveries on the forefront.
  • Health care providers (HCPs) who have been supporting health efforts put forth by the government, are required to channelize the same to the end beneficiaries not only at a faster pace but also in a handicapped environment where fully functional traditional touch point/point of care facilities have been impacted. That is where leveraging digital channels for remote and urgent monitoring of patients and a flexible ramp up of a skilled taskforce is required. Digital channels will enable HCPs to react to emergency and critical situations across locations as quickly as possible.
  • Helping HCPs to quickly plan for conducting awareness drives/crisis management/austerity measures for COVID-19 compassionately across Healthcare staff and patients.
  • Quick collaboration among payers/Medicare personnel with partners to simplify process constraints related to COVID therapy and testing options, remote monitoring of patients, coverage, and access to medication.
  • Accelerating knowledge transfer, on-boarding to patient management programs; access to medication and POC testing kits, as well as virtual monitoring to therapy adherence within the healthcare system.
  • A mechanism for effective network infrastructure and device management, or a quick redefining of the security policies to enable remote access within the healthcare system.

In this situation, some of the areas where digital technology adoption can be accelerated to deliver quick results include:

  1. Smart Digital Solutions: The way mobility solutions have made advancements in additional areas by leveraging IOT, we can explore digital solutions and end-to-end automation, including the last mile coverage that can be achieved through digital signatures and various document encryption methodologies.
  2. Cybersecurity: The threats that LSH firms face from cybercrime is even more accentuated in this vulnerable state. The remote working methods and increased usage of BYOD heightens the chances of insider threats, which means that the awareness programs about such risks should be immediately conducted within the organization as well as its partner ecosystem in a limited timeframe. Solutions such as encryption, privileged access management, tools to protect online and data security, and compliance monitoring need to be deployed on priority in a remote workplace ecosystem. 
  3. Remote Engagement Solutions: Virtual connection, messaging, web conferencing, and collaboration are very critical in terms of accelerating the R&D process, quickening the supply chain and production, patient engagement, and approval mechanisms to enable real-time decision making and effective data sharing.
  4. Right Infrastructure: With remote working being the order of the day, device management and network infrastructure are going through a stress test. It is important that network infrastructure and device management are scaled up and made resilient to support this new normal.
  5. Usage of RWD and AI: These can help pharma and public health bodies in areas of disease spread and supply chain networks to integrate monitoring of global data sources.
  6. Self-service tools – Leverage Digital self-service tools like symptom checker & Virtual Care assistance to ensure the health well-being of employees.

COVID-19 has put global healthcare systems under tremendous strain with not enough medical supplies and protective gear, drug research going through a blip, highly contagion disease with virus mutations, not enough ventilators and beds. Not the least, the overall impact to the economy and public health. But at the same time, it has provided us with a reality check on our preparedness on data security and emergency response protocols. Investments made in leveraging digital technologies will not only help reduce the level of disruption caused but also provide relief and results to combat this situation. Some of these actions may actually result in a new normal being created globally, where in the post-COVID era we become more organized, proactive, and connected to function digitally across levels, organizations, and regions to deliver faster and efficient ways of achieving our healthcare objectives.