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Big Data and AI shake up pharmaceuticals industry

While AI presents opportunities for traditional pharmas, it also opens the door to threats

In my last blog post on pharmaceuticals, I noted how the industry – perhaps more than any other – can regularly be found at the forefront of innovation. This applies both to the development of innovative treatments, and to the technologies used to develop and bring new medicines and healthcare solutions to market.

Among the many different innovations, Big Data and AI (artificial intelligence) now play an increasingly central role in the pharmaceuticals industry. One area of massive impact is in diagnosis.

Big data analytics allow scientists and medical practitioners to identify patterns and anomalies amid huge volumes of data, collected from a variety of sources, more quickly than ever before. This is especially impactful in screening programmes. What’s more, AI-powered algorithms are increasingly being used by researchers and doctors to help interpret medical imaging, often resulting in speedier diagnosis and less intrusive testing.

In addition to improving outcomes for patients, AI technologies have the potential to massively reduce risk for industry players.


Using AI to reduce risk in the pharma industry

One of the greatest risks facing the producers of new medicines in the pharmaceuticals industry is the time and cost it takes to develop a product. During the development period any number of scenarios could see the project fold, resulting in the loss of the initial investment.

A product pipeline of a decade or more, along with billions of dollars investment has, up until now, been the norm.

AI is shaking up this process and has the potential to cut years off development pipeline timelines. In fact, its value in this area is now regarded to be so important that my colleague in the USA, Patrick Scardina wrote in a recent Atradius publication on AI in pharmaceuticals: “If pharmaceutical and healthcare companies do not invest in AI, they will face an uphill challenge in keeping investors motivated and bringing drugs to market.”


AI represents disruptive opportunities and threats for pharmaceuticals

Without question, AI has the potential to disrupt traditional pipelines of drug development. However, it could also disrupt our understanding of a what a pharma company looks like. My colleague, Judy Ji, Pharmaceuticals Expert for Asia Pacific, noted that non-pharmaceuticals companies are already building a presence in the healthcare sector. This includes everything from real estate developers that are building hospitals, to GPS manufacturers that have entered the wearable healthcare markets.

Businesses that have traditionally remained in the tech sector are now entering – and disrupting –pharmaceuticals. Some are start-ups bringing personalised care solutions and telehealth direct to patients and competition direct to traditional pharmas.

Instead of competing, others are partnering with existing pharmaceuticals businesses to develop new therapies. This can be seen in the partnership between Amazon Web Services, Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca and Teva to launch AION Labs with the focus of transforming drug discovery. It can also be seen in healthcare delivery, such as the partnership between Ypsomed, CamDiab and Abbott to develop an artificial pancreas that uses an algorithm to help manage background insulin levels of diabetes patients based on real-time glucose readings.


An industrial revolution in the pharmaceuticals sector

The use of AI in the pharmaceuticals industry represents a revolution in all aspects of healthcare development and delivery. And it is growing. According to research by Morgan Stanley, the industry is projected to invest USD 50 billion a year on AI to speed up drug development within the next decade. It is a complex and fast-moving area, subject to regulations that also have to keep pace with the rapid change.

For sure, AI and Big Data present many opportunities for innovation and growth for big and small traditional pharmas as well as new entrants to the market. As with anything new, it also carries a health warning for potential business risk and is an area that I, and my colleagues at Atradius, will continue to monitor closely.


Download our report: AI injects a growth opportunity for pharmaceuticals industry


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