The UK’s healthcare and biopharma industries are currently facing disruptions that will undoubtedly transform the UK’s healthcare system. One major disruption is the UK’s exit from the EU, known as Brexit; however, there are other urgent issues that the UK industry needs to address. Like other businesses, the healthcare sector is entering the period of digital disruption, and experts at the Pharma Integrates event held on 15-16 November in London discussed how the UK’s healthcare and biopharma industries must embrace digital advancements if the country is to remain a world leader in healthcare research.

The UK is particularly fortunate to own a large amount of real-world health data collected through National Health Service (NHS) records. Amid the ongoing rapid advances in digital technology and artificial intelligence, companies and institutions have the ability to analyse these data to advance drug development and provide better patient care.

The majority of these patient data are in the possession of Public Health England (PHE). On 17 November, a review was published along with an implementation plan to ensure the timely accessibility and use of these data sets through the Department of Health, PHE and NHS Digital.

Unbiased analysis of such complex data through advanced technology could open doors for the pharmaceutical industry to identify better drug targets, produce high-value products faster and improve personalised medicine efforts. Through the use of patient data, the high attrition rate of clinical trials and the cost of drug development could be reduced, thereby supporting market access for pharmaceutical innovation.

Digital innovation: can the UK keep up?

Digital technology and artificial intelligence are likely to soon become an integrated part of the management of at least some of the major chronic diseases. One already existing example for this is the fact that smart watches can track health data, such as heart rate, step count, distance walked, and amount of sleep. Smart phone apps, hubs, and microchips that could monitor health and disease activity could provide invaluable information to ensure early diagnosis and determine the value of drugs in a real world setting.

Moreover, crowded general practitioner (GP) offices could become a thing of the past with tools such as the already available smartphone apps, NowGP and Push Doctor, which allow on-the-go video consultation with qualified GPs.

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However, the UK makes up only 3% of the global pharmaceutical market, which can make it uninviting for manufacturers to develop and commercialise advanced therapies in the UK. Additionally, chronic diseases are becoming more and more prevalent as a result of the aging UK population. This could become an economic burden that will tighten the budget of the NHS, thereby potentially limiting access to innovative treatments.

Although the UK has been at the forefront of research into advanced therapies, the country also needs to secure the manufacturing of these high-value products for worldwide distribution. To capture investments and secure the UK’s leading position as a world class hub for manufacturing advanced therapies, a group called the Advanced Therapies Manufacturing Taskforce has been set up.

Digital disruption is inevitable in any business, and experts at the Pharma Integrates event outlined the importance of embracing new technology to advance drug development and healthcare by exploiting the UK’s unique access to real-world data to make the country a world leader in innovative medicine.