The pharma industry – and clinical trials in particular – have been significantly disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For example, lockdowns and social distancing have made it all but impossible for many ill patients to visit their trial sites for monitoring and medication. It has also been challenging for the industry to retain communication channels with healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients, both during trials and commercialisation of products. Issues with the stability of global supply chains has further complicated the industry’s ability to continue its clinical trials and selling its product on the market.

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The main way that the pharma industry has responded and overcome these barriers has been to adopt digital strategies, such as those that allow for virtualised clinical trials.

This virtualisation is supported by many pharma companies already beginning to use technology to streamline their processes and the adaptability of regulators to allow for more flexibility during the pandemic. However, there are questions about the extent to which this emergency digital transformation will remain in place in a post-Covid-19 world.

Life sciences technology vendor IQVIA’s senior vice-president of global technology solutions Tal Rosenberg discusses what needs to be done to ensure digital transformation triggered by the pandemic is built into pharma’s long-term business strategies.

IQVIA senior vice-president of global technology solutions Tal Rosenberg. Credit: IQVIA.

Allie Nawrat: What are the main ways the global Covid-19 pandemic has transformed life science companies’ digital strategies?

Tal Rosenberg: The life sciences industry as a whole had been taking steps toward digital transformation prior to the pandemic, but new realities have expedited this. Most companies have identified the need to move beyond business stabilisation and redefine how they do business. As a result, acceleration of three key capabilities is occurring to create sustainable competitive advantage.

The first is digital capabilities, which aid the industry in taking advantage of what technology enables it to do and accelerating it. Second, access to granular data to support the extraction of precise insights into the needs of patients and physicians. And finally, capabilities for sustaining relationships. While face-to-face interaction has been dramatically reduced, relationships with HCPs and patients are taking new shapes and are of more importance than ever before.

AN: How challenging was it for life science companies to adapt and quickly embrace a digital-first approach both internally and externally? Why have some adapted better than others?  

TR: To some extent, all life sciences companies were challenged to pivot to a digital-first approach because while remote technology was already being used, it had previously not been viewed as the most impactful way to engage with HCPs.

Most companies already had some digital solutions in place, but many had to make adjustments such as moving to a secure virtual meeting platform to ensure privacy, or moving to a scalable remote detailing environment that could be launched across an entire enterprise to remotely engage with HCPs effectively.

AN: Has this need for digital approaches in the context of the pandemic changed perspectives towards technology and its usefulness to the industry in the long run? 

TR: The pandemic has encouraged industry and regulators alike to consider what can be done just as effectively, if not more so, while remote. As clinical studies currently underway may require protocol modifications to ensure patient visits and that dosing continues as planned, many are realising how fully-remote or hybrid decentralised clinical trials will ensure continuity and compliance. Cloud-based platforms have helped patients and clinical study teams to stay connected through secure telehealth visits in spite of shelter-in-place orders.

In the long term, these practices will help establish superior continued communications with trial patients to improve insights, as well as expand the geographical footprint possibilities for study participants beyond previous limits.

AN: Why is it important that the life science industry does not go back to the pre-pandemic business as usual with regard to digital strategies? 

TR: The pandemic has forced companies to break through previously accepted barriers, lest they lose competitive ground. Once merely a piece of the competitive portfolio for companies, digital strategy is now the difference between remaining relevant and competitive or becoming obsolete.

Once the pandemic is over, the life sciences industry will continue to accelerate the development of highly thoughtful, orchestrated approaches to customer and patient engagement.

AN: What further digital strategies need to be implemented in a post-pandemic world by life sciences companies to bring further efficiencies to their work?

TR: The post-pandemic world will heavily favour companies that use digital strategies to get closer to the patients they serve, doing so with data-driven intelligence from across their organisations. Better insight into patient experience during the course of treatment will inform the development of new treatments that will improve overall public health. This is especially crucial as the industry increasingly turns its focus to developing specialty treatments.

As we see AI and ML reach a point of ubiquity in the industry, driven by end-to-end orchestration of activities and information, these technologies will direct companies to optimal HCP customers treating patients that would most benefit from the use of specialty drugs making their way on to the market.