Pharma industry warming up towards adoption of digital technologies

Pharma industry warming up towards adoption of digital technologies

By applying digital technologies, pharma companies can significantly improve their operational and decision-making capabilities

  • By Rahul Koul | June 27, 2022

Experiences from the COVID-19 pandemic are helping India's pharmaceutical industry to warm up towards the adoption of digitalization whether it is facing challenges in terms of supply chain disruptions, keeping up with the global trends and meeting client requirements, digitization holds tremendous potential in helping the industry to adapt. Leading experts emphasize the need for the pharma industry to embrace digitalization for its accelerating growth.

“Pharma sector was never among the leading sectors when it comes to digitalization but after COVID-19 pandemic, it is catching up in a huge way. However, Indian pharma companies are still lacking as compared to international organisations in terms of how we can adopt digitalization in R&D, drug discovery, and clinical trials. I see a huge opportunity of introducing digital transformation so that our go to market processes, supply chain processes can be optimized, and our compliance can be improved,” says Manu Gupta, Vice President - IT, Cadila Pharmaceuticals.

Gupta spoke at the E-conference, Role of Digitalization in the Pharma Sector organised by the Indian Pharma Post on June 24, 2022. The virtual discussion was moderated by Pravin Prashant, Editor, Indian Pharma Post.

“We have to adopt digitalization in every phase. We have to optimize and streamline our supply chain. When it comes to the production, we need to have complete integrated solutions with quality driven solutions, quality control solutions. We are still using the old basic systems and there are no real systems for automated R&D in terms of drug discoveries. While the world has moved towards quantum computers for drug discovery, we are still using manual chemical and physical processes to do most of the drug discovery. The digitization has a huge potential in terms of how we can completely use the automated molecule integration. Therefore, the first phase of digitization will help achieve a quick turnaround time in discovery. In the clinical trials space, there is a disconnect as there is a complete manual process to choose the patients with background of patients and volunteers not complete in few cases. If we have a complete digital background, tracking is possible,” added Gupta.

“Trying to catch up with the global trends, the Indian pharma sector is now moving towards the digital transformation or unboxing industrial 4.0. But the fact is that it is still lagging behind,” says Rahul Borse, Head – IT, RPG Life Sciences.

“Since the last 3-4 years, we have witnessed a slightly better pace of digital transformation. One of the reasons for lagging behind the competition is because we are a completely regulated industry and we cannot put the technology, people or process directly into the system because at the end of the day we are dealing with human lives. We have to be very careful when we put such technologies in place as these have to be compliant with many of the existing regulations and processes,” adds Borse.

On the way forward, Borse said, “Since data is a very important part of the pharmaceutical industry and it generates a huge amount of data, we have to use the right technologies to tap the huge amount of opportunities. In a post Covid scenario, the pharma industry is looking at unboxing industry 4.0. COVID-19 pandemic has also shifted the interest of regulatory authorities towards better compliance. They are now also expecting the compliance towards digitalization and they are expecting to be everything into the place with manual turned into electronic systems. There is an onus on the safety, affordability and quality medicines to the consumers. Technology is playing a vital role and the shift towards digital has just started.”

"The adoption of digitalization in the pharma space varies from company to company.  The first step towards digital transformation is to get more and more data digitized, moving it from paper based to electronic mode. Apprehensions with respect to compliance, earlier there was a little bit of hesitancy in  moving towards a fully electronic based system. After COVID-19, we saw the majority of the regulatory agencies, let it be FDA or MHRA pushing towards adoption of the digital systems or carrying out the audit through a remote way. That has changed the entire paradigm even for the pharma companies. Manufacturing and quality are the two functions which were not totally transformed into a digital way earlier. Now there are systems which capture the data and then based on that you can do certain different kinds of analysis that can be built in, says Krishna Sai T, Associate Vice President - IT & SAP, Biocon Ltd.

"Convincing the top management for heavy digital investment has become a bit easier now because they also started believing that these are the ones which will give us the yield or the result. If not now, maybe another three or four years, but we have to build the platform or the groundwork for that,” added Krishna Sai.

A lot of thought processes have started already coming in and everyone is consistently seeing the adoption of the digital technologies in pharma space, Amit Saluja, Senior Director and Center Head, NASSCOM.

“We are building an ecosystem for the digitalization of the manufacturing sector in the country and pharma is one such big sector where we are helping the companies. Closing the awareness gap is very important to convince the companies to adopt digitalization. Management at many companies earlier thought that productivity and efficiency improvement in the plants will happen only through the machinery and equipment. The clarity that software technologies can also bring in productivity and efficiency improvement is not there in the pharma companies, especially at the SMEs level. I think a lot of big companies have adopted these technologies, whether we talk about drug discovery, whether we talk about improving the internal efficiencies but it comes to the SMEs, that's where the adoption of these technologies is missing,” commented Saluja.

“Having visited multiple pharma plants in the last six months, I have seen that plants are set up purely based on the certification and compliance, depending upon where these companies are exporting. Since there is no requirement to have a completely digital plant, the companies just focus on setting up the plant to comply with those certification requirements and not for the digital technologies. So I think there is a big need for the pharma manufacturers to understand that compliance and the certification adherence is the one thing, but making the production more efficient. It is also important because that's the way that it will enable the reducing the cost in the plant and it will make these companies more cost competitive in the global markets,” adds Saluja.

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