Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Industry Players Share Visions of the Future

Gareth Bridges

According to a recent story in, the most imminent threat to humanity isn’t conflict, global warming or even an asteroid like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. It’s something you can’t see with the naked eye – antibiotic resistance!

Discovering the solution to that and a myriad other medical conditions is the holy grail of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. But organisations face tremendous challenges, not all of which are purely scientific.

For example, at the recent Health Innovation roundtable organized in Singapore by Equinix, representatives of pharma firms ranked regulatory concerns, such as inter-jurisdictional information governance, as a major hurdle. Whilst many felt that technological advances were keeping pace with the industry, these new capabilities are often way ahead of the legal and ethical guidelines that govern them. This is unsurprising given the ramifications of recent notable cases of data theft and data-privacy breaches.

Data access a dominant factor

From advanced research to clinical studies, the pharmaceutical industry has always been driven by data. And it is clear that the delegates and the companies they represent are working hard to validate information from research centres and supplement human decision making.

The difference is that today more people than ever need access to information – across the organization, via multiple devices and in multiple locations. Without it, research slows down and innovation is stifled. In addition, pharma firms have massive data processing requirements. They need to perform analytics based on numerous sources of information, and simultaneously run numerous calculations in order to ensure reproducible research.

PWC’s Global Data and Analytics Survey 2016, revealed that data-driven companies take a more holistic approach towards decision-making, and that data forms the lifeblood of the pharmaceutical value-chain; from clinical trials and primary research to manufacturing, logistics and distribution. Companies are extending their competitive edge through their abilities to perform meaningful analytics.

IT also has an essential role to play in alleviating the complexities of compliance: global pharmaceutical organizations have been able to use data analytics to input, organize and detect information that might suggest breaches of compliance in every area of the business. For example, data analytics is routinely used to detect whether a company’s representative are operating outside of regulatory guidelines, or products with uncertain provenance should be identified for further testing.

The solution? Cloud computing, more often than not, has become the top-of-mind choice for pharmaceutical companies to deal with the huge increase in the volume and velocity of data. However, when it comes to managing increases in the variety of data, across different research divisions within or beyond organisations, the complexity of handling data start to creep up…

Cloudy vision

New technologies are proliferating, especially in the larger pharmaceutical firms. However, the vision is not always a uniform one. Some delegates admitted that it was quite common for each department in an organisation to develop its own use case for everything from cloud to data analytics and IoT.

In the short term, ad-hoc usage of hyper-scale cloud services can provide impressive results, but it can also lead to discontinuities later on that affect overall performance, sustainability and data governance. Many organisations have adopted hybrid cloud architectures, as this enables them to leverage the resources of public cloud when required, yet allows seamless integration with infrastructure which cannot be moved to the public clouds .

Indeed, working with cloud-based partners also solves another challenge – the lack of technical talent. The battle for talented data scientists is often won by the Silicon Valley firms, which has raised salaries to a point where other firms cannot justify having these roles in-house, which makes a third party vendor a sensible and sustainable choice.

The people factor

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, particularly around medical records. While a cloud architecture can make them available as-and-when they are needed – critical when a delay in discovering a drug allergy could have serious consequences – it is equally important that suitable safeguards are in place to protect them from abuse or negligence.

The fact remains that there is a current lack of standards and frameworks for sharing information. Only with an internationally accepted set of operating procedures, will healthcare providers be able to ensure alignment of “Informed Consent” across all users of the data

In the final analysis, privacy is paramount, and nowhere is that more essential than in intensely personal medical data. Responsible use of data is a non-negotiable requirement, and organisations that fail to put an effective structure in place are putting their businesses at significant risk.

Innovation in action

Yet, while the challenges cannot be underestimated, the benefits that new technology is actually delivering to healthcare and pharmaceutical organisations are abundantly clear.

One pharmacy in Singapore which fills out over 2,000 prescriptions a day – each including an average of four different drugs – has already achieved considerable advantages. Using analytics, it has been able to optimise package sizes and reduce wastage. It is now looking into expanding that to introduce automation to these processes where possible for speed, efficiency and, naturally, cost savings.