By Karen Taylor, Samrina Bhatti and Krissie Ferris, Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions
This is week four in the phased launch of the ten predictions in our report ‘The future unmasked: Predicting the future of healthcare and life sciences in 2025’. Each prediction is brought to life by imagining what the experience of individuals might look like in 2025, examples of the evidence today to predict tomorrow, and considers the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has on each prediction. These two predictions we have launched this week are focussed on two crucial parts of the biopharma value chain: prediction seven ‘Companies have reversed the decline in the returns from pharma R&D’, and prediction eight ‘Next generation supply chains are integrated into healthcare and the patient experience’.
How COVID-19 is driving digital transformation and industry collaboration
Following the WHO’s declaration of the pandemic in March 2020, the pharma industry, academia, biotech, not-for-profit institutions, private sector organisations and government agencies formed multiple types of partnerships and collaborations. These collaborations, based on a shared purpose and previously unseen levels of openness, data sharing and trust, have helped expedite the discovery, development and manufacturing of COVID-19-related therapies and vaccines in a matter of months that would previously have taken years. They have also set-up manufacturing and supply chain networks to enable the efficient and safe distribution and delivery of regulatory-approved COVID-19 vaccines. This means building the world’s largest-ever ‘cold-chain’ infrastructure to distribute billions of vaccine doses within an extremely tight timescale in order to stem the COVID-19 tide and enable health systems and financial economies across the world to survive and ultimately thrive.
In response to concerns about the unprecedented speed of R&D, the CEOs of nine of the leading vaccine developers signed a pledge committing to uphold the integrity of the scientific process and provide robust evidence of safety and effectiveness. Regulators also entered into immediate dialogue aimed at supporting the most promising innovations, discussing cost-plus pricing strategies, and promoting the need for appropriate diversity of clinical trial participants.
Functionalities such as identification of recipients (vaccine passports) and cold-chain transportation technology integrated with real-time, end-to-end tracking software will be important in ensuring safe, equitable and efficient distribution of the vaccines. At the same time governments, regulators and pharma companies will have to work together to establish trust in the manufacture and supply of these vaccines.
The pandemic has shown the benefits of partnerships and collaborations in biopharma R&D and highlighted the critical importance of a robust, operationally-efficient global supply chain, but also its vulnerability to global shocks. Experience with COVID-19 has accelerated the digitalisation of biopharma companies’ drug discovery and development, manufacturing and supply chain operations. Moreover, we expect the lessons and experiences of the pandemic to have a lasting impact and, in turn, have influenced strongly our predictions on R&D and the future of the biopharma supply chain.
In 2025 biopharma has reversed the decline in the returns from R&D
In 2025, biopharma companies have adopted advanced digital technologies to transform their drug discovery and clinical development activities. R&D processes have been augmented by digital platforms and large-scale access to FAIR (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability and Re-use) data standards. Working with academia and digital tech companies is the norm, as is the use of multiple, disparate datasets. Skilled, interdisciplinary leaders with enhanced digital skills and a fail-fast mind-set, supported by AI-friendly, tech savvy boards, have driven the digital transformation of R&D (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Biopharma companies need to pursue a fundamental shift in their R&D model
In 2025 next generation biopharma supply chains are integrated into healthcare and the patient experience
In 2025, biopharma companies have applied the learning from the COVID-19 pandemic and shifted their traditional linear supply chains to AI-enabled interconnected digital supply networks (DSNs). This digital shift has helped companies optimise the use of interoperable performance data and real-time data processing and decision making, to reduce the risk of human subjectivity and bias, while blockchain technology provides transparency in tracking systems. This is delivering significant improvements in productivity and costs through more efficient demand forecasting, inventory management, logistics optimisation, procurement, and workforce planning (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. The evolution towards the Digital Supply Network
We believe the operation of biopharma R&D processes and supply chain functions will look very different in 2025 to what it does today. Digital transformation will be responsible for much of this change, from augmenting R&D processes to enable returns on innovation and improving the visibility and efficiency of supply chains. This has been made possible as the following steps have overcome the underlying constraints:
Skills and talent: collaboration with experts both within and between industries and the development of a more diverse workforce, including digitally savvy leaders, have helped improve the skillsets of in-house staff and establish a more diverse, digitally-literate workforce.
Funding: Return on investment in AI-enabled R&D and DSNs has improved, convincing investment companies of the benefits of investing in advanced technologies including RPA.
Regulations: accelerators and ‘sandboxes’ are used to test products, services and business models. New regulatory pathways have increased flexibility, transparency and speed of approval, and regulators readily accept RWE in support of new drug applications, label expansions and revisions.
Data and interoperability: data integrity has improved alongside a robust IT infrastructure. Using HIPAA and GDPR compliant cloud, quantum computing, blockchain and AI-enabled services and tools provides assurance over the quality, safety and reliability of products.
We acknowledge that this is a deliberately optimistic view of the future, but consider that it is achievable if the constraints identified above truly are overcome as suggested. Next week we will bring you the final two predictions. Sign-up here to receive the predictions as they are released.