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From pill to patient — The future of the pharma industry


Kanchana TK, Director General, OPPI, gives an insight on how pharma companies have begun re-evaluating the ways to do business, in order to stay competitive

According to the PwC report, India Pharma Inc: Gearing up for the next level of growth, the Indian pharma industry is on a good growth path and is likely to be in the top 10 global markets by value by 2020. While the industry is still getting acquainted with ‘genomics’, ‘proteonomics’, etc., the patient continues to be at the centre of all that we do. There is still a lot to unravel about the human body as we progress towards bringing technology and biology together. Innovation is the bedrock on which the industry rests on and it is only through research that we can bring newer medicines and treatments to address the unmet medical needs of the millions of patients across the globe.

As we move into a highly competitive and patient-centric pharma world, harnessing the Big Data to provide real-world outcomes; growth in biologics and the increasing wave of consumerism will make healthcare interventions faster and more efficient. There are strong evidences in history of technology that have changed the way the world works. Healthcare will also be a beneficiary of this ‘positively’ disruptive technology.

According to a MIT Technology Review, blockchain technology as a way to streamline the sharing of medical records in a secure way, protecting sensitive data from hackers, and giving patients more control over their information is emerging as a system that will facilitate the exchange of complex health information between patients and provider.

A recent Accenture Report states that AI is the future engine for growth. The report identified 10 AI applications with the greatest near-term impact in healthcare. The top three applications that represent the greatest near-term value are robot-assisted surgery ($40 billion), virtual nursing assistants ($20 billion) and administrative workflow assistance ($18 billion). As these and other AI applications gain more experience in healthcare, their ability to bring improvements in precision, efficiency and outcomes will transform the healthcare/pharma industry, remarkably.

While the above is a reality that the industry has to face, pharma companies have already begun re-evaluating the ways to do business, in order to stay competitive. Strategies related to product portfolios; new products in the pipeline; decisions of going to the market are undergoing re-haul. Scaling up and deploying mass-market techniques to reach to a wider pool of patients will witness India-centric strategies such as differential pricing to address the issue of affordability. Another notable development will be the growing alliances between Indian companies and MNCs that would result in an impetus towards research and development in addition to the economies of scale in terms of manufacturing; marketing and distribution. This will, no doubt, help India essay its larger role in the global pharma market.

It is evident that the companies who are innovative and quick to reach patients will face success in the near future. What should we do differently? Most pharma companies have been re-looking at their pricing models, especially in the case of chronic diseases that affect a larger population. Increased focus on educating patients on diseases and creating awareness of diseases have together brought a focussed digital patient-centred communication, which is only evolving into a bigger and more critical aspect of engaging with the patient and building a KYP (knowing your patient). Pharma companies have also begun to re-look at the current field force strategy and build new skill sets and capabilities and finally the industry is gearing up for a shift from treatment to prevention. Increasing patient connects and the evolving role of technology will drive this shift. The emergence of m-Health will also provide opportunities of the industry to reach a wider section of the population in terms of increasing disease awareness and enhancing patient connect. There are 913 million mobile subscribers in India as per the estimates of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for August 2012.

For a radical shift in the health quotient of the country, we require a holistic approach. While the industry is ready to play its role, there is a pressing need for the government to increase the current levels of public expenditure on health.

According to the World Bank data, the public spending on healthcare at 1.4 per cent, and India falls in the last decile amongst 188 countries. High out-of- pocket expenses and low levels of insurance penetration – one in five are covered by heath insurance, it is evident that healthcare insurance is critical to address the healthcare access issue of the country.

The regulatory landscape will need to evolve quickly and effectively to ensure that India has a robust clinical trials environment that will ensure that new drugs are bought faster to the deserving patients. Although India has 15 per cent of the world’s population and 20 per cent of the global disease burden, less than 2 per cent of global clinical trials take place in India. The regulatory uncertainty especially on the bioavailability and bioequivalence (BA/BE) studies bears a major ramification for the future of research and development in India. The future demands for a strong regulatory landscape which includes speedy approvals and stronger ethical infrastructure for conducting trials in India.

The next few years will witness the creation of a New India. This New India will be built on a strong co-relation between happiness, health and technology. Empowered patients; new-age technology and a collaborative healthcare ecosystem are pre-requisites for a patient-centric future. Innovation not only in medicines but also the way in which business is done will unlock the myriad possibilities to an exciting and new paradigm in healthcare.

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