Top Three Trends in the Pharmaceutical Industry

An interview with Educo Life Sciences trainer John Faulkes

We interviewed Educo Life Sciences Trainer John Faulkes to get his views on the top three trends in the pharmaceutical industry. John highlights some interesting trends such as decentralised clinical trials, digitalisation & AI and agile working. You can watch or read the video below.


Watch the full interview here:


What’s your first top trend at the moment in the industry?

Well the first issue and probably the biggest issue, is around the way that clinical trials operate. Our sector is totally reliant on very large, extremely expensive, international trials of medicines to get them approved for launch. The requirements are getting higher and higher for evidence from clinical trials.

In the last 10 years the regular model for running clinical trials has begun to break, it’s not working so well anymore. Critically it’s getting very difficult to get patients to want to join a trial and to keep them on the trial until the trial finishes and we’re not exactly sure why it is. We believe it has something to do with the patient’s higher expectations for their own quality of life.

The old model involved patients having to travel very far to a centre (hospital), in a big city to do a trial. This model involved a lot of hanging around and a lot of procedures that were very convenient for our industry, and for the doctors, to get the maximum amount of evidence. However, they were somewhat uncomfortable, invasive and inconvenient for patients. Especially if patients were only visiting – there’s a scenario for instance of a patient driving, or being driven, 100K to a hospital, waiting for three hours, getting to see a consultant, having an interview for 20 minutes and then having to go home again. Increasingly patients are getting frustrated about this and not wanting to participate.

So, what’s appearing throughout the world is a new and aggressively pursued topic now, called the decentralised clinical trial. It means that increasingly the patients are being and want to be treated at home where it’s possible. This approach was accelerated by the pandemic and the big covid vaccine trials blazed the way for this big time. The industry’s got to come to them rather than them coming to the big hospitals. Things like the way I’m doing this now which is on a zoom call is a perfectly feasible bit of technology if you need to monitor a patient and ask them how they’re doing, you don’t need them to come miles and miles to the hospital. You can use the media we already have, we’ve been using it for years it works very well.

The big challenge to all this is not so much any of the technology, the big challenge is the culture of the industry. The industry and the physicians out there in healthcare are rooted more in a traditional hospital type model but the industry has realised that it’s got to change all over the world. If that doesn’t happen, then we won’t be able to recruit patients and we won’t be able to do our clinical trials, and we won’t be able to generate the increased amount of evidence required by the regulators for new medicines and this is wrapped up really in this philosophy called decentralised trials.

You might hear of a slight variation to decentralised clinical trials, there’s the decentralised and there’s the hybrid. The hybrid is where there has to be at least some element of central work with the patient, but there is a large, decentralised element. They can be at home, receive visits or calls, they can use all sorts of technology for dosing, sampling, measuring, interviewing and all the things that are done in trials. So that’s probably the biggest trend right now.


What is your second trend in the industry at the moment?

Well this is another huge one and it covers a mass of different aspects of the industry and it is digitalisation. This ranges from right at the early stage in research where scientists are not just using test tubes and well plates and solutions and chemistry and traditional biological techniques. They’re increasingly using things like virtual reality to design molecules, and in particular using artificial intelligence, using searching algorithms to look at monstrous amounts of genetic information to try and find correlations between gene types and diseases.

Digitalisation is also happening in areas such as diagnostics with new technologies. You’re aware that there’s so many wearables available now, you can get a watch that records your heart rate and sometimes your blood pressure. For instance, at the cutting edge, if someone’s got a neurological problem a mobile phone or a watch can record their speech patterns, their movements, their body postures and their body movements to track anomalies and actually diagnose problems and monitor. There are devices being developed that you swallow that will actually send radio signals out. There’s a huge amount of work going on, a huge amount of possibilities.

The biggest thing this leads to eventually, is real-time information. A huge amount of real-time information can now be monitored of a patient with a disease and then be treated with the medicine 24/7. By generating the data on a continuous basis you then have to use artificial intelligence to look at it and analyse it to draw conclusions. The possibilities are immense for this sort of thing so that’s the probably the next hugest trend as it were.


Finally, what is your third trend for pharmaceuticals at the moment?

Well this is a difficult one because there probably isn’t one that really stands out as number three because there is a lot of innovation going on everywhere. If I had to pick one it would the ways of working of the industry, in that it’s very inefficient. The pharma industry has an enormous amount of waste in it, the most obvious one is the number of projects that are going on at an early stage in pharma for every new drug that appears on the market. There is an enormous amount of attrition and that is sort of built into the system I suppose, but surrounding that is quite a lot of inefficient ways of working.

Another big trend is around the word agility. There are a lot of industries that have got much lower margins than pharma, such as construction, such as fast-moving consumer goods, such as airlines which have developed all sorts of efficiency practices and systems often coming under the banner of agility, agile working.

Within pharma there’s been an excuse for our ways of working for many years and that agility systems cannot be implemented. Because the projects in pharma are so long, (they’re years and years long) and you often don’t know the result of a project until right at the end. Also, there are so many projects running at the same time in a pharma company, it’s not one big construction project. It might be 200 little research projects, then 40 and all running simultaneously so dividing up time between them is very difficult.

Nevertheless, the industry is not as productive as it used to be, there are far less molecules appearing as new products compared to the number of projects around per year. So, the productivity feels like it’s going down so companies are looking at ways for the industry to collaborate much better and to use better systems and better decision-making systems and so on.


John teaches on the following courses:

An Introduction to the Pharmaceutical Industry: A Beginner’s Guide


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