Point of View

Pfizer’s vaccine proves the Power of Emerging Tech when the Burning Platform is Red Hot

July 9, 2021

The combination of emerging technologies Pfizer brought together to win the race to deliver a safe COVID-19 vaccine should be a wake-up call for every organization still pondering its operational engagement with artificial intelligence (AI), smart analytics, and automation.

Under the undeniable pressure of COVID-19, the healthcare ecosystem embraced the opportunity to hasten its scaling of emerging tech – widening virtual care using AI, accelerating clinical trials, developing sophisticated disease prevalence models, adding technical capabilities to practice precision medicine, and more.

As exciting as the progress on emerging tech adoption has been, there are still significant opportunities to address the Triple Aim (i.e., cost of care, health outcome, and experience of care) that life sciences enterprises must focus on.

Pfizer was not first to market with the COVID-19 vaccine by accident

Pfizer’s digital journey and its collaboration with third parties were critical in its COVID-19 vaccine development and rollout. Pfizer began putting its digital building blocks together a few years ago to digitize its research and development (R&D) operations and implement AI. While Pfizer is not unique in this journey among its peers, there is no denying that the results they delivered during the pandemic showcase both the planning and execution that helped it edge ahead of the competition.

Their digital journey included adopting AI, smart analytics, and automation to both accelerate and improve the drug development process. A significant benefit of the digital journey was setting up remote clinical trials (including virtual engagement, candidate/patient data collection through wearables, etc.) that AI made more efficient.

Remote trials helped retain patient engagement, which reduced attrition and accelerated the completion of trials and data collection. According to Fast Company, Pfizer’s AI implementation helped rapidly identify signals within the noise of millions of data points across their 44,000-candidate COVID-19 clinical trial. They then applied a new machine learning tool from Saama Technologies, known as Smart Data Query (SDQ), to review clinical trial data in less than 24 hours, instead of more than 30 days for the same type of reviews. This speed of access to data came with exceptional levels of data quality, making outcomes highly reliable. These steps led to the consolidation of a process from 10 years down to one year from molecule to market.

Like most participants in the industry, Pfizer recognizes that innovation can come from other areas of technology, so they have developed an incubation arm called Breakthrough Change Accelerator. This incubator is structured to attract and collaborate with various start-ups, academic institutions, and others to solve various business challenges that are ripe for AI and machine learning-based solutions. In its inaugural competition, it chose Saama Technologies to develop an AI-powered tool to quickly clean clinical data. SDQ, the Saama Technology, and Pfizer collaborative solution were instrumental in expediting the pace of development of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Getting data is one thing. Creating value requires adaptable and largely automated processes that can respond at speed to the insights generated, busting out from traditional silos and supported by orchestration and workflow technologies. The critical importance of governance, accuracy, and speed in these processes demanded the combined application of the Triple-A Trifecta of AI, analytics, and automation. It’s hard to conceive of success in this without almost every element of the OneOffice Emerging Tech platform (see Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1: HFS OneOffice Emerging Tech Platform unifies true digital transformation enablers

Source: HFS Research, 2021, Examples are representative

Emerging tech adoption is becoming table-stakes for life science enterprises

Despite mundane results, life sciences enterprises have been adopting emerging technologies as validated by HFS Research conducted in April 2021 (see Exhibit 2). The adoption journey starts with ideation, transitioning to pilot, implementation in a few areas, to implementations at scale. HFS Research found life sciences enterprises having scaled up to 32% of their adoption journey plans across 11 types of emerging technologies while implementing another 40%. In addition, they were also piloting an average of 22%, indicating that across the journey from pilot to fully scaled, life sciences enterprises claimed an impressive average of 93% adoption.

The Pfizer example is just one of many examples that can demonstrate a strong translation of technology adoption to real-world effectiveness. More examples are emerging across the life sciences spectrum, from contract research organizations (CRO) and pharmaceuticals to biotech and medical device enterprises, all of which HFS Research will cover. This will mean that as we see rapid adoption of emerging tech, cycle times will speed up for recruitment, management, and completion of clinical trials, optimizing supply chains, and manufacturing processes. These advances in development should also move personalized medicine from possibility to probability.

Exhibit 2:90%+ of life sciences enterprises are adopting AI and Smart Analytics

* Includes machine learning, deep learning, computer vision, NLP/NLG
** Includes predictive and prescriptive analytics

Sample: 54 respondents from Global 2000 enterprises
Source: HFS Research Pulse, April 2021

Adoption of emerging tech must translate into material improvements to the Triple Aim

Life sciences enterprises are critical influencers of the Triple Aim through medications, therapies, and wearables. According to America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), $0.21 of every dollar paid in premiums goes to prescriptions, while the average annual per-person prescription costs are $1,200. These numbers may seem timid but, they add up big and fast as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicated that for 54 orally administered cancer drugs, prices shot up 40% from 2010 to 2018, averaging $167,904. Bristol Myers Squibb, the manufacturer of Pomalyst, a cancer drug, raised the price 75% since it was approved in 2013 to about $237,000 a year. Multiple Sclerosis medication costs for patients have increased by more than 700% in a decade. These are neither affordable nor sustainable.

Investments in emerging technologies by life sciences enterprises are already underway. We have seen what Pfizer and other vaccine producers have been able to achieve with them. We now expect to see a similar impact in the pace of both ongoing and future drug development from the lab bench to a jab in the arm of a patient.

Emerging technologies are not only accelerating this process, they are also doing so with superior safety in place. Don’t look at the increased pace of development as a risk. Rather, see it as an investment that can free up R&D enterprises enabling them to expand their portfolios, explore treatments and therapies for even rare diseases, and invent new delivery approaches and management vehicles.

The Bottom Line: Emerging Tech has earned its life sciences spurs with Pfizer’s vaccine, going from molecule to market in less than 12 months. Now the industry must grasp the opportunity to deliver broad and real Triple Aim results.

Emerging technologies have accelerated drug discovery and clinical trials, optimized supply chains and manufacturing, enhanced compliance, and security. These have a material impact on the cost of delivery and health outcomes, which typically influence the care experience. We should expect to see some of this reach the health consumer.

Life sciences have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use technology for real-world goodness, to help with the Triple Aim and driving health equity. Pfizer has shown the way. Let’s see more of it!

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