Deloitte: Artificial intelligence technology investments prove top priority for biopharma leaders

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/solarseven
© GettyImages/solarseven

Related tags Artificial intelligence Data Deloitte

The pandemic has focused biopharma industry minds on digital innovation, finds a Deloitte report.

Biopharma executives that pursue leapfrog digital innovation will be those best positioned in 2022 to gain an edge over the competition, according to the consultants behind that publication.

To better understand the biopharma industry's experience with digital innovation now and in the year ahead, the Deloitte team surveyed 150 biopharma leaders and found that digital technologies such as the cloud (49%), AI (38%), data lakes (33%), and wearables (33%) have been adopted in day-to-day operations.

Other technologies such as quantum computing and digital twins are still nascent.

Some 82% of respondents agreed that digitalization of operations will continue even after the pandemic ends.

Digital innovation is a burning strategic priority for biopharma leaders, found the Deloitte publication. However, respondents agreed that their organizations need to solve fundamental issues, including dedicated funding (59%), a better digital innovation strategy (49%), and the right talent (47%) to scale digital innovation.

Todd Konersmann, principal, Deloitte Consulting, told BioPharma-Reporter that although much of the report’s findings validated the team’s assumptions on the growing importance of all-things-digital, they were surprised to see how significant a catalyst the pandemic was in drawing executives’ attention to digital innovation as a competitive differentiator.

As the report illustrates, 77% of respondents now state that digital innovation is critical to enabling business strategy in a post-pandemic environment. In previous years, investments in novel digital technologies were typically treated as experimentation opportunities or long-term bets. However, given the numerous proof points of digital innovation during the pandemic, it seems that organizations are increasing their value-perception of these investments.”

AI is top investment priority 

Another principal at Deloitte Consulting, Aditya Kudumala, said the team was also surprised to see that artificial intelligence (AI) was consistently prioritized by respondents as a top investment priority across life sciences functions.

“We expected to see greater fragmentation of technological priorities based on the intricacies of the domain – such as a greater emphasis on IoT in the supply chain space – however the findings indicate that certain technologies such as AI are becoming signature issues at the enterprise level and are consequently are being prioritized across the value chain.”

The CDMO challenge

Executives at CDMOs were not surveyed as part of the report, but Konersmann pointed out that, as a response to the increasing investment in digitalization from biopharma sponsors, CDMOs will be challenged to match investments in digital technologies and play catch up if they want to maintain their value proposition as efficiency-play partners.

“Notably, they will need to transform their sites and facilities with digital investments in order to provide the level of productivity that sponsors may achieve with their own next-generation investments – such as leveraging smart factory sensors and AI powered algorithms that can predict maintenance issues before they arise.”

Due diligence 

Biopharma companies face a plethora of options today when it comes to digital technologies. How can they ensure products are tried and tested before investing in such technology?

“Biopharma organizations can certainly be overwhelmed with the numerous types of digital technologies, vendors, and platforms that will require their due-diligence before making sizable investments. These organizations can mitigate their risk by looking to the external market for proof points, such as consortiums/industry working groups that are actively experimenting with new technologies and developing standards that will help to increase adoption and ensure longevity of investments,” ​said Kudumala.

He advised companies to develop a methodical process to source and incubate new technologies through proof of concepts and pilots in order to evaluate incremental value versus costs.

“At the same time, one of the points articulated in the report is that organizations that take on risk before new technologies are fully tried and tested may also gain a competitive advantage by obtaining knowledge faster, learning from mistakes, and honing in on the key opportunities that are best suited for the technology,”​ noted the consultant.

Attracting talent

It can be an uphill struggle for the biopharma industry top go about setting up a digital transition team and hiring the right talent to scale digital innovation given that there is huge competition for this kind of talent.

According to Kudumala, while the scarcity of technological talent is affecting all industries globally, the biopharma industry can leverage its collective mission of delivering lifesaving treatments to humanity as a unique value proposition to attract expertise.

“Engineers and technical talent in the market need to be made aware that medical innovations of the future will not be purely made by chemists and other scientists, but rather, will be supported by technologists that will play a critical role in increasing the speed to market and safety of new therapies.”

To setup a digital team, the Deloitte report recommends that organizations start by outlining their digital ‘north start’ ambitions, followed by the operating model needed to execute on those ambitions and the associated talent/roles that are required.

“Moreover, technology leaders (CIO and direct reports) can play a massive role in attracting and hiring the right talent through articulating those north stars and the impact a given role will have on the company’s ability to improve patient outcomes and wellness. CIOs that I see that get visibly out in front of this, enlisting his/her teams to tell their stories/journey, often see the best results,”​ said Konersmann.

Room for growth 

To what extent do you see biopharma companies already adopting the strategies mentioned in the report to nurture company-wide digital transforming such as becoming digital innovators, using crowdsourcing, investing in early stage companies, accelerating and incubating new technology?

“Overall, we are observing that the majority of biopharma organizations are executing digital innovation strategies that are focused on specific domains, technologies or process areas, but very few are operationalizing a holistic strategy at the enterprise level.

"Some organizations are pursuing bespoke innovations at specific domains through targeted investments such as innovating drug discovery, others are focusing on developing repeatable processes that can incubate digital from experimentations to scale, while even some organizations are purely focusing on outsourcing innovation through partnerships with organizations that execute design challenges/crowd-based contests.

“As evidenced by the report, only 45% of respondents state that their organization has set up an innovation center of excellence, which indicates to us that there is significant room for growth and maturation,​” commented Konersmann.

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