Pharma R&D in 2021

There are some truly exciting prospects for the pharmaceutical industry in 2021. In the last year or so, there have been many changes made across the entire industry due to the rush to create a safe vaccine to combat the COVID-19 virus, resulting in more innovation and positive change than ever before. However, the momentum was growing behind the scenes long before this. 

In the years leading up to the pandemic, the pharma industry in the United Kingdom had been growing steadily, at 8.4% annually from years 2015-2020. R&D has contributed massively to the growth of the industry overall. Annual pharma R&D spending in the UK climbed by an impressive 6.9% from the years 2018 to 2019. Compare this to the increase of just 3.9% for R&D spending across other industries, and you can clearly see the difference it has made to the success and popularity of pharma. 

Nobody expected the pharma industry to have such a big year in 2020, and while there have been many unprecedented setbacks and devastations that will change history indefinitely, it quickly became clear that pharma would be the end to the pandemic once and for all. Funding, for example, has been provided to pharma in unbelievable quantities, breaking records and having a massive impact on R&D activity. Now, the public confidence in pharma is at an all time high, and those working within the sector say that they are confident they can continue to drive the spend forward on R&D. In research conducted in May of 2020, 59% of experts within the pharma sector said they expected their budgets to have a significant increase in the coming 3 years. 

Taking everything that we have learned so far into account, we can see that pharma has launched into 2021 with more funding than before and a much greater presence on top of this. It’s no secret that the pharmaceutical industry has struggled with its reputation in the past, with many people believing that it ultimately values profits over people. However, the success of the available COVID-19 treatments made available so far seems to have turned all of that around, and now the industry has substantial investor interest and, finally, the support of the public. 

While the pharma industry is limitless, there are a few key trends that are set to transform the industry and set it apart in the coming years. 

Big Tech Innovation

Big tech can now be found working its way across most industries, including the pharmaceutical industry. Big Tech’s presence is set to continue to accelerate at a rapid pace as it is steadily implemented in a myriad of ways. Many helpful innovations have been noted after appearing in the sector over the last few years, including machine learning and big data.  

Big tech firms can offer a lot to the pharma industry, especially those pharma companies that don’t currently have the tech or capabilities to implement within the needed scientific applications. Many organisations are looking to incorporate big tech as quickly as possible in order to support coming R&D activities. 

Various technologies can be found across a multitude of areas to do with the vaccine, including new drug discovery and reducing failure rates. Big tech is responsible for much of the transformation that we have experienced with pharma, and we can also list artificial intelligence (AI), additive manufacturing, blockchain, and other Industry 4.0 technologies amongst the game-changing technologies paving the way for future innovations.

One thing is for sure, and that’s that big tech is in it for the long haul. However, how this relationship is going to play out could be anyone’s guess.  

Realising The Importance of Collaboration

Pharma giants were once sworn rivals, and carefully guarded their own interests. However, over the last 5 or so years, many firms have been forced to pool their resources together in order for them to improve and develop products. Many complex developmental activities require close collaboration and communication. Developing new drugs and treatments is no easy feat, and takes a lot of time and money. Collaboration means that costs can be better spread out, and the merging of expertise and knowledge from various industries results in faster breakthroughs. 

We have collaboration to thank for the creation of the COVID-19 vaccines. We can clearly see just how effective these collaborations have been when looking at the vaccine development timeline. Collaboration can also be considered crucial for the future due to the ever changing nature of the sector. Compared to companies 10 years ago, companies are specialising to a much greater extent these days. Numerous companies and businesses have partnered up over the last 12 months – including private initiatives. 

Many stages of the vaccine development process took place simultaneously, meaning that safety was not compromised and that the process accelerated. 

A tried and tested vaccine created for a virus that we only became aware of one year ago is a huge accomplishment. It’s a truly amazing result, and provides an effective blueprint for the future of innovation. 

Maintaining Sustainability And Ethics 

Sustainability and ethics should be a priority for all industries, and pharma is no exception. The healthcare industry has been known to be one of the most polluting industries, so there has been a lot of pressure over the years from consumers and governments who know that change is needed for the good of the planet, and fast. Sustainability and ethics are a business necessity, and a must for pharma. 

Sustainability can mean reducing waste, limiting the use of single use plastics, and complying with new standards, amongst other things. Pharma has come a long way in this sense. Companies are finally doing more in a response to criticism, and pharma is investing in sustainable innovation more than most sectors, at 26-50% of their budget, in comparison to around 14%. 

One great example is GlaxoSmithKline. Since the year 2010 carbon emissions have been reduced by 34%, water usage by 31%, and landfill waste by 78%. Just one effective move they made was taking the initiative to implement new waste management systems and using more green chemistry. The ethical practices put into place include phasing out animal testing in non medical settings, and reaching higher standards of public and regulatory scrutiny. 

Of course, the work is never done and plenty more needs to change for a real difference to be made across the industry. However, by making various sustainable and ethical changes over time, pharma is managing to enhance their public reputation, and ensure stronger relationships with the regulatory bodies that they must work with. 

A Digital Patient Experience

Across most sectors, experiences are being digitised. Digitised processes tend to save time and effort for all involved, and now pharma is working on providing a digital patient experience of its own. Whether you’re looking for a diagnosis, treatment, or drug research, this change is affecting the system as a whole. Healthcare patients are now enjoying a more personal, holistic treatment experience and are reporting more satisfactory experiences overall. 

Most importantly, patients are better able to protect their health. They are able to get important updates on their health in real time, and innovative wearable tech even allows patients to get help the minute they need it.

The virus has accelerated the digitisation process tenfold. With physical visits having to be kept to a minimum, and phone calls not sufficient for diagnosis, practices are feverishly working on their video conferencing processes. The results make the journey from diagnosis to treatment far easier for everyone involved. The face to face contact with medical professionals also gives patients peace of mind, and assurance that they are truly being listened to. 

A good example of how this can work is the platform Babylon, an interactive health service. This platform enables 4,000 clinical consultations each day, and serves more than 4.3 million members across the world. 

As health and pharma companies put more effort into their digitisation processes, they will be able to offer a higher quality of care to a wider population with technology that changes things for the better. 

The Future is Bright For Pharma R&D 

The opportunities and innovations presented by pharma are becoming more and more exciting and making us all believe in a brighter, healthier future for all. While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly forced the hand of many pharmaceutical companies, a lot of good has come from it. Innovation breeds innovation, and the limits we once believed we had are being pushed and exceeded time and time again. The industry has certainly never had this much funding, investor support, and public trust. 

R&D has always been at the heart of the pharmaceutical sector, and with the focus being put on it in 2021, we can expect better sustainability, ethics, effective COVID-19 vaccines, and a different perception of the pharma industry as a whole