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Re-thinking pharma in the new normal

By Lionel Alva

We are still reeling from the effects from the Covid-19 pandemic. The nature of socio-economic disruption has also impacted pharma operations across geographies.  Conversely, it has also acted as a catalyst for the pharma industry to adapt and make dynamic changes. Healthcare systems today are experiencing convulsive change. Every aspect of the pharma value chain, as it recovers from the shocks, is focusing on adapting new technologies to bounce back. 

The pharma industry has become  well-acquainted in disruptions and uncertainties plaguing supply chains. Agility has thus become a core attribute of pharma operations in the new normal. Pharma companies today are systematically revamping every aspect of their value chains to respond to the increased volatility and uncertainties of the new normal.  For disruptions have not only impeded the delivery of life-saving drugs but also greatly impacted the performance of many pharma enterprises. Every pharma business today has a renewed emphasis on improving resilience, innovation, and business outcomes.

Speaking at the  Economic Times  Pharma Leaders Roundtable, Vikas Bhadoria, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company, observes that the Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented in terms of the human impact that it is having.The risk-averse pharma industry received an impetus in terms of technology adoption due to the pandemic: It had to overcome the hurdles of legacy, regulation, and compliance. It has spurred pharma organizations towards building resilience and innovation like never before with quicker decision-making. 

Omar Sherief Mohammad, Managing Director, Roche Diabetes Care India, asserts that while the pandemic has posed several new challenges, it has also provided an opportunity to transform the treatment for patients. For instance, during the lockdown, there were several treatment related challenges that arose for diabetic patients due to movement restrictions: How can they seek advice? How can their health be monitored? How can they continue to manage their condition?

 Many diabetic patients found themselves without access to critical services during the lockdown. It required a collaboration between healthcare professionals and government bodies to offer relief by figuring out innovative ways of helping out. Many of these challenges can be resolved with technology enabled approaches that can enable patients and healthcare professionals to take informed decisions. Undoubtedly, telemedicine is here to stay. 

Karan Singh, Managing Director, ACG Worldwide, highlighted that COVID-19 led to increased IT adoption in 2020. Many hospitals, health systems and patients relied on digital health technology for care delivery during the pandemic. The quick adoption of digital health technology has set the stage for continued innovation and growth in 2021.  

COVID-19 has led to global disruptions, instabilities, and supply chain breakdowns like it happened during World War 2. The heightened demand for digital first experiences is speeding the 4th industrial revolution forward. While the pandemic continues to drive significant uncertainty, manufacturers are revamping their growth strategies with a renewed appreciation for how operating models determine outcomes. A sustainable and digitally transformed future requires a reliance on industry 4.0 technologies: IOT, machine learning, and automation among others. Pharma companies that seek to retain a competitive edge must embrace innovation and agility while integrating industry 4.0 technologies across multiple facets of their operation.  Industry 4.0 is no longer hype, but a reality where organizations are witnessing gains in agility, productivity, innovation, and speed-to-market.

Arvind Kukreti, Deputy Drug Controller, Central Drug Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) offered insight on how the regulatory system is gearing up. For regulators, accountancy, transparency, and predictability are now better enabled with technology based solutions. Today, the emphasis is on software based submissions and e-approvals. To achieve this, a national portal for drug licensing is being worked upon and it is expected that this portal will be rolled out in a few months time. Such a portal shall enable a uniform licensing system for the whole country.  A subject expert committee, consisting of 430 to 450 experts, to review applications of clinical trials and new drugs has been working extensively to shorten the time-frame for approvals.  Since significant efforts must be put in to ensure the efficacy and safety of drug and vaccine approvals within a short time-frame. This is a big change that India’s regulatory system has undergone. 

Sanjiv Navangul, Managing Director & CEO, Bharat Serums and Vaccines, asserted that companies have changed because of a behavioural shift.  Travel times have reduced and this has led to a greater scope for productivity. There has been a sea change in the mindset: For instance, in manufacturing, the efficiency of the business model depends on how manufacturing and scheduling is approached.  Presently, assessments are being made on what technology interventions can take place in manufacturing. India’s pharmaceutical industry had become very complacent in terms of manufacturing, R&D, and acquiring digital habits. Due to the pandemic induced behavioural changes, we are better positioned in the global pharma value-chain. Currently, there are better collaborations between Indian pharmaceutical companies and their global parts. This change has happened because of the behavioral change in pharma companies. 

The seismic shift in the business processes of pharma companies in India has created new opportunities. It has led to improved efficiency and efficacy across business operations. The pharma companies in India are espousing a digital first approach and this is paving the way for its eventual recovery in 2021.

The views displayed above have been taken from The Economic Times Pharma Leaders Roundtable, held on 18th Feb. 2021.

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