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View from India: Digital transformation to shape future of pharma

The healthcare industry is exploring digital opportunities to streamline processes and lower costs, making digital integral to all segments of the value chain.

The healthcare industry comprises stakeholders, which include customers, such as doctors, and consumers, such as patients. They are all held together by caregivers and regulatory bodies. Today, many segments of the healthcare industry have integrated digital tools. Manufacturers, clinical trials, drug discovery, regulatory norms and commercialisation are all being meshed together digitally in the healthcare industry.

Digitisation comes in the form of artificial intelligence (AI); Internet of Things (IoT); robotics; data management; voice and real-world experience (RWE). Immersive experiences are used to treat patients. For instance, virtual reality (VR) is for surgeries.

“We are at the cusp of immersive computing. The augmented reality (AR) and VR industry presents huge opportunities to design healthcare applications,” said Vijay Karunakaran, CEO, TNQ InGage. An immersive technology solutions provider that uses AR and VR, the company is now working on a haptic glove that gives the wearer visual realism along with its sense of touch. 

AR and VR in healthcare is gaining traction because the shift is from observation to immersion. This is to cut down production expenditure and remove barriers to entry for new drug creators.

In its response to decrease the damage caused by sepsis, multispecialty hospital Kauvery Hospital has joined hands with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has developed an AI model to prevent the onset of sepsis. The model uses deep learning (DL) and gradient boosting technology. One in five deaths worldwide are due to sepsis. 

When we look at the Indian scenario, diabetes is an epidemic in the country. “About 18 per cent of the diabetics have diabetic retinopathy. The country has over 98 million people with type II diabetes. The numbers continue to grow,” observed Dr Rajiv Raman, senior consultant VR Services, Sankara Nethralaya.

AI is a means to address this huge diabetic concern. AI devices are being fitted with retinal cameras, as diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness. Google’s research team has used machine learning (ML) based on AI algorithms for detecting diabetic retinopathy. Google has used the technology in India at Sankara Nethralaya in Chennai and Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai.

Digitisation throws up some interesting options. Decisions on Indian drug manufacturing will happen through social media. Crowd-sourcing, telemedicine, wearables, connected devices and social media will aid patient management. Digitisation will change the manner in which clinical trials will be deployed.

“Connected devices and wearables will provide information about the patient. They will send out data about the dosage and physical activity of the patient. This will determine the manner in which the patient needs to be treated,” pointed out Divesh Singla, vice president, Parexel.

As in the case of finance, AI is making inroads into the healthcare sector. AI will be leveraged for clinical site section to understand, segment, predict and act accordingly. Cost, which is a deterrent, is being addressed by AI. “An enormous sum of $2.5bn is spent on research and development (R&D) and clinical trials before every successful drug enters the market,” reasoned Singla.

Industry 4.0, life sciences, AI and analytics are all being harnessed to bring down the huge amounts involved in the drug development cycle.

The generation of data is also a means of bringing down the expenses. 153 exabytes of health data has scaled up to 2,300 exabytes, of which 90 per cent has been generated in the last two years. Broadly speaking, most of this data comes from wearables, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans and doctor visits. It’s not just the volume of data, but also velocity and variety of data that needs to be gleaned. Data can be sifted through ML.

Other than that, ML and robotic process automation (RPA) will also facilitate the data management process. Thereby, the healthcare industry will achieve a data maturity curve. Most life science companies are on the lower part of the curve because of silo'ed existence. The application of AI, ML, DL and natural language processing (NLP) opens up channels of predictive intelligence. This helps the clinical and commercial side of the value chain in decision making.

The healthcare industry will move from sensor-based platforms to intelligent patient assistants such as bots. “Voice chat bots that are available 24/7 can interact with patients. In the case of drug safety, global pharma companies receive over one million adverse event reports annually. AI and automation can help reduce adverse events,” explained Harpreet Kanwar, CTO Lifesciences, Cognizant.

Besides that, real-world existence (RWE) will help in predictive outcomes. RWE happens in the case of clinical trials or when the patient visits the doctor. RWE helps collect data points for identifying diseases. The next step is to take the drug to the market in a cost-effective manner. “Manual processes can be automated. For instance, optical character recognition (OCR) can be leveraged for filling forms. Automation helps improve efficiency and quality of healthcare services, besides scaling down both the turn-around time for rendering services as well as operational costs,” reasoned Kanwar.

These views were discussed at the AI Application & Digi-Tech Summit & Expo. The event was organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), under the theme of ‘Shifting to Applied Intelligence’.

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