Why should pharma join forces with the tech industry?


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With the rise of connected medical devices and the emergence of digital-centric healthcare, the worlds of big pharma and big tech are rapidly converging. There is much to be gained from this alignment, but first a greater appreciation of the differences between each side’s operating model is needed.

A significant structural difference between the two industries is the role of standards setting organizations (SSOs). Industry standards are central to the growth of the technology, media and telecom (TMT) space. SSO outlines a technology development roadmap and invites members from industry and academia to share ideas for developing the new standard. This approach has evolved in the mobile telecom sector from 2G to 5G, with significant improvements at each stage. The protection in this area for companies to share ideas is based on Standard-Essential Patents (SEPs), which are uncommon in the pharmaceutical world.

The technology sector also differs from the pharmaceutical sector in how it applies patents to business. Regulatory requirements in the technology field are less stringent and are administered by SSOs. Concepts such as patent linkage systems and patent term extensions do not exist in the tech world. Instead, the tech sector generally focuses on generating revenue by licensing technologies, while pharma often strives to maintain a monopoly on blockbuster products and avoid the dreaded “patent chasm.”

The licensing model works well for platform technologies frequently used in drug development. For example, consider an AI platform that helps predict the binding of small molecules to proteins, which in turn provides accurate lead optimization and toxicity predictions. The company behind the technology may have patents specifically protecting the use of convolutional neural networks in this described application, but has no direct interest in drug development. Instead, their business model is to license their technologies to pharmaceutical companies that can speed up their drug discovery programs and reduce their demand. In vivo Testing drug candidates.

Such approaches should be widely adopted by pharmaceutical companies. The industry faces a variety of challenges that are extremely complex and require new ways of thinking, such as those mentioned above, which are essential for continued growth.

But if companies choose to embrace AI-based technologies, they need to think about how to manage the massive amounts of data they need to operate. Access to this data requires a willingness to cooperate or the necessary technology to collect and process the data. For now, both of these concepts remain somewhat foreign to most of the pharmaceutical industry.

Pharmaceutical companies generate a lot of data, and big technologies are being developed to extract value from those big data sets. The full value of data analytics can be brought forward by working together to address the different ways the two industries use data, as well as issues related to data sovereignty, data sharing and data security.

However, data sharing remains an institutional barrier for the pharmaceutical industry. In general, pharmaceutical companies do not know how to share information and are reluctant to share it with third-party platforms, which is perceived as a competitive advantage. In addition, patient confidentiality is often a reason to keep information “in-house”. Although this has some merit, an overly cautious approach could see pharmaceutical companies fail to take full advantage of the technologies available to them.

This fear of sharing can be solved with a better appreciation of how collaboration works in big tech.

This may one day necessitate the need for them to operate at an agreed level, meaning we may soon see SEPs in pharmacy. To support an environment that rewards and protects innovation, SEPs should be licensed on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms, as well as greater interoperability and collaboration.

SEPS and FRAND licenses could pave the way for the development of truly personalized medicine approaches. For example, in the US, Apricia Pharmaceuticals has received FDA approval for a 3D-printed drug designed to treat epilepsy. The tablet design can be adapted to suit the needs of different patient demographics. Colored tablets can be printed for example for children.

But to create such patient-centered drugs at scale, pharmaceutical companies need to make the formula (paint), while technology companies provide the printers. With multiple suppliers of “ink” and “printers” there is a need to standardize so that each patient, pharmacy or hospital does not have a printer battery to process each and every medication.

Every step of the process can benefit from SEPs. Doctors can prescribe medication for a particular patient based on weight, age and severity of pain, but the software; The “ink” and printers needed to print the prescription must all be guided by standards that allow interactions between drugs from different companies.

This example may sound as fantastic now as the idea of ​​a self-driving car did 20 years ago. Mindset changes need to happen now if education is to become a truly digital and personalized medicine reality.

The innovative and disruptive nature of Big Tech is foreign to the pharmaceutical sector. In my view, pharmaceutical companies need to partner with technology firms to encourage development and information sharing and seek to stay at the forefront of new technologies in a rapidly growing industry.


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