COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation timeline for pharmaceutical industry

Even though the pharmaceutical sector used to display a more conservative stance toward the adoption of new technologies, the COVID-19 pandemic acted as a trigger that forced the pharmaceutical sector to accelerate the digital transformation timeline, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

According to a GlobalData survey, 35% of pharmaceutical industry professionals believe that the COVID-19 pandemic sped up digital transformation in the pharmaceutical industry by more than five years. The respondents coming from Europe and North America seemed to be particularly affected by digitalization efforts, with 40% of respondents highlighting that the digital transformation was accelerated by more than five years.

Urte Jakimaviciute MSc, Senior Director of Market Research, comments: “In a short space of time, the pharmaceutical industry has witnessed years-long digital transformation roadmaps squeezed into weeks in order to adapt to reduced in-person interactions, mobility restrictions and shift towards remote work.

“Lockdowns, movement restrictions and social distancing norms have rapidly pushed healthcare services and patient monitoring toward remote options, paving the way for increased usage of telemedicine, digital therapeutics, as well as decentralized clinical trials. The pandemic has also changed traditional sales and marketing models, leading to increased demand for online marketing and communication tools.”

For example,, a leading telemedicine platform for healthcare providers, saw a significant increase in its monthly visits, from over 250,000 visits in February 2020 to a peak of 23.2 million visits in April 2020. In March 2020, Veeva – a company specializing in cloud-based business solutions for the life sciences industry – started offering its CRM Engage Meeting tool free of charge in order to allow its customers to stay connected with healthcare professionals. More than 64,000 meetings were scheduled using this tool during March 16–21, 2020, at an increase of over 275% compared to the previous week.

Digital transformation is also seen as a positive step towards addressing R&D productivity challenges. Technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), have already hit significant milestones in drug discovery. For example, in early 2020, Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma and Exscientia announced that an AI-created compound (DSP-1181) would be used in human clinical trials for the first time; researchers from BenevolentAI identified Eli Lilly’s Olumiant (baricitinib) as a potential treatment for COVID-19. The treatment received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA for hospitalized COVID-19 patients in November 2020.

Jakimaviciute concludes: “The pharmaceutical sector has been relatively slow in embracing digital transformation. This tendency has been influenced by the need for the industry to concentrate on wide-ranging internal and external factors such as rising R&D costs, drug pricing and reimbursement concerns, increasing regulatory burden, patent expiries and tax reforms. Nevertheless, COVID-19 uncovered a strong need for innovation and the adoption of digital tools, and quite successfully showcased how quickly the industry can embrace changes when it is pressured to do so.”

* Data taken from GlobalData’s poll fielded between January 20–March 1, 2021. 482 respondents participated in the poll.

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