Life sciences companies are aggressively embracing new technology-driven approaches to commercialize their products and reduce operating costs, according to a new report issued by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, a global information and technology services company.
The current technology wave in life sciences—including cloud-based business intelligence applications and storage, embedded analytics and systems integration—has the potential to drive transformational change over the next three years in overall healthcare system efficiency and the effectiveness of treatments. The availability and adoption of secure, healthcare-specific tools and services are key to accelerating that opportunity and deriving greater value from new, expanded sources of health information to optimize patient outcomes.
The study, Riding the Information Technology Wave in Life Sciences: Priorities, Pitfalls and Promise, found life sciences companies are aggressively shifting their technology-based approaches to align cross-functional activities, optimize their organizations and improve the effectiveness and agility of commercial teams. In addition, new investment is being focused on enabling greater patient engagement.
The report cites findings from an IMS Institute survey of decision makers in IT, marketing, sales, operations and management from 70 life sciences organizations asked about their current and planned use of new IT solutions. Overall, respondents expect continued cost reductions across the industry, and 40% pointed to planned cuts of more than 10% in their organizations during the next three years.
In addition, 74% of survey participants are looking to derive greater value from the influx of healthcare information that includes anonymized Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and other real-world data. New investments in a range of commercial operations applications, such as customer relationship management, social media or integrated multi-channel marketing solutions, were cited by more than 70% of respondents as a priority.
“Realizing the full benefit from new technologies will be a high priority for all life sciences companies as commercialization approaches are revised amid changing customer demands and a growing need for efficiency,” said Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. “Applications that are healthcare-specific, cloud-based, integrated, secure and analytically powerful will yield substantial advantages to these organizations, and ultimately to patients and the health system overall.”
According to the report, the largest global pharmaceutical companies will need to reduce combined operating costs by $36 billion annually through 2017 to maintain their operating margins and current levels of R&D activities. Pressure on operating margins is expected to grow as companies face rising costs at the same time drug prices are being constrained or reduced. With an estimated R&D cost inflation rate of 5% annually, organizations will need to reduce other operating costs to maintain margins.
While the source of cost cutting will vary by company, a primary focus likely will be on sales, marketing and administration costs, which amount to nearly 30% of net sales. Of those surveyed by the IMS Institute, 87% indicated their commercial organizations are being optimized through a range of approaches, including selective insourcing and outsourcing, resource shifting and implementation of previously unavailable technology-based solutions.
Companies see interoperability of technology systems as an urgent and critical need. As technology systems and applications within life sciences companies have proliferated during the past decade, they often have remained siloed and inefficient. Integrated systems, cited by 85% of survey respondents as a need for optimizing their commercial organizations, are increasingly viewed as a means to improve workflow speed, eliminate conflicting data interpretations across departments and reduce the cost of vendor teams managing manual data handoffs. Life sciences organizations are seeking pre-built, cloud-based application suites as a means to achieve these enterprise-wide system efficiencies.
Life sciences companies are shifting their primary data storage to the cloud and investing in new sales and marketing-related applications. The report found, due to the sensitive nature of healthcare data, the adoption of remote, cloud-based technologies by life sciences companies has been slow compared to other industries. Organizations are embracing efforts by cloud providers to accelerate progress in establishing and maintaining secure and compliant environments for the collection and storage of health information; 70% of participants expressed a need to utilize third-party, cloud-based applications.
Technology is enabling the healthcare industry to derive greater value from Big Data. Large, connected, anonymized patient datasets already are accessible for analysis in some countries with national health systems; in other countries, the pooling of EMR, claims and other data sets will be essential to creating repositories representative of patient populations. In the U.S., some hospital systems are collaborating to pool data for analysis, with the aim of refining treatment algorithms to achieve the best possible patient outcomes.
The ability of life sciences companies to benefit from these data sources currently is limited due to the lack of consistent formats and privacy standards among cloud-based service providers. Progress is being made to facilitate access to shared repositories in the cloud that can be used by multiple stakeholders to examine the burden of illness and understand the value of medicines.
According to the report, analytic systems designed to interpret and create actionable insights have not kept pace with the abundant and growing amounts of data generated or accessed by life sciences companies. As competition among life sciences companies intensifies, and the mix of new medicines skews toward those with relatively small target patient populations, analytic systems that help bring medicines to the right patients and their physicians are essential.
Implementation of these systems accelerates the improvement of health outcomes while also bringing more efficiency to the entire health system. Querying large, observational data sets, however, requires clinical expertise that is often highly specialized. Cloud applications that translate complex disease measures into pre-built definitions enable non-expert users to derive greater insights.
New mobile applications for both patients and physicians are seen as increasingly important for strengthening healthcare engagement. As life sciences companies focus on innovative ways to bring value and services to their customers, mobile applications are likely to play a greater role in keeping patients more engaged in their own healthcare, facilitating communication between patients and healthcare professionals, and delivering targeted, helpful information to physicians and payers.
Nearly 60% of survey respondents rated patient apps as extremely or very important to address commercial challenges, while 69% similarly rated investments in physician apps. Currently, apps for physicians and other healthcare providers can offer drug-agnostic disease education and training to help guide decision making, as well as dosing calculators and web-based access to information about specific drugs.