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Digital Transformation in Biotech: How is the Industry Changing?

11 October 2022

By The Marketing Team

Digital Transformation in Biotech: How is the Industry Changing?

In the past, biotech companies have been slow to utilise and truly embed digital technology as part of their efforts to innovate.

The pandemic has changed things – technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and data capture hardware and software are all being more commonly integrated into biotech company processes.

From 2019 to 2021, venture capitalists put $35bn into biotech companies with advanced platform technologies – high investment in biotech is signalling investor interest in biotech breakthroughs in drug discovery, cloud, targeting, and delivery.

Biotech companies with an innovative approach to technology are benefitting from investor interest and a renewed, improved approach to R&D and standard processes - but how is digital transformation impacting the industry overall?

A competitive advantage

According to Deloitte, 77% of biopharma leaders say their organisation views digital innovation as a competitive differentiator.

Digital innovation is no longer a ‘nice to have’ or a far-away concept, but instead, it is a strategic priority.

Respondents to the Deloitte survey also agreed that their approach to digital innovation required them to solve fundamental issues, such as:

  • Dedicated funding (59%)

  • A better digital innovation strategy (49%)

  • The right talent to scale digital innovation (47%)

These common issues mean that organisations ahead of the curve with their digital strategy will have a competitive edge.

Additionally, biotechs that focus on digital transformation can also reduce R&D costs, when globally, biotech firms spend over $55bn on R&D efforts. Controlling costs is a significant factor in remaining competitive.

Optimised R&D processes

As mentioned above, biotech companies spend a lot of money on the research and development phase of medical treatments.

Many startup biotechs are operating with low overheads now, and digital transformation can enable R&D processes to be expedited.

For example, advanced analytical tools can support scientists across locations and teams to discover breakthrough therapies, expediting their value-steam processes from target identification to preclinical development.

AI and ML are playing a significant role in the way that R&D processes are streamlined – both can analyse huge amounts of research and reduce the time spent on data analysis in the process, which employees can then evaluate.

This will have a knock-on impact on the skills that biotech organisations are hiring for, as AI and ML proficiency and data analysis skills will be in high demand, with an expectation that the most appropriate candidates for the role will have strong digital expertise.

Streamlined collaboration and scalability

Cloud computing is facilitating productive, agile collaboration for biotech organisations.

Employees can work from home and collaborate with other employees, securely sharing and storing data and running algorithms using cloud computing.

This technology enables employees to access data and research from any location, making the process of scaling effectively even easier for organisations.

Making collaboration more agile is extremely beneficial for biotech organisations, as it means that resources can be scaled up or down depending on changing needs, and there is no concern about running out of storage.

The rise of data-heavy disciplines in biotech such as genomics means that a huge amount of data needs to be managed, processed, and analysed, which cloud computing can streamline.

After all, a central point for organisations to collaborate that can be easily scaled up or down is one of the most efficient tools a biotech organisation has at its disposal.

Fewer disruptions in operations

Investment in digital technology could be the key to mitigating the impact of disruptions to clinical development operations.

Switzerland-based healthcare company Novartis made significant investments in advanced analytics, AI and digital technologies to enable a fast reaction to the pandemic by reducing expected submission timelines.

Back in 2018, Novartis launched its Nerve Live platform, using predictive analytics and AI for site selection, modelling enrolment scenarios, drug supply and resource requirement planning (e.g. staffing and time commitments).

The use of this platform meant that development teams had real-time visibility into trial activity, meaning that they could predict where disruptions were likely to happen and intervene to mitigate them.

Deloitte research has also found that investments in AI and digitalising trial operations enabled most of the top 20 companies by R&D spend to keep pivotal trials moving without affecting anticipated launch timings.

In short, digital transformation has the potential to reduce costs and disruptions to clinical development operations through predictive analytics.

A vastly different hiring landscape

Sourcing and retaining top talent has been a considerable challenge for the life sciences industry on the whole, yet for the biotech industry, there is now the challenge of hiring digitally proficient employees.

The rush to find specialists in digital fields such as data analytics and engineering has meant that the recruitment process is considerably more competitive and time-consuming, as there is an ongoing demand for this type of talent across industries.

This has caused a shift in the way that biotech organisations are hiring, with a greater emphasis on Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and employer branding to attract talent.

A candidate-driven market means that employers are emphasising the benefits of joining their company more than ever before in the hiring process, rather than simply assuming that a job advert alone is sufficient.

Additionally, many biotech organisations are looking toward specialist recruitment partners in their hiring process to benefit from the expert knowledge of the hiring market, and for more comprehensive attraction and retention strategies.

Digital transformation is driving biotech

Like many other industries within life sciences, the biotech industry is being shaped by digital transformation.

The opportunity to streamline R&D processes, improve agility and scalability, and have an edge over the competition, are all highly attractive to biotech organisations that are embracing digital change.

Though hiring challenges may impact how quickly these changes emerge in the industry, it is likely that the effect of digital transformation could be significant and positive for organisations of all sizes, if harnessed properly.

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