What's Next In: Information Technology - Pharmaceutical Technology

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What's Next In: Information Technology

Pharmaceutical Technology

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IMS Health projects worldwide pharmaceutical prescription sales to more than double over the next decade and a half, from $600 billion in 2005 to $1.3 trillion in 2020. Generics account for around 53% of prescription drug sales in the US and about 55% in the UK, 41% in Germany, and 16% in Japan. Patents on many drugs are expiring, and there are fewer blockbuster drugs with the potential to replace them. The sale of generics is expected to rise steeply over the next five years (2007-2012) as patents begin to expire on branded drugs with more than $60 billion in combined annual sales. The overall market share of generic products is expected to rise as drugs go off patent and governments across the world try to control their countries' expenditure on medication, favoring the use of generics over branded drugs. The major pharmaceutical companies will need to move away from the "blockbuster drug" model and adopt new strategies that cater to specific diseases and populations-making targeted medicines. For example, the over-65 population in America is growing four times faster than the population as a whole. As the number of Americans older than age 65 increases from 1-in-8 today to 1-in-6 by 2020, the pharmaceutical industry needs to target old-age diseases like Alzheimer's, which is currently the seventh-leading cause of death in the US. Drugs that address rising multifactor disorders such as cancer, as well as lifestyle disorders such as obesity, are also likely to experience strong revenue growth. The industry must shift its investment focus toward more research and away from sales and marketing. It appears unlikely that pharmaceutical companies can sustain a growth model whereby approximately one third of revenues are spent on sales and marketing costs while just one sixth of revenues is invested in R&D. With recent announcements that top pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Boston Scientific, and Novartis are reducing their sales forces as a means to reducing the cost of sales and marketing, the industry is already signaling a change in spending priorities.

From a technology perspective, the pharmaceutical industry is dealing with an explosion of data that must be integrated, processed, analyzed, and shared-particularly with recent developments in genomics, proteomics, and emerging areas such as systems biology. Grid technology helps to deal with the computational and data integration challenges and enables researchers to collaborate more effectively, but the technology is still maturing. Grids enable organizations to run increasingly complex applications that require ever-larger datasets and multi-step analysis. They enable scientists within a single organization to gain access to the company's research data and/or enable researchers from different organizations to collaborate on a single-drug development effort. Grids also create ways for people or companies to contribute computational power to the study of diseases that we know little about (for instance, the Intel collaboration with Cambridge University to examine anthrax).

Specific applications working in collaboration with patient data and therapeutic efficacy of molecules alone will not suffice. Applications will have to have some artificial intelligence to learn from all experiences and automatically build the knowledge set. Physical examination of patients will become less necessary as remote sensing and data acquisition technology make remote diagnosis easier. A larger collaboration will need to exist between government, insurance companies, patient data systems, and diagnostic instrument data streams.

Another key issue for the industry is the counterfeit drugs entering the supply chain. Electronic tracking technologies such as RFID and bar coding are being evaluated. RFID solutions are also being evaluated to increase productivity and accuracy in shipping and receiving, reduce stock-outs, improve expiration management, and simplify the product recall and sample-management processes. Technology improvements will also ultimately benefit the patients. According to research, prescription errors resulted in 72,000 deaths in the UK. The prescription error could be cut by up to 70 percent using the deployment of bar code technology. The use of robotic dispensing units linked to prescriptions through bar codes helps to reduce fatal medical errors, control cost, keep a closer track on stocks, and order new drugs when required. The robot has an error rate of one in 10,000. The robot will save more than 1,200 hours of staff time per year. The newest generation of these devices can securely store hundreds of medications, and maintain full patient profiles. Thus the pharmacy department role in providing product services will be greatly reduced.


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