From Clinical Trials to Drug Manufacturing: How IoT is Transforming the Life Sciences Industry
Author(s): William Bolt, Posted on May 15th, 2017
Ingestible pills equipped with micro cameras. Smart home devices connected to hospital networks. Wearable devices constantly tracking and recording patient data. Thanks to hardware innovation and improvements in IoT technology, we are on the cusp of a Life Sciences R&D transformation. It’s a change fuelled by the growing demand for patient-centric care and the need to improve the bottom line.
However, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies still face significant challenges. Generic competition, increasing M&A activity, blockbuster patent expirations, heavy compliance burdens and widening geographical disparity contribute to a complex and intricate operating landscape – one that is characterised by rising development costs and eroding margins.
In order to ensure sustainability, firms must embrace innovation. Fortunately, in this case, technology does not disappoint.
Putting the patient at the heart of things
Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies must reach clinical outcomes faster. They need to harvest data in an efficient and effective way, while deploying analytics in a timely and secure manner. Technology can facilitate this change.
Today’s clinical trials often require complex designs and demand significant involvement from healthcare staff. This is due in part for constant monitoring and communication during trials. Currently, this is done largely through patient anecdotes and physical appointments, resulting in an onerous, lengthy, and expensive process.
Having the ability to harvest data in an efficient and effective way, and being able to deploy analytics in a timely and secure manner, are two ways to simplify clinical processes, decrease development time, and rein in costs.
By combining medical-grade devices with IoT networks, pharmaceutical professionals will have the ability to monitor patients remotely. This includes keeping track of changes in body temperature, hydration levels, sleep cycles, and other daily activities – all collected passively and in real-time. This new method of data capture facilitates efficient and effective information transfer, while exerting minimal impact on the patient experience.
Solutions such as the recently launched Active Insights™ by Unisys, a comprehensive and integrated medical device management platform, allow Healthcare and Life Sciences companies to effortlessly monitor all the medical devices within their organisation from a single point of contact. This means that it becomes easier to track device performance, monitor device maintenance and ensure regular compliance.
Next generation drug manufacturing
Further down the development chain, pharmaceutical manufacturing is also heading towards a revolution. Wireless connectivity and state-of-the-art sensors are providing greater visibility across every step of the production process. This insight affords greater operational efficiency: wastage is minimalised, downtime remediation is done in near-real time, and compliance is more readily met through persistent and consistent monitoring.
However, these advantages also come with inherent risks. According to IBM, the Life Sciences industry is now the top industry for cyberattacks, ahead of more traditional targets such as Financial Services and general Manufacturing. The very nature of the data sought by hackers means that ramifications of any security breach can be quite severe and extensive. Theft, counterfeit, and unlicensed medicines within the supply chain are a huge problem that cost the industry billions, globally. Public exposures of patient information can quickly destroy brand and industry trust while putting patients, providers, and payers at significant risk.
Pharmaceutical companies need to enable connectivity, collaboration and information flows, but also need to protect them. This is especially critical for networks with third-party collaborators. However, unfettered data movement is crucial for insight and development to flourish. Meaning networks must be secured against attacks, but also protected in a manner that minimises the impact on their utility.
A three-step data security process can help. In this instance, the data of interest is first isolated from the rest of the system. Second, it is encrypted, before it is transferred out of the network or networks. These steps are key to compliance with directives issued by various regulatory bodies, including the GDPR, EMA, FDA, PMDA and GPhC, among others.
Remember, complex devices aren’t the only target. Smart scales, smart fridges, and any other devices connected to a critical network can be exploited to compromise sensitive data. According to Gartner, there will be roughly 20.8 billion IoT devices by 2020. Without proper precautions, the possible attack surface becomes absolutely enormous, growing at a frightening pace.
The IoT-powered Life Sciences revolution is still in its early stages. The resultant connected future is still clouded with security, privacy, and regulatory concerns. However, what is clear is that IoT technologies will allow pharmaceutical companies to extend their offering ‘beyond the pill’ with complementary services and products. This result is sure to improve the general satisfaction and safety of patients, and boost the bottom lines of both payers and providers. In order for this to happen, implementing proper security measures is essential.