MedCity Influencers, Pharma

Fast-tracking drug development one robot at a time

In an era of high R&D costs and skyrocketing drug prices, pharmaceutical companies are being forced to look to new methods of innovation to alleviate the pressure. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) could help.

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The pharmaceutical industry is going through a tough phase as it strives to manage high R&D costs and skyrocketing drug prices, along with the spike in regulatory controls.

In 2016, the top 10 pharma R&D budgets combined totaled $70.5 billion, with full-year revenue coming in at $404.8 billion. These 10 companies on average spent 17 percent of their top line on research. At the same time, the healthcare industry has observed a multifold rise in the cost of life-saving drugs, which puts pharmaceutical firms in a tough spot. Brand-name medication prices jumped by 16 percent in 2015. Between 2008 and 2015, the prices for these medications rose a staggering 164 percent. Combine these factors with the recent drug price hearing held in the U.S. that publicly shamed drug companies and it may become even harder for pharma companies to generate returns on expensive R&D programs.

Centralized standard operating procedures like Master Data Management, Drug Safety Reporting and Clinical Data Management, are in place but do not allow companies to react quickly to changes. In an attempt to pick up the pace, many companies outsourced these tasks to lower cost countries. Today, even that is not enough to curb the pressure from within, and outside the industry.

As a result, pharmaceutical companies are being forced to look to new methods of innovation to alleviate the pressure being driven by the skyrocketing cost of healthcare.

Change in business operations: Creating solutions
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) quickly arose as one of the best solutions to address all of these challenges. RPA is a set of automated code or scripts designed to streamline digital processes at an accelerated speed and scale. In practice, that follows the same human-like thinking used to complete rule-based tasks, with an added layer of quality and accuracy.

By way of the Internet, RPA is capable of performing manual, time-consuming, repetitive tasks proficiently and at much lower costs. Unlike other automation solutions available in the market today, the implementation of an RPA project does not require a lengthy IT integration period. The computer software gathers the required data to process transactions, sends out appropriate responses, and communicates with other digital systems. All of this is carried out automatically with no need for human monitoring.  

RPA systems provide an added layer of efficiency, especially in cases of repetitive tasks with high volumes. For Master Data Management, a seamless consistency can be maintained for years when managing data records – as we have seen with the banking, financial services and insurance sectors that currently use this system to administer data-intensive work. In the field of drug safety, quality and control, guarantees are crucial — especially when the international pressure to perform is so immense. By eliminating the possibility of human errors through automation, every task is accounted for and becomes traceable. This is very useful for Clinical Data Management cases.   

For example, manually validating NPI/SLN numbers of HCP/HCO for those records where MDM could not match, takes approximately 15 to 30 minutes. An RPA system can be taught to open emails, attachments, validate information, request missing details, fill in the data, and send an email to the manager, in under a minute.

Additionally, RPA can be used to scale up the surge efficiently as its special drag and drop features make it easy to use. This means there is no need for coding and it is easily implemented.     

Potential for RPA in the pharmaceutical industry
Automating processes across the board can have a tremendous impact on pharmaceutical companies looking to increase speed and efficiency while maintaining quality. Potential applications include:

  • Clinical Developments: With RPA, email processes, validation of employees, approval-integration with HR, and contract management systems can all be managed in record time.
  • Commercial Operations: RPA can be applied into operating functions to enrich the collected data and cut down on third party providers’ interferences in data quality.
  • Rebate Processing: RPA systems save integration costs, sometimes even by millions. The manual processes involved are cut down and timelines can be met for every project.
  • Regulatory Submissions: Quality checks are carried out through Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which reduces the time and effort spent on the imperative task.

Automation solutions such as RPA, provide a layer of needed operational efficiency in the pharma sector – which in turn has provided an opportunity for health practitioners to prescribe new, life-saving drugs to their patients at the more affordable rates being demanded.

Where is healthcare headed?
In the fields of cancer, cardiovascular, diabetes and depression, demand for faster drug development and approval will only increase as doctors look to prescribe drugs that provide a higher quality of life for their patients. Companies will have to keep up with this demand, offering products that work successfully and incorporating RPA technology into this process will improve efficiency.

Competition and price fluctuations will always be an added area of concern. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) is a crucial factor when expanding in global markets – efficiencies increased with cost reduction pressures. To keep up with these changes, the previous prediction of $1.3 trillion growth in robotic technology investments is proving to be underestimated.    

Bottom line, RPA systems reduce the need for human intervention, leading to a reduction of human error in processes. This helps improve the speed, accuracy, and compliance tasks for any process driven organization. Every feature of RPA compliments clinical research demands, handling security and integration with total ease-of-use.

No single solution will be enough to fix our faulty healthcare system, but data intensive sectors such as healthcare and pharma could greatly benefit from RPA implementation.

Photo: Chunumunu, Getty Images

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