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The new ‘IT’ thing in drug discovery
February 2018
by Lori Lesko  |  Email the author


SANTA CLARA, Calif.—With a growing interest in big data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI)-based solutions, coupled with short-term growth in information technology (IT) spending, global pharmaceutical companies are shifting toward big data and cloud-based solutions, according to Frost & Sullivan. The analytical firm issued a report recently which predicts the global pharmaceutical drug discovery IT solutions market will reach $5.3 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 8.9 percent.
That report, entitled “Growth Insights—Global Pharmaceutical Drug Discovery IT Solutions Market, Forecast to 2020 Digitalization in Drug Discovery Presents Significant Growth Opportunities for Healthcare IT Companies,” provides an analysis of key market dynamics, forecast and trends, current adoption of IT solutions, market growth opportunities, segments to watch and competitive analysis, thus painting a picture of the growing reliance on technological advances amidst the explosion of social media through the 21st century.
Social media and digital health channels are increasingly being used to fast-track the patient recruitment process and share drug safety information with patients, according to Frost & Sullivan. The growing focus of pharmaceutical companies on reducing their drug discovery spending has resulted in companies looking to adopt information technology and informatics solutions to achieve efficiency in their R&D operations.
“As adoption of IT solutions grows and vendors develop clarity about customer requirements, the market is expected to witness a transformation in existing product landscape and available opportunities,” the report states. “At present, most market developments and innovations are led by small-market participants and startups, which are also gaining strong traction from big pharma companies.”
Evolution of innovative small companies will continue, which translates into interesting innovations and technology-driven market dynamics, Frost & Sullivan notes.
“AI-based platforms play a pivotal role in drug discovery digital and information tools development, especially in lead compound identification, computer-aided drug design and LIMS tools,” says Piyush Bansal, Frost & Sullivan Transformational Health senior industry analyst. “Big pharmaceuticals are adopting machine learning and cognitive computing-based platforms, and their ongoing efforts will intensify in the near future.”
To “survive in a fragmented pharmaceutical IT solutions market, with several small companies and no clear business structure,” Bansal recommends that “players focus on strengthening their market presence and product portfolios by adopting collaborative partnerships and mergers and acquisition strategies.”
Large pharmaceutical companies are signing long-term strategic partnerships with ICT solutions providers to develop and implement focused IT solutions for their operations.
“Despite significant advancements in technology, data security and integrity remain a key concern for pharmaceutical companies while adopting external information technology platforms,” noted Bansal. “Companies are still skeptical regarding hosting patient- and research-specific information on online servers. This has resulted in lower-than-expected adoption of IT platforms in the industry.”
Bansal reports that one of the key issues for pharma companies is reducing their drug discovery expense, “which now stands at $1 billion to $1.2 billion for a blockbuster drug.
Traditionally drug discovery and development “has been focused on a laboratory and field research model,” he says. “However, emerging applications of data analytics in drug discovery have forced pharmaceutical companies to restructure their business model and adopt a data-driven drug discovery and development approach.”
A number of leading pharmaceutical manufacturers, “including Novartis, J&J, AstraZeneca and Amgen, have stated their intention to adopt data analytics and artificial intelligence solutions,” according to Bansal. “Healthcare payers and pharmaceutical companies are increasingly collaborating on an outcome-based pricing structure and hence a strong focus on the target patient pool to understand their focused needs and specific symptoms during the drug discovery process, is highly desirable. Pharmaceutical companies are now proactively using electronic health records and diagnostics data in their drug discovery, development and clinical trials operations.”
Currently, most products are “application-focused, as companies are still exploring possibilities of digitalizing different activities/functions,” he says. “There is no platform supporting end-to-end drug discovery function—which is highly desired by the scientist community. Further cognitive computing and artificial intelligence-based tools are mostly in experimentation phase, and we expect further advancements in these technologies with respect to these drug discovery and design applications.”
The Frost & Sullivan report highlights medicinal chemistry solutions as likely being “the dominant IT spending category during the forecast period. The market is highly fragmented with a handful of global participants and many application-focused solution providers.”
Code: E021805



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