Digital tech exploded in 2018: Will 2019 see broad adoption?

By Melissa Fassbender contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Natali_Mis)
(Image: Getty/Natali_Mis)

Related tags: Digital health, Artificial intelligence, Clinical research, AiCure, Patient outcomes, Data

Awareness around the potential opportunities created by artificial intelligence has never been higher, but pharma’s biggest challenge in 2019 will be adopting and scaling the right technology to improve patient outcomes, says an industry executive.

Ed Ikeguchi, chief medical officer at AiCure, an artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics company, said 2018 was a year filled with change – both positive and negative.

On the upside, the pharmaceutical industry more broadly adopted innovative technology leveraging AI and machine learning for use across R&D as well as commercial development, he told us.

Regulators also got on board, with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) releasing a statement​ backing the idea of AI-enabled technology and encouraging its use in health care.

Larger technology companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon also have shown greater investment and interest in the health care space, Ikeguchi noted. As one example, Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway teamed up​ to form a new company that aims to address US employee health care.

Ikeguchi described this as a great example of companies coming together to disrupt the health care industry – something that he said the industry can expect more of in 2019. “With blended expertise and collaboration, companies have the right mix of data and people to provide the solution needed to bring AI to broader adoption,” ​he added.

Moving forward, Ikeguchi would like to see the industry more broadly adopt AI in clinical research, he said, noting the technology’s potential to provide novel insights into new and existing therapies.

“AI can be an objective measure on how patients behave while on treatment, providing enormous insight – and value – to pharma players,”​ said Ikeguchi. “While some companies are beginning to see its power, in order to achieve broader adoption, pharma need to change its current mindset and understand the potential of digital technology like AI in clinical trials and its proven ROI.”

Creating value from an ‘unprecedented’ amount of data

Conversely, Ikeguchi said a negative change in 2018 was “the inundation of data,”​ as the industry experienced – and continues to see – a “data explosion.”

“The proliferation of new tools and services has resulted in an unprecedented amount of data for pharmaceutical companies,”​ he explained. “However, not all datasets are made equally. Large datasets are only as valuable as the quality of data collected and thoughtfulness of the algorithms developed.”

With this, Ikeguchi said pharma companies will need to be “diligent about selecting the right platforms and right vendors” ​– the numbers of which have increased greatly as digital health companies have seen significant investment recently.

However, Ikeguchi noted that several of these companies, unable to find a foothold in the market, began to slow operations or sold to larger firms in 2018. He expects this “thinning of the herd”​ to continue in 2019, as pharmaceutical players focus on the digital solutions that show “clear clinical impact and strong ROI.”

“There’s more pressure now than ever for the broader health care industry to shift to a value-based care environment and the pharma industry is beginning to feel these strains,”​ Ikeguchi said.

“Digital solutions that show strong engagement combined with the ability to change patient behavior – that will improve patient outcomes – will win the game,”​ he added, noting that it is no longer enough to merely engage patients, but instead, actively help them adopt healthier behaviors.

Ikeguchi said, “2018 was more about identifying the right technologies – 2019 will focus more on adopting them more broadly across an organization and the overall pharma industry.”

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