Suresh Katta, CEO and founder of Saama Technologies, spoke with Outsourcing-Pharma about the rapid technological advancements in the drug development field, and how companies can cultivate a workforce capable of keeping up.
OSP: Could you please talk about some of the shifts in and demands on the clinical trial industry that are changing what we expect of study and drug-development personnel?
SK: We are beginning an exciting new era when drug development teams can look at artificial intelligence (AI) as a welcomed new co-worker. AI is enabling them to take clinical study strategy and design to a superior level.
Human-in-the-loop AI empowers drug development personnel to work closely beside their new digital colleague. The expectation is that AI will be embraced to elevate the clinical trial process, just as science was embraced to elevate the drug development process.
OSP: Specifically, the rapid digital evolution of clinical trial technology at every level has caused some dramatic changes. How does that impact the workforce?
SK: Rapid digital evolution of clinical trial technology frees up study managers, medical monitors, and safety managers to concentrate on their most meaningful work and eliminates the need for such experts to spend time on the mundane, laborious aspects of clinical trials. It enables the clinical trial process to reap the full benefits of the knowledge and education they bring to the table. AI also creates a single source of data truth, which empowers organizational consciousness for more effective decision-making.
OSP: How can managers find and recruit the right people to handle the ongoing digital transformation?
SK: In order to optimize digital transformation the industry needs to embrace and activate experts at every organizational level who are aligned with leveraging analytics and technology to achieve greater efficiencies. Biopharma has done an excellent job of adding scientific experts throughout organizations but now must follow through by likewise integrating experts in AI and machine learning (ML). These professionals must become standard team members throughout an organization, not just in the IT department. Innovative individuals who display early-adopter traits will be especially valuable to life science companies in the coming years.
OSP: Is there an advantage over seeking out recent college graduates or experienced research/drug dev recruits? What advantages (or disadvantages) might each offer the organization that brings them in?
SK: Both experienced drug dev professionals and new college graduates bring valuable skills and perspectives to the table, and each can learn from the other. Seasoned clinical trial veterans
offer years of ingrained expertise, and that brain trust can and should be mined by the next generation. However, our industry also must embrace and benefit from the exciting thinking of recent college grads, which has the potential to redefine the life sciences.
OSP: Can you train existing staff, to help them get up to speed?
SK: Organizational transformation can only be achieved from the top down. Leadership and senior executives must create an environment that is conducive to learning and change, which means changing existing business practices and mindsets. Once that occurs, tremendous progress can be made in terms of training existing staff to embrace and master new technology.
OSP: Please feel free to talk about other challenges associated with the increasing digital transformation of the research and drug-dev workforce, and how companies can best address them.
SK: As the industry addresses and embraces digital transformation, one of our main challenges is to ensure that the ecosystem of partners around drug development does so as well, including the regulatory authorities. Suppliers must move in the same direction, at similar speed as sponsors. To do so we must cannibalize old methodologies and work hand-in-hand to institute new technologies and associated processes.
OSP: How can technology providers help their clients (and potential customers) prepare for and adjust to this digital transformation?
SK: Technology companies are poised and able to surgically insert AI into existing processes. AI-based smart applications work with existing technology to complement and upgrade current systems. Technology providers can digitally fortify these systems and make them smarter rather than rip and replace them, leading the life sciences ecosystem down the path of digital transformation and innovation.
OSP: Do you have anything to add?
SK: Despite the incredible progress and success realized by the life sciences industry, approximately 90% of known illnesses remain unaddressed, untreatable, or incurable. The digital transformation of life sciences will lead to a better quality of life for people suffering from illness and improve global population health.