Guest Editorial: Disruptive innovation at the interfaces of the drug industry
(Journal: Indian Drugs, Aug 2019 issue)
I am delighted to contribute this Guest Editorial for the current issue of Indian Drugs. I was very happy to interact with industry leaders at the Indian Drugs Annual Day 2019 and share some of our learning on innovation and entrepreneurship in medical products. In this Guest Editorial, I wish to focus on how innovation at the interface of the drug industry and other industries serving the healthcare market will shape the drug industry in the future.
The drug industry is a supplier of solutions for the global health market. There are many other industries that serve this health market as well – other therapeutics, devices, diagnostics, nutraceuticals, preventives, sanitation and hygiene, delivery health care and diagnostic services, digital systems in health, healthcare financing etc. In the past, the drug industry could afford to operate in a silo, but it is clear that the future of serving the health market lies in blurring boundaries between various industry sectors and in finding value creation opportunities at the interface of industry sectors rather than operating in silos.
One can already see how IT and mobile computing is transforming the pharmaceuticals marketing, sales and distribution channels. In the last decade, the largest Venture Capital investments in India were reserved for IT enabled platforms in healthcare delivery and pharmaceutical distribution. While the initial focus of these startups is on drugs and medical services, it is clear that their sights are set much higher — on a future of integrated product and service delivery platforms with platform loyalty and patient/ user/ customer data being the key value creators. (This is akin to the early days of Flipkart or Amazon starting with books and expanding to many other domains. Today, the data they own is invaluable.)
The drug industry will be immediately recognize how IOT (Internet of Things), data analytics, cloud computing and mathematical models (including AI/ML) is going to transform production environments (ex: continuous manufacturing), regulatory compliance requirements (ex: live data and continuous audits) and clinical trials tracking and in-use performance monitoring. Wearable diagnostics and technical textiles promise the change the way health is monitored, medication decisions are taken by clinicians and how drug performance is quantified and observed. Recent advances in novel sensors and diagnostics (such as the ingestible pill sensors) will have a deep influence on formulation design and drug delivery systems.
The interface between diagnostics and therapeutics is again blurring as innovators try to build a closed loop between health parameter measurements and therapy (say, for example, glucose measurements and insulin delivery). Similarly, many innovators are exploring opportunities at the interface of medical devices and therapeutics; for example, implants that also control local infection/ inflammation or drug eluting stents.
Yet another mega-trend is the transition towards precision and personalized medicine. So far, the largest hindrances to personalized medicine were lack of personalized data and data trends, methods to conveniently and accurately capture data, the inability to handle large, varied and fuzzy data sets, and convenient correlational models for multi-parameter population-wide analysis. But this is set to change. Imagine, for example, a population of iWatch (that tracks cardiac performance) users who also allow tracking of data on their physical activities (say, with a FitBit), nutritional information, other medical and diagnostics reports, medication and drugs purchase data etc. This data set could possibly be mined for trends and correlations and captured in the form of a ML algorithm which could then be used predict actual or potential conditions for a given person and may be even suggest personalized guidance and therapy. In such a scenario, the implications for the drug industry are large and extensive.
The drug discovery process (as practiced currently) is just too cumbersome, cost intensive and risky, and therefore has become hegemony of a few who can afford to take such risks. It is clearly a broken process that is awaiting a disruption. Just as Elon Musk and SpaceX have turned the expensive space industry on its head by demonstrating reusable rockets, the drug industry is waiting for an innovation that will transform the drug discovery process entirely and thus make it more accessible and productive. India has tried new ideas like the Open Source Drug Discovery or Reverse Pharmacology approaches in the past. New ideas like the MANAV-Atlas program of DBT also hold considerable promise for leads. It is my opinion that the advances in biological engineering which aim to apply engineering principles and math modeling to living systems combined with the emerging capabilities in data handling and computing are probably going to increase productivity in drug discovery in significant ways.
In conclusion, it is important for the drug industry to rise above narrow industry boundaries, get comfortable with blurring interfaces and focus on the ultimate goal of address issues of health. It is time that the Indian Drug Manufacturing association organize task forces to discuss, research, foresee and understand how new technologies will impact and transform the drug industry and what actions the industry can take to remain relevant.
V. Premnath, PhD
Head, NCL Innovations & Director, Venture Center
CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory, Pune
About the Guest Editor
Dr V. Premnath is currently the Head, NCL Innovations – the group within National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) charged with the responsibility of championing the cause of technology innovation within NCL. Dr Premnath is also the Director of the Venture Center – a technology business incubator on NCL campus. Dr Premnath is also a Scientist, Polymer Science & Engineering Division at NCL with an interest in technology development for medical products.
Dr. V. Premnath holds a B.Tech. from the Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. He has also been a Chevening Technology Enterprise Fellow with the Centre for Scientific Enterprises, London Business School and Cambridge University, UK. Dr Premnath’s experience with medical products development is focused on polymeric implants and has resulted in two families of commercial products and two startups.