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The adoption of Internet of Things (IOTs), artificial intelligence and high-tech sensor technology in pharma sector is all set to revolutionise manufacturing of drugs as well as the way healthcare is delivered in India. Sensing the potential impact of this change, pharma companies in major industrialised countries are already augmenting their capabilities to make the most of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 that may come to rely heavily on the inter-connectivity of machines, processes and products to drive automation in the sector. With connected devices and equipment monitoring medical conditions of patients on a real-time basis, treating patients at home during their convalescence and free hospital beds to service critically ill patients is to become a reality in near future. This is also expected to bring down the cost of treatment.

Maximising efficiency of pharma supply chains is closely linked to not only mitigating increases in healthcare expenses but also improving patient care. While innovative technologies are already being deployed by many Indian companies to overcome barriers to supply chain, more such innovations are expected to bring in coherence in multitude of processes.

Big Data Analytics implementation is a great boon in making areas such as personalised medicine a reality. Cognitive computing systems can collect and auto-analyse vital sign readings generated by the various medical instruments and wearable devices for patients in ICU and provide intuitive alerts to caregivers on their mobile devices for the timely intervention thereby ensuring better clinical outcome.

The decision of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to come up with EHR standards for India is a laudatory step in this direction. Healthcare institutions can adapt to these standards at least to enable them to share data as and when they need.

Manufacturing is undergoing rapid changes driven by new technologies and rapidly evolving customer demand. To address the ever-expanding range of choices of buyers, manufacturers have brought in mass customisation. The Indian pharma industry is also experiencing such changes, as the number of products continues to grow and the range of choices in mature categories expands. But pharmaceutical manufacturers have their own set of challenges due to the need of high degree of precision necessary in most manufacturing processes and closely regulated nature of pharmaceuticals.

With smart manufacturing implementations, the amount of data for a given process increases substantially. Smart instruments developed over the last few years have extensive native networking capabilities, so collecting data is much easier. If used properly, this data can be instructive and offer critical insights into the process.

Some recent studies have underscored the fact that cyber security attacks on the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries have worsened at a faster rate than other industry sectors. Cyber security breaches into pharma companies by hackers and criminals can lead to stealing of intellectual property and medical records to create fraudulent new identities. Security breaches may have even serious implications if hackers can get unauthorised access to life-saving devices like infusion pumps that are used to deliver programmed amount of fluids into a patient’s body. An increasing need for automation and robotics, remote access and factory-wide connectivity has meant pharmaceutical production and control systems have changed significantly in the last decade, making them more vulnerable to cyber attacks. Hence, concrete steps should be in place to mitigate the risks and threats due to online security breaches.

The current state of Indian pharma industry is data-rich and information-poor. The primary goal of a Business Intelligence system implementation is to take charge of that data and convert it into more meaningful information and insights that lead to strategic and timely decisions. Unlike a decade or so ago, when analytics had just started to blossom in the developed economies, today it has become a lot more easier and cheaper to implement. Today, the need of the hour is to have BI solutions designed to integrate disparate, heterogeneous data into a single repository and present the gist of the data to the senior executives by means of dashboards and reports.

Adoption of Cloud Computing technology by pharma companies gives them added advantages of on-demand scalability and timely agility to adjust according to the varying needs of the market. It can also help pharma companies process the huge amounts of data they deal with as a part of their R&D activities, and replace the information silos that have been formed as a result of legacy infrastructure. In short, Cloud allows companies to quickly and efficiently deliver the value of clinical research. However, despite all its advantages the Indian pharma industry is still in a nascent stage of Cloud adoption. For many, security remains a major cause of concern. As pharma companies hold vast amounts of sensitive data, including intellectual property and patient information, Hybrid Cloud can be an ideal solution for the sector.

As Indian pharma sector is looking to explore new growth opportunities, the government is firmly behind the industry by backing it up with enabling policy and much required regulatory reforms. With concerted efforts being undertaken to overcome roadblocks and push the growth of the Indian pharma industry globally, all the stakeholders need to speak in one voice. For this to happen, there is a need to deliberate on major issues, identify solutions and create pointed strategies to achieve the desired results.

The government’s decision to allow 100 per cent FDI under the automatic route in greenfield pharma and up to 74 per cent in the existing pharmaceutical companies is a laudatory step. The decision to do away with the requirement of Foreign Investment Promotion Board permissions now makes the process of foreign investment in the Indian pharmaceutical industry much easier. The move is already pushing M&A activity and private equity investment in the sector. However, many industry experts consider the decision as counter-productive for the Indian pharma sector that has strong foothold in generic drugs segment.

While there is stress on discoveries and hard core R&D efforts, it is advisable to nurture an ecosystem that promotes smart calibrated disruptive technologies that will reach the common man faster than hard core discoveries. Translating that into Indian health realm, such technologies/ discoveries/ innovations would include low cost effective medicine for TB, malaria, Dengue, etc. Also, efforts should be underway to create cheap medicines and treatment procedures for cancer patients, which are now prohibitively high in the Indian context.