The biotech industry is booming and is set to grow at a noteworthy CAGR of 8.7% from 2023 to 2030, with startups emerging across the globe and life-changing treatments constantly hitting the market. Essentially, digital innovations in biotech are reshaping the world of medicine.
And though this is welcome news for patients in need of new drugs and treatments, the increasing number of companies cropping up makes the biotech sphere a real competitive space. In the US alone, there are 3,429 Biotechnology businesses as of 2023, which is an increase of 7% from 2022.
For that reason, if a biotech company wants to tackle the fierce competition in today’s saturated market, they need to stay ahead of the curve and be willing to adapt. This need to evolve adds a sense of urgency, and leaders are now required to take risks and make significant investments into new digital innovations in biotech such as AI and cloud computing, so they can gain an edge over their competition.
A digital overhaul of the entire sector is looming, but what does this look like? And of course, what long-term impact will this have on the biotech industry as a whole?
Why do biotechs need to adapt to the digital transformation?
Despite the constant development of new biotechnology innovations, the industry has traditionally been slow to adopt new technologies and approaches. This is mostly due to the rules, regulations and the risks involved with making changes within the healthcare sector. Realistically, drastic changes to any approach, system or methodology can be hard to adopt in practice.
However, investment into the digital shift is absolutely fundamental to accelerate in the biotechnology industry, for a whole host of reasons. For example, the pandemic highlighted the need to shift to remote and hybrid working models, alongside the increasing volume of patients and illnesses that require treatment. Consequently, cutting-edge treatments and drugs are required on the market at a much faster rate – highlighting the need for digital advancements.
Without the implementation of new digital technologies, biotechs face a number of risks, including:
- The inability to comply to modern day rules and regulations
- Tough competition for venture capital investment from new entrants to the market
- Without digital innovations in biotech such as AI and IoT, operational costs will remain sky-high
Types of technology available to biotech companies:
The list of emerging tech available to today’s biotechnology companies is constantly growing. According to a recent Deloitte report, biotechs are already utilising this technology, with 49% using the cloud, 38% adopting AI and 33% implementing wearable technology.
Some of the cutting edge technology that is being adopted by biotech companies include:
The shift to hybrid working has made it increasingly necessary to transition networks and data storage to the cloud, enabling workers to access important data from anywhere in the world.
Although cloud computing offers numerous benefits, it also presents certain downsides, including new security challenges that biotech companies, dealing with sensitive information, find particularly concerning. Companies must ensure the implementation of new cybersecurity policies and procedures alongside cloud computing to minimize the risk of hacks and data breaches.
AI allows companies to consolidate and analyse enormous masses of data, run simulations and even predict outcomes of drug trials to maximise efficiency. Companies such as AstraZeneca and Novartis have even begun creating guidelines for the ethical use of AI in Biotech to ensure patient safety and full transparency in the way biotech companies are using AI in the drug development process.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Biotech companies can utilize the latest virtual and augmented reality technology to remotely view and configure equipment or tour manufacturing facilities. This eliminates the need for physical attendance at these locations, reducing development time and enabling more convenient collaboration among team members.
However, incorporating VR and AR technology into their business operations may pose significant challenges for smaller companies. The high cost of the technology and the additional investment of time and money required for employee training make it more difficult for them to adopt this technology.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The IoT improves supply chain tracking by facilitating automated communication of potential issues, such as temperature control malfunctions, that could adversely affect sensitive materials during shipment.
Researchers can remotely observe and collect data on trial participants by using body-worn sensors and monitors. This streamlines the process and allows trials to be conducted beyond their usual geographic limits. Patients need a personal device to facilitate communication, and specialist technicians are responsible for implementing this technology, training staff and patients on its usage, and resolving any errors that may arise.
This adds a layer of complexity to the process that will require extra time and money to be spent on implementing this technology, however the benefits of decentralised clinical trials using wearable technology tend to outweigh the drawbacks.
This can help speed up the pace at which medication can be traced back to their source in the event of recall or contamination. This would require biotech companies to hire specialist blockchain professionals to develop and maintain these complex systems.
How is digital transformation affecting the biotechnology industry?
Successfully evolving to a new, digitally-enhanced strategy when it comes to data reporting, organisation, analysis and storage can totally transform the way biotechs operate.
For example, utilising AI technology to organise data, alongside the cloud to store and consolidate this data allows for increased data security and faster processes. This eradicates the need for scientists to spend hours fulfilling low-value data management tasks, such as implementing data into the system manually.
Consequently, this saves hours of time that can then be spent on other valuable tasks – like the actual drug development phases.
Streamlining and saving money on research and development stages
The research and development stages of drug discovery and development are often the most time-consuming and costly, taking over 10 years and more than $1 billion on average to develop each new medicine. Therefore, any money or time-saving advancements will always be helpful.
Biotechs must keep costs at a minimum to compete against other organizations. Technology, such as AI, can rapidly process medical journal articles, simulate and predict clinical trial outcomes, and limit clinical trial failure while expediting the identification of promising drug candidates.
Similarly, decentralised clinical trials – which are essentially trials that adopt digital technology to minimise the need for on-site clinical trials – are on the rise. A study has found that both decentralised phase 2 and phase 3 studies are quicker than traditional on-site trials, yielding a net benefit that is many times greater than the initial investment required. Other benefits the study found include:
- Faster recruitment and higher retention rates
- Decentralised versions need fewer review boards
- lowers regulatory costs
- Increases flexibility for protocol changes
Limiting human error
The biotech industry involves meticulous processes, regulatory compliance, and complex systems, making the potential for human error substantial. However, digital innovations in biotech can help minimize these mistakes, particularly within the supply chain.
For instance, various compounds and materials are shipped globally every day. Ensuring proper protection of these materials is crucial to avoid significant financial losses due to damage or loss. By reinforcing the supply chain with relevant technology, such as IoT, smart devices can collaborate to share shipment information, including temperature readings, to maintain the safety and security of temperature-controlled shipments.
Another example is blockchain technology, which works to validate the authenticity of medicine shipments along the supply chain. Counterfeit medicines are a huge problem in the industry, with analysts estimating the global counterfeit medicine market to be worth between $200 and $432 billion. Blockchain technology proves useful to help track drugs right back to their source and address contaminations in a quick and easy manner.
Patient interaction and care
Wearable technology enhances the clinical trial phase of the entire drug development process. By utilizing wearable technology such as smartwatches and mobile apps, biotechs can collect, monitor, and communicate with patients and trial participants in real-time.
This enables biotechs to provide improved care and maintain continuous interaction with their patients, adopting a more patient-centric approach to clinical trials.
Preparing for a digital future
Out of all the biotech trends currently impacting the industry, AI and machine learning looks set to revolutionise the future of biotech as it begins to be utilised to develop personalised medicine for more effective treatments, reduce the time needed for drug discovery whilst also reducing the cost, and streamline manufacturing processes.
The industry will continue to grow, but only if both new and established companies are willing to keep up. These businesses must embrace the constant technological trends, innovations, and advancements in biotech to fully undergo digital transformation.