Innovation with the pharmaceutical industry is driven by pharma companies needing to work in the best interest of the general public while also trying to make a profit.
Being forward-thinking is key in this industry as the difference between today's game-changing technology and tomorrow's disrupter may be no more than an algorithm which makes the business of saving lives a little more efficient.
Here, Innovation Enterprise highlights five technological innovations which are set to disrupt the pharma industry in 2019.
Bio-printers: Medication teleportation devices
While the visually impressive side of bio-printing such as organ or bone 3D printing has made significant strides in recent years, the development we are most excited about for next year is drug bio-printing.
This year, the CDC partnered with HP to help it in the fight against drug-resistant antibiotics. Antimicrobial-resistant bacteria is one of the biggest challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry across the world. However, as the CDC has to deal with outbreaks as they occur, it has a vested interest in exploring the technology.
By equipping regional antibiotic resistant labs with bio-printers, the CDC has been able to conduct "rapid susceptibility testing" on behalf of health departments. This is much faster than the way the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has historically approved and dispensed medication in times of a bacterial outbreak.
If this pilot program with the CDC goes well, the technology's use cases could be limitless. It could be used to deploy vaccinations to rural areas of the world, antivenoms to injured people in hard to reach areas and speed up the traditional drug deployment process.
VR and AR: Augmenting healthcare through virtual assistance
The possible use cases for both AR and VR are growing every year. By 2019, during one of those dreaded trips to the emergency room, you may find VR and AR are already active technological participants in the experience.
This is because there are a number of startups which have already begun leveraging these advancements to improve patient care. AccuVein is the world's first handheld, non-contact vein illumination tool and uses propriety AR technology to assist healthcare professionals reduce "difficult venous access by 21%", according to AccuVein. By illuminating a patient's veins under the skin in real time, it makes it significantly easier to find a vein first time.
In the VR world, companies like IrisVision have utilized the tech for a simple, but practical solution to a serious and widespread issue in low vision in the elderly. IrisVision is a rehabilitation platform that allows patients to improve their vision in a multitude of ways. "Traditional low vision aids allow you to read or examine things only within arm's reach. With IrisVision you can also see across the room, across the auditorium, into the landscape and out to the horizon," the company claims.
And with 5G networks set to go live in some regions by 2019, we can expect these kinds of use cases to both grow and become more widely used as more powerful networks permit more advanced VR and AR renditions to go mobile.
Drug-adherence tech: The digital nudge which saves life
A significant issue many healthcare professionals and pharmaceutical researchers grapple with is ensuring patients take their allocated medication. Not only can skipping medication lead to worsening conditions, it can skew clinical trials periods for researchers.
Whether down to age-induced forgetfulness or as a result of psychological or mental health issues, a report published in the Annals of Internal Medicineestimates poor drug adherence costs US taxpayers between $100bn and $289bn every year.
To combat this prevalent issue, companies such as Proteus have developed a digital pill system which comprises an ingestible sensor, a wearable sensor patch and a mobile app. Once a pill is ingested, the sensor on the pill communicates with a patch attached the patient skin. The patch not only communicates the fact that the patient has taken the medication, but other important "never-before-seen insights into patient health patterns and medication treatment effectiveness". This information is uploaded to the mobile app to be analyzed by professionals and can help bring about unique, better-informed healthcare decisions.
Another company working on helping patients remember to take their medication is TowerView Health. Its approach has been to create a digital personal assistant which coordinates with the patient's doctor, their insurance providers and pharmacies to ensure patients take their medication at the right times. An independent clinical study coordinated by Penn Medicine and Blue Cross estimated that 99% of TowerView's patients take their medication 99% of the time.
In silico drug testing: Taking the "human" out of human drug trails
A significant part of releasing any drug to the masses is human clinical trials. Before any drug can be approved for sale, it has to pass human trials, and while the healthcare and pharmaceutical professionals involved do all they can to ensure this process is as safe as possible, there are always inherent risks involved when trying out new medications on human beings.
However, with advancements in machine learning and AI, the " in silico" method of drug testing is growing in popularity. In silico drug testing companies such as HumMod simulate the human physiology through algorithms which mimic blood type, bodily fluids, circulation and metabolism rates.
This allows drug manufacturers to rapidly test versions of medications on virtual humans much sooner and at a higher frequency than they ever would be allowed to with human beings. It not only brings down the cost to release a new drug and speeds up the process to market but prevents the need for companies to put more lives at undue risk.