2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, and the pharmaceutical industry has been also affected by the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and related phenomena. Many things have happened in regards to global health. First, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges, scientists have put many traditional clinical trials on hold, and has changed the focus to developing a vaccine or medication for the coronavirus. For the next months and maybe even years, COVID-19 will remain a central aspect of our lives and also a central topic in the pharmaceutical industry. The second main trend is the increased adoption of digital solutions that can also play a role in how 2021 is likely to shape up.
To date, COVID-19 caused a major shakeup in the drug industry, making it quicker and easier to trial drugs. CEOs and C-level executives of pharmaceutical companies have their own predictions regarding 2021 trends. Many recognize the COVID-19 situation as both a crisis and an opportunity for improving clinical research, as well as something that has revealed the need to better address and treat other deadly illnesses and develop new safe, and effective options. A faster and more efficient process of drug development is in demand in the market, and technology is likely the way to get there.
Scientific technology is becoming more popular. Artificial intelligence (AI) is growing in demand in the pharmaceutical industry and is projected to have a huge growth burst in 2021. We expect to see huge demand and rapid growth of AI technology next year. It is likely that pharmaceutical companies will be employing more AI in different ways to accelerate their processes. For instance, using digital trials, robotics, and the internet of things, and other new approaches, it’s possible to cut down the time and costs of drug development. Recovering from the pandemic is also likely to be an important task for many companies in the upcoming year. (1)
AI in particular is becoming more and more popular since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Its available roles are expanding quickly. Some companies have fully embraced it for patient recruitment, data collection, finding undiagnosed patients, trial matching, predicting clinical drug outcomes, participant dropout, and many more factors, which can significantly speed up clinical trials, medication improvement, and more. In addition, monitoring technology can become a useful source for gathering data that can be interpreted using AI, for example, staying alert for signs of trouble or adverse reactions. Therefore, making and developing smart tech for the health field is an increasingly lucrative task (2) and can streamline processes.(3) In the future, it is likely that AI will be used even more extensively, especially for things that take too long or that are hard to detect using a human perspective. It has been reported that AI market in drug discovery alone is estimated to reach $6.6 billion in 2021. (4)
In addition to AI, other digital solutions like smart wearables and blockchain have also become more popular and are gaining traction in the industry. One trend involves wearables, which can provide doctors with better data, or smart speakers that can be used for improving adherence to a medication regime or smart pets that can be used for patients with dementia who cannot care for a real animal. Furthermore, blockchain technology is also becoming integrated into pharmaceutical industries for simplifying transactions and keeping data more secure.
Also, COVID-19 has accelerated changes in the pharmaceutical industry, pushing for faster and more efficient procedures. It has forced companies to adopt technology as a matter of daily practice, and it seems unlikely that this is turning back. The pandemic made these processes, that were already taking place, move faster, and forced the industry to implement quick changes. Even though the pandemic has negatively impacted many, this can be seen as a silver lining, as it pushed the industry to make changes and set in motion digital trends that are likely to continue. Even companies that have been resistant to work-from-home or the implementation of digital tools have been forced to accept these as a part of the new normalcy. The trends are unlikely to get fully reversed, and it seems probable that in 2021, companies will keep moving ahead with the technological changes they have already started. (5)
Additionally, other potential trends have been rising in popularity and are likely to become even more popular in 2021, for instance, medical marijuana, as the associated legislation and existing literature changes and grows. Marihuana has also been the subject of much research recently that suggests it might have medical potential (3) which is becoming more accepted and is getting legalized across different countries. (As of 2020, 35 states have implemented medical marijuana programs for patients in the U.S.).
2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, but the pharmaceutical industry has been especially affected, in positive and negative ways, due to the need to seek and produce vaccines and medications. Speedy vaccine development in 2020 could potentially lead to accelerated timelines for other therapeutics in the future. As vaccines are reaching the public, it becomes particularly relevant, and in 2021, the demands on the pharmaceutical industry are likely to grow.
One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has accelerated the rate of change for the pharmaceutical industry and life sciences fields in general. Many companies will continue to focus on COVID-19. The need for vaccines and medication for COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. It is also worth noting that the long-term effects of the virus are not yet well-known, but there will likely be some requiring support from the industry in the form of medication. The industry will need to better adapt to the existing demands and grow faster, but most importantly, smarter AI and technology seems to be the way of the future, as they have been changing the approach to drug development, testing, and many other things.
We are in the end zone of the year 2020 now. The coming year of 2021 will likely be another pivotal year for the life sciences field at large, and drug developers in particular with many different opportunities for development and growth.
1.Grom. T. (2020). The Year to Come and the Year That Was. https://www.pharmavoice.com/article/2020-11-the-year-to-come/
2.Garcia, J. (2020). Personal Technology and Artificial Intelligence Will Provide for Better Health Outcomes. https://www.pharmavoice.com/article/2020-11-better-health-outcomes/
3.Linchpin. (2020). Trends Transforming The Pharmaceutical Industry Outlook in 2021. https://linchpinseo.com/trends-pharmaceutical-industry/
4.Ribbink, K. (2020). The Expanded Role of AI in Pharma. https://www.pharmavoice.com/article/2020-11-age-of-the-machine/
5.Grom, T. (2020). COVID-19: Silver Liningshttps://www.pharmavoice.com/article/2020-11-covid-19-silver-linings/
About the Author
Lin Zhang, Ph.D., senior director of a health care industry company in the United States. With the experience in clinical medicine, biotechnology, health industry and other fields, he is responsible for the research and development of plant medicine, functional food and health products. He was a clinician and worked for the National Cancer Institute, FDA and the National Cancer Center of Japan for many years.