Networking technology: Fuelling the pharma industry growth

Anil Bhasin, Vice President, Enterprise, Cisco India & SAARC

India: today's global pharma 'destination'

Growing at a rate of 8-9 per cent per year, the pharmaceutical industry in India is pegged to reach $48 billion by the year 2007 according to a CII study. This growth has led the players in the Indian pharmaceutical industry to explore newer avenues of drug research, discovery and development, promising higher capital investments in the near future. Also, many multinational companies have entered India to market drugs and conduct clinical trails and research. Thus, Indian pharmaceutical research, manufacturing, and outsourcing have received an impetus, creating the image of a land of opportunities in the pharmaceuticals space.

The same CII study also predicts that India could become a global pharma hub by exporting domestically produced generic products and presenting itself as an offshoring destination for clinical and pre-clinical research and other support services. In addition, there is tremendous potential presented in the Indian pharma market itself. Consumer spending on healthcare went up from 4 per cent of GDP in 1995 to 7 per cent in 2007. That number is expected to go upto 13 per cent of GDP by 2015. According to a recent McKinsey report, that will turn India into a $20 billion pharma market. This implies that pharma companies will have a huge R&D, sales and marketing network spread across geographies and their telecommunication costs can grow exponentially. Therefore, pharma companies need to embrace technology that can offer dynamic lines of communication between the global markets and its manufacturing and research centres in India. Ultimately, Indian's growth as a global player hinges on its ability to overcome challenges and given the present scenario, integrating and facilitating cost-effective communication is a major challenge.

Contract research and clinical trials: golden goose for Indian pharma sector

In particular, India is poised to emerge as a key contract research hub.
According to a study by consultancy major Ernst & Young, the total market for clinical research activities in India is expected to touch $1.5-2 billion by 2010. A.T.Kearney has listed India second (just after China) for attractiveness as clinical trials centers. With pharma majors facing increased pressure on profit margins, spiraling R&D costs and increasing overheads, outsourcing of clinical research processes to third parties in developing countries seems a viable option. By contracting such work to India, they save anywhere from 40 to 60 per cent in new drug development.

Networking and communications technology is considered the enabler for many aspects of the contract research and clinical trial business. The application of technology has the potential to vastly improve:

  • Time to market - achieved through significant reductions in patient recruitment intervals and more efficient data management.
  • Cost containment- achieved through the reduced re-work required for a single trial and internal savings on systems development.
  • Improved productivity- achieved by re-use of standard networks, study sites and processes across multiple trials that will release key staff quicker.
  • Faster and better informed decisions- achieved by implementing web-based "real-time" data access for rapid decision-making and project management reporting.

Harnessing Technology

Some specific challenges that plague the Indian pharma industry:

  • The "silo effect" in large pharmaceutical companies that prevent clinicians from sharing pertinent data
  • A lack of standardized data definitions, necessitating duplicate testing and trials
  • Weak process and systems integration that slows time to market

System thinking based communication platforms could help pharma companies overcome these obstacles by developing an electronic clinical development system based on Internet platform initiatives.

Consider the edge that they provide:

Secure extranets for research partners
In an ideal networked pharmaceutical business model, the company stores the intellectual capital that is critical to its competitive advantage, in-house. The remaining information is outsourced through strategic alliances with peers and vendors. These alliances could be short term or long term and geographically independent. Converging Web-based collaboration tools, and secure communications, companies can be in seamless contact .

R&D supply-chain management
Management not in terms of logistics alone but in terms of large volumes of data. An example would be mapping a gene bank data, or when gathering genotype data from external sources. Supply-chain management allows sharing of critical systems while protecting intellectual property.

E-learning and shared work space
Converging communication technology allows for enhancing collaborative efforts for on-demand e-learning and informal knowledge sharing. During clinical trials, establishing the protocols and the study design is most of the work. Internet-based automated application builders can help clinicians design procedures, capture data, and establish workflow rules confirming to good clinical practices.

Clinical portals
Pharmaceutical companies can widen their intellectual footprint beyond partners with online multimedia environments that speed clinical trial data transactions and exchange with regulatory agencies and non-secure partners.

R&D command centers
Command centers, that are hosted or built in-house, can handle multiple data and information feeds from extranets, intranets, and portals. This allows for rapid response to unexpected regulatory or clinical problems and also quick redeployment of intellectual property to new projects.

Rapid changes in the Indian pharma landscape driving IT adoption

In the early days of the Indian Pharmaceutical industry , there was a stiff price war amongst companies as they focused on reverse engineering of complex molecules at lower costs and manufactured "me-too" products with same therapeutic properties. Now, Indian pharma companies are focusing ramping up their R&D capabilities to focus on new drug regimes and newer molecules. This renewed focus on R&D re-iterates the need for robust and secure networks for large data transactions.

Small and medium sized Indian pharma companies are still not convinced about the long-term benefits of adopting cutting-edge technology due to constraints such as budgets and limited infrastructure. Although the SME pharma market is very large and has tremendous potential it is yet to be tapped to its full potential. Many Indian SME pharma companies are not into drug research and testing. Still, they need technology to improve efficiency in quality assurance and control, and for adherence to regulatory requirements for operation and testing, improving batch tracking and expiry date tracking, optimizing credit and logistics control, consolidating sales promotions, discounts, and purchase-sales-inventory analysis and optimally tracking consignment sales.

Pharma companies riding the Internet economy

The Internet economy is rapidly changing the face of the pharmaceutical industry by delivering new web-enabled solutions to solve many business and primary care issues. Automating administrative processes such as billing, purchasing, etc lead to increased sales-marketing and R&D productivity, thereby reducing operating costs across the organization.

Emerging sciences such as genomics and proteomics increase the number of drug targets from the hundreds to tens of thousands, Internet applications will help to optimize large volumes of complex data and help better identify drug candidates. The question is no longer when the Internet or technology will impact the business of pharmaceuticals, but how the industry will adopt the technology to get the most out of the new global business environment. Today's new pharma companies need scalable networking solutions that will grow with the company, provide productivity for a mobile workforce, and meet pertinent security regulations.


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