Demographic and lifestyle changes are giving the healthcare and life sciences industry a long-term boost. Shifting disease patterns, more sedentary lifestyles, changing diets, alongside ageing populations and a growing middle class have led to increasing healthcare demand and expenditures.
However, not all is rosy as the industry has come into the crosshairs of governments seeking to contain burgeoning healthcare costs.
In China, the government has piloted a programme to receive lower costs on some drugs in exchange for volume buying or reimbursements. Japan has introduced measures such as mandatory price cuts for the highest-selling drugs and aims to increase the use of generics from 55% to 80% by 2020.
India’s National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority has issued notices to 263 companies thought to be overcharging in 2015 and 2016. Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme has introduced price cuts up to 60% on many prescription and patent-protected drugs.
While these pricing actions are headwinds for the pharmaceutical industry, these four countries have also stepped up its efforts for innovation and investment in the life sciences.
Australia has increased funding for R&D, while China has launched a three-year Marketing Authorisation Holder programme to promote local innovation. India is setting up three mini life-science parks over the next three years [http://apedb.gov.in/life-sciences-sector.html], and will be building a national biotech centre in its capital. Japan has established the Agency for Medical R&D to fund and support research. All four countries have taken actions to facilitate clinical trials and expedite approvals.
Life science companies are under tremendous pressure to innovate and improve their profitability, while keeping costs under control and coping with regulatory changes. Planning ahead, many of these companies are transforming their operational strategies, not only in R&D and global operations, but also in finance, sales, production and distribution.
Collaboration has become respectable, as a way to fill in-house capability gaps and overcome R&D and marketplace challenges. Companies have turned to open innovation to externally source for ideas, knowledge, skills and technologies.
Collaborating throughout the product development lifecycle has become increasingly common, as an effective way to offset mounting R&D costs, funding shortfalls, increasing disease complexity and technology advances. According to Deloitte, drugs sourced through open innovation have a three-fold increase in its probability of success.
Shifting away from a multi-drug strategy, many life science companies are streamlining and focusing on specific therapeutic areas. Some have specialised in certain diseases, offering products and services throughout the disease lifecycle from diagnosis to chronic condition maintenance. They have divested underperforming units, swapping products with other players to build critical mass in areas such as oncology or diabetes care.
The industry is seeing a convergence between technology and the life sciences. Tech companies have entered the life science space or are partnering with them to develop new products and capabilities.
Google’s life sciences division Verily is teaming up with GSK to pioneer bioelectronic medicines and with Sanofi to help treat diabetes. Its DeepMinds unit is partnering with doctors in the UK to develop healthcare software and apps. Novo Nordisk is collaborating with IBM Watson Health to track diabetes patients, while Pfizer will be deploying IBM’s Watson for Drug Discovery cloud-based cognitive tool to accelerate its immuno-oncology research.
Roche and Qualcomm have a strategic collaboration to improve remote monitoring and management of chronic disease patients via tech-enabled medical devices. Merck and Novartis are establishing dedicated digital health innovation units that resemble tech start-ups.
Companies have emphasised fluid and nimble operations, with global innovation teams operating round the clock. They leverage part-time, contract and other contingent workers and partnerships with educational and government institutions.
They are adopting new workforce management models that recognise the advantages and challenges of this open talent economy and the need to develop and retain employees with critical clinical, business and technology skill sets. According to Accenture, 73% believe a more fluid workforce will improve innovation in the life sciences.