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  • Feb 05
  • Raghav

It is no secret that the pharma industry has saved billions of lives in the past year and is continuing to do so now. Innovation and technological advancements have been the two pillars that have led to the development of mRNA-based vaccines, efficient health systems in hospitals, and security of patient data. Now is the opportunity for biopharma and med-tech companies to sustain this newly found momentum and take it forward. As Arda Ural, EY Americas industry markets leader, health sciences and wellness, observes, “For all the terrible things that COVID unleashed, it also offered a real-life experiment to test some of the hypothesis pharma has been thinking about with regard to digital.”

According to Deloitte, corporate funding for digital health reached a record US$21.6 billion globally in 2020—an increase of 103% over 2019. With the help of digital health tools, virtual care can fundamentally change health care access and deliver an improved care experience. Digitization in the life sciences sector has also led to an increase in new point of care systems, digital pharmacy setups, and easy and efficient access to health care.

As the pharma commercial models are undergoing virtual shift, companies are now focusing on the needs of the health care providers (HCPs). Remote selling has soared last year in 2020 as doctors and hospitals turned to virtual meetings with sales representatives. Companies conducted more than 317K remote meetings with doctors globally in April 2020 but soon, even this change is subject to the post-COVID requirements of each country. Companies have started to drive value to through digital channels to educate health care providers in the post-pandemic world.

Ural identifies several areas where digital took a stronger foothold in the industry last year. First, not surprisingly, is patient engagement. While the use of telehealth has been increasing for the last few years, the pandemic saw a surge in the rate of older patients using telehealth technology. Ural points to an EY-Parthenon Consumer Health Survey (published August 2020) that tracked 1,400 consumers throughout the patient journey that revealed both a stronger desire to self-manage their care and growing tech savviness among the over-65s.

The surge in digital engagement is propelling further advances in dealing with patient data. Pascal Bécache, co-founder of Digital Pharma Lab—which helps European biopharma companies to accelerate and integrate innovations provided by selected startups into their business models—told Pharm Exec that more than half of the projects his company saw in 2020 were concerned with patient data. “Pharma companies really want to understand what is going on with their patients, how their drugs are accepted into the patient pathway, and how the medical professional is administering them,” he explains. “They need this to add further products and services to their portfolios. Digital technology, digital products, and digital metrics will become more and more embedded in pharma companies as we go forward.”

Unlike some of the sectors that were badly damaged, biopharma emerged relatively unscathed, overall, from the pandemic. The industry thus retains “enough fire power and balance sheet strength to fund its ongoing digitalization,” says Ural. “If the pharma industry can afford digitalization by the ability to deploy capital against massive capital expenditures, I think this is the time to do it,” he adds. An EY survey of 500 US-based, C-suite executives, published in November, reported that 54% of respondents cited digital investment as a top investment priority going forward.

For Ural, the answer to whether pharma companies should buy in extra digital capabilities or build them “is probably somewhere in between.” He explains, “You don’t want to be competing with people whose day job is technology. You want to own your own business strategy and prioritization, but you need to find the right partners to help you with the digitalization journey.” Whatever path companies take to achieve full digital transformation, Ural says he is optimistic that the industry is finally reaching the inflection point: “The era of the digitalization of pharma has arrived.”


Vicky Levy | Global Life Sciences Sector Leader Vicky Levy Deloitte Global Life Sciences Sector Leader vlevy@deloitte.com . “2021 Global Life Sciences Sector Outlook.” Deloitte, June 25, 2021. https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/life-sciences-and-healthcare/articles/global-life-sciences-sector-outlook.html .

Pitchbook. “Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning Q1 2021 VC Update,” n.d.
“2021 In Focus.” PharmExec. Accessed July 13, 2021.. https://www.pharmexec.com/view/2021-in-focus-pharm-exec-s-annual-industry-outlook


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