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Leveraging Modern Technologies in Medical Affairs Functions

15 Jan 2022

We are witnessing true digital transformation around us. Some industries have disrupted themselves with cutting edge digital solutions to create efficiencies and improve productivity while others have done it to stay relevant and ahead of their peers. What is changing in their approach now is that they continue their pursuits to embrace digital but with a razor-sharp focus on customer experience.

Industries such as Information and Communication Technology, Media, and advanced Manufacturing sectors have embraced digital almost seamlessly with a lens on customer experience. On the other hand, Medical Affairs (MA) organizations, in healthcare, either do not have an enterprise-wide digital strategy or are in the initial stages of evolving a digital strategy. More often than not, digital initiatives within MA run in silos, driven by ad hoc projects and requirements.

According to a survey conducted by the Medical Affairs Digital Strategy council, COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the need to accelerate digital transformation across the pharmaceutical industry. This is of particular relevance to Medical Affairs, which is at the frontline of leading external medical interactions with healthcare professionals as well as other key stakeholders. 67% of the participating MA organizations had ambitious digital plans, but only 27% were satisfied with their company’s progress, indicating there is a lot more work to be done.

So how do we get MA up to speed with adapting to and adopting digital and modern technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to deliver automation, without overtly disrupting existing workflows; to create the much-needed bandwidth within MA teams to do more strategic work? While it is critical to define the North Star, it is equally important to articulate milestone-based and incremental outcome-based parameters.

Indegene was at the AI in Medical Affairs conference in December 2021, where we presented along with Georgios Tramountanis – Head of Global Oncology Medical Information and Review at Takeda. We along with Georgios shared views about future-proofing medical affairs organizations to achieve their digital strategies. Our takeaway from the conference is that the industry understands that while other industries have taken to digital transformation, MA in life sciences organizations have been laggard. This event was designed to help MA organizations leverage insights from real-world data using a human-centric AI approach, ML, and advanced forecasting and optimization to understand patient experiences better and gain insights from Key Opinion Leaders and Health Care Professionals. This endeavor was to enable MA teams formulate the best digital strategy that aligns with the current AI developments and leverage AI to arrive at the best decisions and insights needed for success. Over 100 leaders in MA from leading pharma companies attended the event.

The event also reflected that Medical Information (MI) and Medical, Legal, and Regulatory (MLR) review are 2 areas that are ripe for automation, to which we agree as well. Field medical and external engagements are emerging opportunities for digital.

Case in point here - Indegene has been an active part of several proof of concepts with Georgios Tramountanis at Takeda Oncology, as a partner in Takeda’s digital innovation journey in the MI and MLR space. One such project was to try and see if we could automate the creation of the Claims Database. We trained our machines using complex Natural Language Processing algorithms and ML to identify promotional claims, intelligently extract them, and create the database, wherein, the machines have the capability to compare new claims against the Claims Database and validate them. The objective was to help reviewers use the latest and greatest claims with them during review and help cut down cycle times significantly.

We also deployed content comparator to compare 2 versions of the same document—one with comments from the MLR committee and the other with comments addressed. The idea was to harness the power of machines to do mundane tasks, which then helps the reviewer to focus on more strategic tasks, while machines take care of the tactical ones in the background.

Through our automation efforts, our goal has been to bring down cycle times by 15% and drive accountability and rigor in getting the information right the first time, minimize compliance risks, and help assets go to market faster by about 20%.

While the case reflects the efforts that leading MA organizations are making in this stride, there is a lot of work to be done. The Medical Affairs Digital Strategy Council report also throws some light on the key challenges organizations are facing in driving digital progress – listed below:

  • Navigating the tension between enterprise and functional ownership of digital strategy and the complexity of getting the right people involved

    Need to build global capabilities to address new digital opportunities, especially around AI and data capture and usage.

    Variability in capabilities and resources across countries/locations

    Legal constraints, including privacy laws, that can complicate the need to capture information safely and without exposing the company to potential risk

    Gaining internal buy-in around digital

    Lack of data within Medical Affairs about customers

This is just the beginning of a long journey yet a very important one for Medical Affairs organizations, as their roles are moving from a support function to a strategic pillar, that is key in driving patient experiences and outcomes.


Sudy Vengarai
Sudy Vengarai