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Human sensing provides a unique opportunity to enhance the agility of the pharma value chain.
Due to the rapid proliferation of digital technologies and advanced sensing mechanisms based on the real-time, low-power implementation of cost-effective sensors (embedded devices), sensing the human state and context through contact and noncontact methods has evolved significantly.
Consequently, one of the promising areas, which have opened up for pharma, is exploring the capabilities of human sensing for the next leap in their transformation journey. Human sensing is a broad, integrated terminology encompassing physical and cognitive sensing related to human beings. Human sensing provides a unique opportunity to enhance the agility of the pharma value chain, which hinges on three significant elements: R&D, manufacturing, and marketing and sales.
The building blocks of a human sensing system
The non-invasive or minimally invasive nature of human sensing is driving its adoption increasingly across the life sciences industry.
The first step of the sensing journey begins with deploying different physical sensors on a subject using smartphones, wearable devices, 3D cameras, and telematics to record parameters such as heart rate, oxygen level, blood pressure, and temperature. The data is then combined with cognitive sensing, like behavioral detection and social interaction, using advanced analytics and machine learning. This results in timely insights with real-time processing and qualitative subject analysis. With both the physical and cognitive sensing information, sufficient knowledge of the subject's location, mental state, physiological state, general wellness, and behavioral mindset is generated, essentially creating a digital twin of the subject (see Figure 1).
Tapping into the potential of human sensing
Pharma companies can apply human sensing to overcome various challenges across the value chain.
The three fundamental processes forming the life sciences value chain are research and development, manufacturing and supply Chain, and sales and marketing. Human sensing holds immense potential in transforming each function for life sciences companies (see Table 1).
Research and development (R&D)
On average, top life sciences companies spend between 15 - 25% of their revenue on R&D and are under constant pressure to make clinical trials more efficient and improve time to market. Pharma companies can apply human sensing in two challenging areas of life sciences R&D, multi-site clinical trial data collection, and real-world evidence (RWE).
Life sciences companies need to present a diverse set of data and experiences for regulatory approval. However, carrying out clinical trials on a comprehensive group of patients, often spread across multiple geographies, takes time and effort. To provide a faster and more accurate method of gathering patient data, biosensors and wearables can be used to collect the user's physiological information, such as pulse, activity levels, body temperature, oxygen levels, and blood pressure.
The challenge related to RWE is to arrive at the best treatment paths in clinical practice based on the data collected from clinical trials. RWE can be gathered using human sensing platforms such as biosensors, wristbands, wearables, sensor-based chip-on-a-pill, or ingestible sensors. The collected sensor data can be analyzed to generate the best clinical pathway.
Manufacturing and supply chain
Pharmaceutical manufacturers have been reported to waste $25 billion due to supply chain inefficiencies. Human sensing can address this issue using sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID) to provide invaluable intelligence to the pharmaceutical supply chain. For example, certain medicines need to be maintained at a specific temperature to function properly during transportation. A human sensing system enabled by sensors and RFID can ensure continuous logistics monitoring and reporting on required parameters. Warehousing and routing drugs using smart sensors help in efficient supply chain management, reducing wastage costs and minimizing the overall drug cost.
In addition, with genomics and precision medicine advancements, drug manufacturers are moving from mass to custom manufacturing as a response to a specific medicine varies across individuals. Human sensing provides a solution to address the problem by integrating individual patient data collected through bio-sensors and wearable devices with the manufacturing system.
Sales and marketing (S&M)
Life sciences organizations spend anywhere between 30 - 50% of their revenue on sales and marketing. With the proliferation of digital technologies, pharma companies' business-to-business (B2B) model is being transformed into a business-to-customer (B2C) model, as patient-centric S&M functions offer considerable differentiation.
Engaging with the patients to understand their mindset, social media behavior, and general wellness is becoming increasingly important to deliver holistic treatment. Increasing incidences of chronic diseases now require long-term patient engagement and management. Further, the medical system is moving toward a future where the bottom line will depend not only on the number of prescription drugs sold but also on the patient's overall wellness.
Human sensing has a crucial role to play in meeting patient treatment requirements by gathering physiological data of patients, as well as data on mental health through physical and cognitive sensors. For example, by analyzing patient discussions and interactions on social media, pharma companies can assess and make sense of what is being said and identify how to utilize the information for better marketing and customer engagement.
Creating an efficient human sensing model for pharma with Business 4.0
Thus far, the life sciences industry has adopted only parts of human sensing within its value chain,
These include multi-site clinical trial data of patients or deploying sensors for supply chain wastage. Programs and initiatives to engage with patients better, focused mainly on patient education, are also in progress. However, most current initiatives relate to physical sensing, and with minimal inclusion of cognitive sensing, they need to provide an integrated view of human sensing.
To realize the full value of human sensing, an integrated, seamless, and full spectrum approach to human sensing (see Figure 2), spread across the value chain, must be implemented. The intelligence gathered at one stage can then be fed into the next stage, and as a result, the whole system derives the benefit of increased insights and better efficiencies.
As a next step, life sciences organizations should evaluate their position in the human sensing matrix using the suggested framework in Figure 3.
Quadrant 1 is the most basic level of human sensing, which comprises moderately invasive and mostly physical sensing elements. Quadrant 2 includes cognitive sensing that is still relatively invasive in nature. Quadrant 3 is physical sensing, characterized by its minimally invasive nature, while Quadrant 4 is cognitive sensing which is minimally invasive. Most of the current initiatives and pilots underway within pharma companies fall either in Quadrant 1 or 2. An ideal position for pharma companies would be somewhere between Quadrants 3 and 4, with a mix of minimally invasive physical and cognitive sensing, forming a holistic physical and mental map of the patient.
Human sensing, supported by the Business 4.0 framework, can bring about breakthroughs in the pharma industry. By leveraging a digital ecosystem of sensors, IoT (internet of things), RFID, wearables, social media, cloud, and analytics, among others, it can enable interactive sensor-based data to tailor medicine at an individual level, driving the practice of precision medicine. Making the value chain integrated and holistic in nature supports organizations to embrace risk and adopt an experimental approach for better results. The value created in terms of efficiency improvements is exponential in scale and impacts patient engagement, thereby influencing business outcomes positively.
Human sensing – An imperative for the pharma industry
As the life sciences industry transforms, there is a spurt in the availability of digital tools, impacting consumers' engagement with the more extensive healthcare system. On the other hand, there is pressure on pharma to deliver better and quicker research outcomes. In addition, it needs to enable an agile manufacturing and supply chain system that can meet the requirements of individualized treatments of the future and reposition the sales and marketing function to engage with patients meaningfully in their larger wellness journey. A positive development accompanying this is the advancement in the field of electronics, which has brought down the cost of sensor hardware and associated technologies.
All these developments have created a window of opportunity for life sciences companies to take a leap in their transformation journey. Forward-looking life sciences companies willing to stay ahead of their peers should make human sensing an integral part of their planning process. And evaluating current positioning through the suggestive framework discussed above should be the first step of this journey.