Veeva’s predictions for the life sciences industry in 2021

While COVID-19 undoubtedly brought great chaos and crises last year, it also fuelled incredible innovation and collaboration across the life sciences industry. Looking ahead, the industry is showing no signs of slowing down – and digital will be key in making that happen. As companies continue opening digital channels to accelerate commercial and drug development, we’ll see new operating models reshape the industry and drive powerful transformation for years to come. Here are Veeva’s top life sciences predictions for 2021, from our panel of industry experts.

1. Unified systems will allow for sustained innovation in the industry

Chris Moore, President, Veeva Europe

The year 2020 reset what was possible in life sciences. Whether it was Roche introducing a new diagnostic test within months of the COVID-19 outbreak or regulators moving swiftly to approve new vaccines, a number of advancements happened in the industry. The question now is how to maintain this forward momentum in a sustainable way.

Many companies will use this imperative to unify clinical, regulatory, quality, safety, medical and commercial functions through end-to-end digital platforms. Instead of relying on disjointed systems that slow down progress and require longer hours from teams, they’ll opt for more connected solutions that remove redundant processes and duplicate information. On the commercial content side, for example, we’ll see medical, legal, and regulatory (MLR) reviews dramatically accelerated through such platforms.

Unified systems will also allow companies to connect with physicians, CROs, CMOs, CSOs and patients in new, more productive ways. With less friction and greater collaboration, companies will be able to continue moving at speeds reached in 2020, resulting in more efficient development and delivery of treatments to society.

2. Digital will make way for two-way HCP engagement

Paul Shawah, Executive Vice President, Strategy

In 2020, digital adoption skyrocketed across commercial organisations. According to Veeva Pulse data, the use of virtual meetings increased more than eightfold, while rep-sent email went up sevenfold since January. But up until now, these channels have primarily been used for outbound HCP engagement, leaving untapped opportunities to leverage digital to its full potential.

This year, companies will explore new inbound engagement channels that make it easier for doctors to quickly find the people, information and services they need, when they need it. With a greater focus on customer-centricity, this type of two-way engagement will ensure that companies are available when doctors need them most, making it more efficient to get the right treatments in the hands of the right patients.

While the shift will be gradual and require significant change management, two-way engagement will result in much more relevant and mutually beneficial interactions between doctors and the industry. The companies that do it best will have digital tightly woven into their field strategies and rep relationships to deliver a seamless, integrated HCP experience across channels.

3. Post-COVID uncertainty will make operational efficiency an imperative

Tom Schwenger, President and Chief Operating Officer

Companies have always been looking for ways to work smarter and more cost-effectively to better serve their customers. But the mounting financial pressures of COVID-19 and the uncertainty it will bring in 2021 are driving a greater need for life sciences organisations to gain operational efficiency in order to protect their future.

One such strategy will be the emergence of flexible profit-and-loss (P&L) strategies that allow companies to quickly scale operations up and down without impacting their bottom line. For example, companies will increasingly outsource workstreams related to manufacturing, sales, data management and more. This will deliver large-scale efficiencies as well as the ability for companies to rapidly shrink or expand investments depending on their situation this year.

Process automation and digitisation will drive further efficiencies while also providing greater insight into business performance. From data collection and data quality oversight in clinical trials to digital sales call tracking on the commercial side, there are countless ways technology will help automate repetitive, manual processes while reducing human error. With more accurate data, companies will be able to make more informed decisions and quickly adapt to any unexpected changes in the future.

4. Asymmetric engagement models will strengthen the field

Rob Steere, Vice President, Commercial Strategy

The evolution of telehealth and the industry’s shift toward EMR has significantly changed the way doctors interact with patients in recent years. In a similar fashion, we’re now seeing how the life sciences industry’s adoption of digital is also changing the way doctors interact with reps and driving the need for new engagement models.

Each clinic, institution and HCP will have different preferences for how they want to engage with life sciences companies – be it through remote meetings, in-person visits, email or virtual events – making it critical for reps to tailor their approach based on the individual customer. This will drive a shift toward asymmetric engagement models that leverage a mix of different customer-facing roles and channels.

Unlike traditional field models where all reps were organised by territory and focused on the same engagement tactics (primarily in-person meetings), the asymmetric approach is hyperlocal and all about tailoring engagement based on customer preference. Some reps may only engage in digital channels, while others leverage a combination of virtual and in-person channels – it will vary across the field based on the preferences of their target audience and evolving technology.

Companies will be able to get even more precise about how they engage customers with industrywide benchmark data that captures individual HCP preferences and behaviour. With data to fuel better decisions around channel mix and asymmetric models that enable omnichannel flexibility, field teams will reach a new level of productivity and effectiveness in engaging HCPs this year.

5. Specialised medicine will change the makeup of the field force

Dan Rizzo, Vice President, Global Commercial Business Consulting

Life sciences companies have historically measured commercial success based on HCP-oriented metrics like number of prescriptions or refills. But the industry’s shift toward specialised medicine has been forcing many to reevaluate what success looks like in recent years.

Now that the focus is on much smaller populations, metrics like patient acquisition and retention are equally, if not more, important. This pivot toward patient-centric engagement – along with the field’s recent adoption of digital channels – will change the way commercial teams operate in 2021.

The highly specialised and personalised nature of treatments like CAR T-cell therapy have made it especially critical for patients to have access to the right resources and expertise they need to make informed health decisions. With COVID-19 continuing to limit face-to-face interactions between doctors and patients this year, we expect to see traditional barriers between life sciences companies and patients increasingly break down, giving commercial teams the opportunity to engage in more direct patient interaction.

Meanwhile, digital channels will continue to play an important role in engaging HCPs, and that will drive further change in the makeup of the field force. Digital-first reps will increasingly enter the fold, along with a greater number of MSLs and nurse educators who leverage a mix of virtual and in-person channels. In fact, we’ll likely see a gradual reduction in reps and an increase in MSLs and nurse educators engaging HCPs in the coming year.

While this will require new skills and training for a large part of the team, commercial operations will benefit from higher productivity and improved customer experiences, as well as the ability to scale the field in support of more launches from more brands.

6. Executive mandates for digital-first engagement will accelerate commercial content creation

Pooja Ojala, Vice President, Commercial Content

One of the unexpected benefits of HCP engagement going digital last year was the opportunity for reps to spend more quality time with doctors. When compared to traditional, face-to-face visits, virtual meetings extended the amount of time HCPs were able to meet with reps by roughly six times (from an average of three minutes to 19 minutes). Rep-sent emails also drove significant HCP engagement, with an average open rate of 37%.

Building on the success of digital in 2020, we expect to see an industrywide shift toward digital-first strategies that will enable greater efficiency and effectiveness in HCP engagement – especially as it relates to commercial content.

The need to keep content at pace with the shift to digital has gained CEO visibility, leading to companywide mandates to speed content creation. While these efforts have traditionally been led by IT, the growing complexity of content now requires involvement across various areas within the commercial space – namely, regulatory, medical, commercial operations, brand and even agencies.

As a result, we’ll see more companies leverage modular content as a way to gain operational efficiency while maintaining their focus on compliance. Unlike traditional content strategies that require each new asset to be built from scratch, a modular approach simply reassembles existing, pre-approved content blocks, or modules, for use in different channels and regions.

This flexibility will be key in enabling faster content creation at scale, as well as more personalised content that’s tailor-made for individual customers.

Evolving consumer expectations and preferences around digital will also push the industry toward new content channels and formats in 2021. For example, we anticipate seeing a notable surge in video, as well as emerging self-serve and AI-driven content channels that more closely mirror B2C experiences. Throughout it all, data will play a critical role in helping companies refine, iterate and adapt their digital-first strategies for the future.