PharmaTimes talks to Andrew Meade, Accenture’s UK and Ireland Life Sciences lead, about the opportunities and challenges triggered by COVID-19 for medicine and digital tech

What is your background and current role?

I lead Accenture’s life sciences practice in the UK and Ireland. We help some of the world’s largest companies in the life sciences industry to embrace change through digital transformation and innovation. Our work spans pharmaceutical, biotech, medical technology, distributor and consumer health.

While I have worked in Accenture’s life sciences practice for the past five years, throughout my career I have worked with a broad range of industries including consumer goods, government, comms and high tech, and media and entertainment. This diverse experience has enabled me to bring a wider perspective to thinking in the life sciences world.

What does your day-to-day job involve?

My day job consists of three key things: ensuring I am honouring my client commitments, making sure my team deliver the best innovations to our clients and nurturing our talent.

What are the opportunities and challenges COVID-19 has created for medicine and digital health tech?

COVID-19 is, in my view, a renaissance moment for the life sciences industry, which has brought more change than we’ve seen in a generation. It’s united the entire industry for the greater good.

Now is the time to drive this collaboration beyond the pandemic to challenge the status quo and become a truly patient-centric industry. To achieve this, an industry ecosystem model that brings together pharma, healthcare, regulators and the patient will be key. I also think we will see life sciences draw from the experiences of other industries, such as consumer goods, to help get a better understanding of the patient and their needs.

One of the biggest challenges of COVID-19 is the impact on clinical trials, severely affecting the ability to conduct these in safe and effective ways under lockdown conditions. The pandemic has also provided some distraction in therapeutic areas outside of vaccines and it is vital that the industry continues to drive broader drug development forward.

There is real opportunity to build on the rapid digital acceleration we’ve seen the industry embrace over the course of the pandemic to help address these challenges. Greater speed and efficiency in areas like clinical trials and the supply chain will be essential to fuelling development that has been slowed by the pandemic and alleviating the huge pressure on vaccine availability and delivery.

Do you see new commercial models for pharma emerging as a result of the pandemic and other factors?

We’ve seen pharma companies rush to solve the problem of the vaccine and that effort has been focused on the science first. The patient and commercial modelling has been secondary to solving that problem.

The pandemic will have long-lasting effects on the commercial model as both healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients emerge from the crisis with different expectations and behaviours. For example, the pandemic has created a very public debate around efficacy like we’ve never seen before, and I believe that dialogue will become a more permanent part of the commercial discussion for pharma companies.

Commercial models will need to reflect these changes for the industry to move successfully through crisis recovery and into the new normal. Here, the theme of collaboration will continue. I can imagine a future commercial construct that is focused on creating an integrated model across health and pharma to deliver more holistic, patient-centric healthcare. It will also be interesting to see whether this collaboration extends to Big Tech companies and other digital entities, to build on the rapid uptake of digital transformation fuelled by the pandemic.

Is there still potential for a closer working relationship between pharma, the NHS and patients?

Absolutely. A closer relationship across the three parties is key to achieving patient-centricity, which is something HCPs and pharmas have long talked about yet never fully embraced. But it’s important to not forget the regulator as an important player here, because they are key to enabling progress at pace.

Historically, there has always been a desire to collaborate and the demands created by COVID-19 have accelerated this. It is encouraging to see this greater engagement but there is a bigger opportunity for pharma companies to become more integrated into the patient experience and support HCPs. For example, our research shows that a large majority of HCPs value tools for remote monitoring of their patients more now than they did pre-pandemic. Combined with increased patient adoption of virtual services and tools and the desire to go into physical healthcare centres less frequently even after the pandemic, there is a real opportunity for pharmas to be even more relevant to HCPs and patients’ changing needs.

Broadly speaking, what do you think lies in the future for UK pharma?

UK pharma has shown itself to be a leading light throughout the pandemic and it will be an essential ingredient of the nation’s future brand and economy.

Digital, collaboration and innovation will underpin the future of the UK pharma industry. While COVID-19 has created many challenges for the sector, it has also brought huge positive change and opportunity across these three areas that the industry must carry forward to shape its future.

Firstly, I think the acceleration of digital in response to COVID-19 will continue across the industry to address long-term changes in patient behaviours and achieve true patient-centricity. For example, we will see more data consolidation and use of artificial intelligence (AI) to further understand patients and inform cures for diseases to deliver better, longer-term treatments. In practice, this means that doctors will use AI to determine the best treatments more rapidly for individual cases.

Secondly, I would hope to see continued willingness to share data, knowledge, and technology to collectively uncover innovative new treatments. The industry must draw inspiration from relaxed competition rules and regulatory flexibility which allowed for the successful collaboration we’ve seen during the pandemic to realise future opportunities for other, lasting partnerships. Beyond the search for a vaccine, there should be collaborative models across all therapeutic areas.

And finally, the pandemic is a watershed moment for innovation in life sciences. The disruption of the last year accelerated the industry to deliver great innovation at pace and scale. The UK’s pharma sector has a strong track record for leading innovation that predates the pandemic, which I believe has contributed to the country’s role in fighting the virus. For example, our world-leading genomics capabilities enabled us to identify two new strains of the virus first.

I think the UK will continue to be a leading hub for cutting-edge innovation well beyond the pandemic.

What keeps you awake at night?

The pandemic has caused us all many sleepless nights. But for me right now, I am excited about the future and the art of the possible – that is what keeps me awake at night. I am so impressed and proud of what has been achieved through the innovation and science that our clients have, but I am always questioning what more could we do? Are we doing these innovations as much justice as possible for the good of the patient? Are we thinking differently enough? Are we challenging the rules enough? Lots of questions! I look forward to helping our clients and the broader industry address these in 2021.