The COVID-19 pandemic continues to push the healthcare and life sciences industry in entirely new ways. In record time, we’ve witnessed public health officials, vaccine developers, equipment manufacturers, and essential workers take life saving actions—regularly putting their own lives at risk—to respond to the exceptional challenges of our time.
Yet after all the turmoil and uncertainty of the pandemic, record breaking levels of investment continue to come into the market to fuel innovations.
Vaccine development is now measured in weeks rather than years; providers are leveraging telehealth technologies to improve the physician and patient experience; and individuals have embraced a variety of devices to assume greater ownership and control of their personal health.
With that in mind, here are five of the many innovations I see driving healthcare and life sciences for at least the next 12 months:
1. Unleashing the power of healthcare and life sciences data
People have arguably never had as much access and understanding to their personal health data than they can in 2022. They have the ability to understand their genetic makeup, medical history, family history, and activity levels to ensure they are living a healthy lifestyle. Taken together, this longitudinal profile can become the basis for more personalized medicine. Add wearable devices to the mix and patients gain real- or near-real-time updates on their health status.
Further, global regulatory agencies have continued to mandate the need for providers to maintain a longitudinal health record that provides a holistic view of the patient across all the encounters they have had with a health system. Physician surveys conducted by the The Harris Poll and Google Cloud show that a 360-degree view of the patient, across all provider encounters, leads to faster, more accurate diagnosis, and better outcomes.
If secure data access and interoperability can begin to include insurers, researchers, public health officials, and others in the field, the powerful network effects benefiting patients will only grow. When combined with those longitudinal phenome profiles, the opportunities for personalized and preventative medicine enter a whole new era.
2. Healthcare and life sciences M&A boom continues
Although the pandemic initially slowed activity on mergers and acquisitions in the early part of 2020, the healthcare and life sciences industry has seen a rapid rebound and acceleration of deals ever since. The success of COVID-19 vaccines, the importance of telehealth, and the focus on molecular modeling and genomic-based drug development have all boosted investment as organizations look to enter new markets, develop new therapies, and leverage low interest rates while they last.
In 2021, the total funding of US digital health startups surpassed $29 billion across 729 deals, according to advisory Rock Health. That’s almost double the levels of 2020, which itself set records. Analysts at PWC meanwhile estimate M&A investments in biopharmaceutical and life sciences could approach $400 billion this year across all sub-sectors
Clearly, the pandemic has been a primary driver of investment as the focus on healthcare has dramatically increased. Yet the increased activity also reflects changing business models and emerging technologies that are now required to compete in the rapidly evolving space. For organizations to capitalize on these investments, it will take not only great vision and intellectual property but also the right technologies—like cloud—and the right data interoperability models, to make partnerships and acquisitions more scalable, feasible, and seamless.
3. Transforming the patient experience at a new rate
The pandemic has shined a spotlight on the inefficiencies and complexities that exist in healthcare markets across the globe. As wave after wave has surged, global healthcare systems remain overwhelmed on most every aspect of patients’ treatment journeys. Even before COVID-19, healthcare was already one of the largest spend areas for governments around the world. The pandemic has only exacerbated the known issues.
Clearly, administrators, regulators, physicians, nurses, and patients would agree that the processes and models need to change. There’s a need to maintain this momentum and even increase the tempo to achieve lasting change.
Take telehealth. Within months of the start of the pandemic, providers moved to provide more remote capabilities so physicians could still meet with patients virtually to ensure health and safety on all sides. Payers recognized the importance of telehealth and began to update reimbursement rules. And organizations are now reimagining policies in areas such as prior authorization, submission, and adjudication to reduce complexity and bureaucracy while improving responsiveness.
Looking beyond the system, organizations are also recognizing and deepening their understanding of the structural and social determinants of health that impact patient care and health outcomes, especially for historically underserved communities. Private and public sectors are learning from, and increasingly partnering with, the social sciences, public health, biomedical informatics, computer science, public policy and community groups around how to build a mI’ore equitable and inclusive consumer products and Health IT strategies.
The newfound levels of transparency, visibility, and accountability that patients, caregivers, and organizations are achieving will ultimately increase competition and provide a more effective, equitable, efficient and, above all, healthier marketplace for all patients. As we move past the worst of the pandemic, regulators and organizations should keep fighting for progress over business as usual.
4. AI is now a core competency for Drug Development
The ability of organizations like Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Astrazeneca to develop COVID-19 vaccines has been a remarkable accomplishment—particularly the historic speed with which they were created and deployed. This innovation acceleration was largely enabled by the use of new drug development platforms that allow researchers to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to model protein and cellular interactions to rapidly advance the science.
No longer must researchers rely on traditional laboratory testing (and retesting). With their improved understanding of the molecular and genetic structure of a patient and, for example, their tumor, researchers can use AI to enable simulations on computers rather than testing in live conditions. This technology can process thousands, even millions of simulations to help identify high-potential candidates for treatment consideration and subsequent analysis.
AI-enabled drug discovery models can eliminate months and years from the research process, which can reduce the time to develop a drug and accelerate the time to treatment for an individual patient. As just one example, consider the work on AlphaFold2 by Google’s DeepMind unit who leverages AI to predict effective protein shapes for new drugs. Healthcare and life sciences organizations already recognize the potential of AI. Now comes the investments to leverage this rapidly evolving technology to support their efforts now and in the future.
5. Ecosystem partnerships tackle complexity and spur innovation
As the importance and growth of the healthcare and life sciences industry continues, we will see even more new players and partnerships emerging to address old problems in new ways. This trend will touch all aspects of the healthcare value chain and will, increasingly, see three- and four-player partnerships emerge to address the complex challenges of today’s healthcare marketplace.
Technology will continue to play a key role as capabilities and platforms will transform all aspects of the marketplace. Cell phones, wearable devices, and other technologies will provide real-time updates and notifications to patients on everything from glucose levels to payments for healthcare services. Voice recognition software will document physician and patient discussions to reduce the burden of record keeping. Real-world data will be used to simplify and confidentially recruit patients for participation in clinical trials.
New players will continue to enter the market to improve health outcomes and reduce costs. Major retailers are among the companies extending their pharmacies to provide additional diagnostic and concierge services, saving patients from additional appointments while boosting prevention. Community organizations are emerging to help identify and care for underserved communities whose health outcomes are significantly lower than the average patient.
For all the exhausting and heart-wrenching challenges of the past two years, the opportunities the pandemic has laid bare cannot be overlooked. We owe it to those who have worked and fought so hard for every life to forge even more new partnerships—and make it easier to do so—so that the next crisis, when it does arise, will never be as bad as the one we’re now conquering. Technology can be the enabler in this effort and help bring us together to continue to conquer the challenges that lie ahead.