Late last year, in a conversation with the CEO of a major medical device company, I had one of those pivotal, aha moments. It was when he told me, “Our competition is no longer other medical device companies, our competition is COVID.”   

As enterprises react to the global impact of COVID-19, traditional and non-traditional stakeholders found ways to impact healthcare transformation through mergers, partnerships and innovation. While this convergence trend has been evident in life sciences over the past several years, the lines between traditional sectors became blurred in the fight against a common enemy.   

The current environment is unlike anything we’ve seen before, with the global life sciences market expected to grow at a 5.1% annual growth rate to $2.2 trillion by 2025. It’s safe to say the global pandemic set off a ripple effect, driving digital transformation in a myriad of ways and fast-tracking progress already set in motion. 

As we usher in 2021, we’re still in the midst of a transformation – from multifaceted collaborations sharing data and resources to regulatory changes that will lead a new industry paradigm. The silver lining to 2020 is how the year served as an amazing catalyst to the future. Now, the opportunity lies ahead for organizations to fine-tune their strategy to achieve sustainable success, especially during times of volatility.  

Patient Centricity  

The role of the patient has enhanced greatly today and is expected to continue. We are prompted to look at how we understand their needs by better engaging them using a human-centric approach and build products and solutions that address their needs. Stakeholders are quickly recognizing the need for patient participation in decision-making and shaping their priorities across the value chain.    

Decentralized Clinical Trials 

The public-private initiative Operation Warp Speed underscored the need to optimize clinical trial processes with no choice but to turn to the adoption of decentralized clinical trials. COVID-19 increased the appetite for a decentralized model, and 98% of pharma and life sciences executives said they expect digital investment in clinical trials to increase this year. As the industry strives to improve recruitment, maintain patient safety and trial integrity, the future transformation of clinical trials will inherently become decentralized and more inclusive of patient diversity.  

As an analyst recently wrote to me “from testing vaccine molecules, enrolling thousands of participants in record time, to emergency use authorization – all within one year – it is no mean feat (shattering all previous records). This involved the ecosystem truly coming together to stand in the face of adversity to let science prevail.” 

Personalized Medicine 

What was once a dream has finally become a reality. To meet the needs of niche populations – or even specific individuals – drug discovery and development are undergoing significant changes. The success of precision medicine relies heavily on the collection and processing of data, from genetics to demographics and a sophisticated approach to processing and storing this data is needed. 

Value-Based Care 

Inherent to the future state, care is disaggregated and organizations are continually looking for new ways to create value. As we look across the ecosystem for how we provide services, value-based care has the potential to upend traditional care and business models. While the entire industry is yet to fully embrace these models and still maturing, we expect this to be more relevant in the coming years.   

Data as a Differentiator 

A cornerstone of creating value will be leveraging data as an asset. With competition existing from within and outside of the industry, innovation is quickly coming to fruition faster than ever before. Data is the differentiator, driving significant insights and analytics to gain a competitive edge. The pharmaceutical and life sciences industry creates a unique data estate stemming from EHRs, clinical trials, R&D and more. The challenge of interoperability is poignant, prompting the need for a health data exchange that benefits all players within the healthcare ecosystem. Leaving us to ask, “how do we use data to drive innovation forward?”  

The 2021 CIO Agenda 

Despite the immense challenges COVID-19 thrust upon us, it also catalyzed a floodgate of modernization opportunities. To ensure the continuity of progress post-pandemic, CIOs should address these aspects to prepare for the future:  

  • Operating Models – Consumerism is one of three significant factors – along with emerging technology and the pandemic – accelerating the digital transformation of healthcare. Digital transformation shifts priorities from projectbased approaches to product-centric approaches led by design thinking  
  • Tech Modernization & Platform Investments – Catalyzed by the pandemic, digital investments are bound to increase to upgrade the existing technology landscape for the post-vaccine world. Forward-thinking leaders should seek platform investments that will optimize cost, increase efficiency, reduce tech debt, improve speed and converge data. In 2021, expect to see more investment in and by healthcare companies to shore up technology gaps exposed by the pandemic and position them for growth driven by cloud and data analytics 
  • Talent – We are in the midst of a very clear shift where organizations are looking to build certain digital talent to stay relevant with changes in technology and prioritize building new and relevant capabilities. While several organizations are expected to continue to rely on partners for scale, we expect them to invest in some of the differentiating and strategic roles to drive digital adoption.  

Life sciences cannot afford to regress in 2021. At the end of the day, the purpose remains the same – to develop drugs, devices and treatments that improve human health. Critical to this reality is organizations deciding which roles they wish to play in the coming future and most importantly, how to create a future with better health for all.  

 Sriraman Nagarajan leads the Life Sciences business unit at emids. He brings more than 28 years of industry experience leading high-performing teams responsible for driving digital transformation in the life sciences industry. Previously, he was the vice president at Cognizant, helping grow the life sciences business to the second largest in the industry. He led a significant portion of North American business that delivered solutions across technology, operations and digital business, including defining the strategy for medical devices business. Sriram’s entrepreneurial spirit was also recognized when he was named as one of top 100 inspiring leaders in the industry by PharmaVOICE in 2019. Be sure to connect with Sriram on LinkedIn.