With investment in the digital health sector reaching a record $8.1bn (£6.2bn) in 2018 and with one third of all US healthcare investment now in digital health technology, it is becoming increasingly important that the life sciences sector keeps up to date with the latest technological advances.

At Pharma Integrates, discussions focused on hot topics such as AI, blockchain and digitisation, and how these technologies can be used to maximise productivity and improve results.

Examining the benefits and challenges of digital innovation to accelerate pharma R&D and improve patient outcomes, Albion VC Partner, Christoph Ruedig, emphasised that the complexity of stakeholders (patients, payers, healthcare professionals) could make it difficult to innovate in pharma, with the panel agreeing that digital disruption was a challenge. When it came to utilising AI, Innoplexus CEO, Dr Gunjan Bhardwaj commented that, as in all languages, context is crucial. With data security being another key consideration, Dr Bhardwaj went on to list the benefits of blockchain, which can help with this as well as data ownership and training AI algorithms.

Speaking of blockchain, a panel on the subject delved into the details, examining how it was well suited to the pharma industry and how it is currently being used. The main takeaway from this session was summed up by IBM’s Global Blockchain Solutions Leader, Mark Treshock, who explained how every industry needed data, with the pharma sector in particular requiring data to derive benefits for patients, with blockchain enabling this.

Returning to AI’s role within the healthcare space, the discussion turned to whether AI was delivering on its promise of being the future of seemingly everything, from drug discovery to patient compliance and anti-counterfeiting. COHESION Medical CEO, Euan Cameron, identified the obstacles encountered, stating that AI can assist health and aid sciences, but biology remains complex and less understood, needing deeper mathematical systems to move forwards. Philip Carvil, HealthTec Cluster Manager of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, stated the importance of collaborations in this sector by working with partners to build valuable datasets. Going further, Precisionlife’s CEO Steve Gardner described how AI has given scientists the ability to identify features that drive the disease, to stratify patients and treat them appropriately, increasing success rates and getting more treatments to market.

Applying technology to the manufacturing process, meanwhile, has had mixed success. After 10 years of intense activity, just four continuous manufacturing lines are in commercial operations. Is continuous manufacturing the answer or is it time to re-evaluate the process? The panel had some ideas on this, with the University of Cambridge Head of Centre for International Manufacturing, Jagjit Srai, suggesting microfactories as a solution to pharma manufacturing roadblocks, and Perceptive Engineering’s Director, John Mack, emphasising the selection of the most appropriate manufacturing process for the product, rather than just sticking to one method. PSE’s Head of Formulated Products, Sean Bermingham agreed with multiple, tailored approaches, saying that in the future, continuous manufacturing for drug products will be the norm, but for drug substance, batch manufacturing will be the favoured process.

What next for digital health? The discussion will carry on at this year’s Bio Integrates conference, covering topics such as getting tech-enabled products to patients and bringing tech to treatment. Be a part of the conversation and be sure to register now for a discounted rate.