Where is Singapore in its digital pharma journey?

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Southeast Asia’s digital pharmaceutical sales is set to generate USD40 billion by 2020, envisioning high growth and positive outlook in the sector. Technology is now a key driver of growth within the pharma industry and even developing countries like Thailand and Vietnam are keeping up with similar trends in the region.  

As the region’s technological hub, Singapore’s digital journey has rapidly evolved with sophisticated technologies and innovation. As such, the nation is well-poised to transform the future of pharma within Southeast Asia. But what exactly is the impact of digital disruption in the sector, what does it mean and how is it going to impact the pharmaceutical scene?


What does ‘Digital’ in pharma terms mean?

The term ‘Digital’ is a broad term used in pharma. It can be applied in communications, new ways of diagnosing, patient engagement, technological interventions and many other areas.

Digital pharma revolutionises the way pharma companies target their audiences. And this is through various channels, whilst embedding personalised messaging. This is part of building a customer journey in pharma that is becoming more complex as we move into an era of patient-centric, evidence-driven, and outcome-focused environment. It is also more important now than before, to jump onto the bandwagon of embracing new technologies before organisations start to lag behind the big global players in the market.

One main concern that pharmaceutical companies now face is the time delay in making physicians aware of new medicines and this delay will spiral down to the patients who urgently require them. As such, pharmaceutical providers need to keep themselves up to date with the current innovations and trends as these could potentially eradicate the issue of time delay. This is what would revolutionise the industry in 2020.


Top technologies that will disrupt pharma in 2020

  • Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR)

VR has shown exciting signs of potential, ranging from its ability to help medical students learn about our anatomies to helping with treating patients suffering from a wide variety of conditions. Likewise, the value of AR in medicine reaches far beyond pharmaceutical marketing. In fact, AR is now being used to help reduce patient pain and anxiety levels without the need for additional medication. AR is also being used to help surgeons visualise the area on which they are to operate on, projecting 3D representations of the patient’s anatomy into the doctor’s field of view, thereby improving both accuracy and improving patient outcomes.

This is also why AR is beginning to make its mark in the industry. It is widely used across the healthcare industry for a variety of applications including medical training, patient education and care management, pre-surgical assessment, minimally invasive surgery and rehabilitation. A recent report by Goldman-Sachs predicted that by 2025, the AR healthcare market would total almost USD5.1 billion, with an estimated 3.4 million users throughout the world.

In Asia Pacific (APAC), spending on AR and VR have reached USD7.5 billion in 2019, recording an increase of more than 100% from 2018, according to the latest IDC Worldwide Semiannual Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide.

The aim of this massive investment is to ensure that pharma companies can use AR and VR to innovatively communicate new clinical data and demonstrate outcomes to physicians whilst storing this data for analysis. Such concrete datasets can then support physicians to understand and appreciate the benefits of new products. It can also inform them of how best to administer medicines or perform certain procedures.

  • Digital Therapeutics

The main purpose of digital therapeutics is to amplify care and existing treatments by using technology to scale to a large patient population, while reducing the costs incurred.

Digital therapeutic encompasses the following categories;

  • behaviour management
  • chronic condition management
  • medication adherence

Across APAC, there is greater demand for new digital therapies and connected devices as treatment options. We can see this increased interest through partnerships between large pharma companies and therapeutic firms who are in need for financial support to expand their digital offerings.

For example, Novartis has participated in each of Pear Therapeutics' funding rounds in 2018, worth USD70 million. These deals provide digital therapeutics companies with an influx of cash that should enable them to expand their product lines. This is also in hopes to increase access to reliable, evidenced-based interventions that are delivered with a high control of quality.

ResMed was another company who purchased digital therapeutics startup Propeller Health for USD225 million. Digital therapeutics will primarily come with personalised, engaging, and adaptive support offerings to patients. It’ll also include increased access to new treatment options for conditions that previously have been untreated or undertreated by traditional medications and therapies.

  • Software as a Service (SaaS)

Built on high-tech architecture, SaaS technology allows software vendors to provide applications that are flexible, fast, specialised, and much less expensive to deploy and maintain especially for large organisations like pharma companies.

One key example would be Novartis who has outsourced its security using hosted data security software by software firm Qualys, to save money and help with compliance.

Andreas Wuchner, Head of IT Security Architecture and Strategy for Novartis said that industry regulations are becoming increasingly complex and stringent.

It is a highly regulated industry with external requirements like the Food and Drug Administration and local laws. The biggest challenge is harmonising your compliance around the world. We have to put in an incredible amount of effort for different laws and requirements,” said Wuchner.

SaaS is predicted to become mainstream to allow companies like Novartis to reduce their costs by streamlining various sales management processes to achieve higher gross profits.


Stay up to date with us

The digital maturity of pharma is consistently evolving and you can expect to see greater changes in 2020. Is your organisation adopting the right technologies?

If you are a pharmaceutical or medical professional in the Southeast Asia region and would like to find out more about these trends and how it can impact your organisation, please leave your queries via the contact form below. You can also follow us on our LinkedIn page for other industry related insights within the market.

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