In the last few years, the burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) has increased considerably and poses a major public health challenge in India. The four major NCDs such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and hypertension account for a major share of mortality in the country.
Furthermore, the pandemic not only led to an increase in the risk factors of NCDs but also adversely impacted the management of these diseases. The overburdened healthcare systems made it apparent that the patient care ecosystem needs innovation to achieve desirable patient safety standards.
The innovative use of digital technologies for virtual consultation and telemedicine showed promise for newer possibilities for NCD care and management. However, leveraging digital technologies for patient consultations is merely the tip of the iceberg. Until recently, innovation in the pharmaceutical sector translated into a series of incremental advancements improving the efficiency and safety of drugs.
The use of advanced technologies such as big data and advanced analytics, high-performance computing (HPC), artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), etc. in the field beyond health care like clinical trials, drug discovery, R&D, and supply chain during COVID-19 has reaffirmed the need for and importance of innovation and technology. It not only helped in vaccine discovery but also streamlined supply chains enabling last mile delivery helping rein in the effects of the virus on human lives.
Government initiatives like the Pharmacovigilance Programme of India (PvPI) have been working since 2010 to promote a culture of timely reporting of adverse incidents and creating an expansive database of adverse drug reactions in India. Using technologies like advanced analytics and AI/ML on such databases to derive actionable insights can help improve patient safety standards.
This can also help pharma companies get a better understanding of the effects of a certain drug on genetically diverse populations. Insights arrived at from the patient data collected, can enable much better decision-making to modify the line of treatment in real-time accordingly.
Automation, advanced analytics, and cognitive technologies can also transform pharmacovigilance systems. These systems, with the help of these technologies, can create digital learning systems to help improve a drug’s risk benefit profile resulting in increased product quality and patient safety.
Another promising innovative use case of leveraging technology is in precision medicine. Increasingly, it is becoming evident that one-size-fits-all is no longer an effective treatment option. Democratisation of advanced technologies such as AI/ML and HPC is making innovation in the field of genomics possible now. It is accelerating genomics research on a population level and paving the way for breakthroughs in personalised medicine further improving patient safety standards. These breakthroughs are enabling physicians with several alternative treatments for the same class in turn providing them better avenues to cater to individual patient needs.
The healthcare needs are changing rapidly and to be able to cater to patient needs safely and effectively, technology will have to be at the front and centre of everything. It is imperative for all the stakeholders involved to recognize the need for the union of technology and biology.
For this, there is a need for an increase in the overall R&D investments which are currently less than 1 per cent of the country’s GDP since 2014. This needs to be at least in parity with the investment of the other emerging economies which is in the range of 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent. The RLI scheme by the Union Government could very well be the shot in the arm for the industry to innovate more and faster.
As India inches towards becoming home to almost 20 per cent of the world population, patient safety is now more important than ever. While there is an incremental increase in R&D investments, fostering a culture which promotes the synchronisation of innovation with the rapid pace of technological developments will be a must.