2021 Predictions: Collaboration in life sciences and insurance will drive further vaccine success

The arrival of COVID-19 has well and truly shone the spotlight on the life science industry, with the development of a vaccine monopolising global attention over recent months.

During the pandemic, the industry has gone to extraordinary lengths to create therapeutics and supply the necessary equipment and PPE used in hospitals, though without question the most remarkable of feats has been the delivery of safe and reliable vaccines in such a short period of time. No need to resort to some of the more bizarre suggested ‘cures’ thankfully!

Such rapid development of these vaccines was achievable because of an increased level of collaboration amongst private and public sector, and more integration of technology throughout the drug development and clinical trial process.

The excessive costs associated with getting a drug to market has created an environment where companies have been reluctant to collaborate. However necessity is the mother of invention, and the industry recognised that a common effort was necessary to fight the virus.

As early as January 2020 researchers had successfully uncovered the viral sequence of SARS-CoV-2, and shortly after this information had been deposited to the National Institutes of Health GenBank database and Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data database, it was shared amongst the scientific community more than 200 times.

The urgency presented by the pandemic has shown that sharing scientific data can help us overcome certain hurdles at warp speed. This pooling of knowledge was key to the delivery of safe, effective vaccines in such a timely manner. Sadly, it’s likely that this level of transparency will be short lived, due to the highly competitive nature of this sector and rising costs associated with drug development. It’s a shame because over the long term such collaboration could lead to safer drugs and reduced insurance spend.

With an understanding of the viral sequence in January, companies were able to turn to artificial intelligence and big data to aid in the discovery process by efficiently identifying promising drug candidates ie. a compound that can bind to the target protein of a disease.

At the height of the pandemic, clinical trial sites became inaccessible due to governmental lockdowns, leading to the decentralising of many trials conducted over 2020. I believe this may have been a turning point for the industry. Bringing the trial to the patient’s home offers a number of benefits. Reducing and avoiding unnecessary travel was favourable to the patient population and appears to have increased level of participation, whilst reducing the number of mid-trial drop-outs and perhaps even resulting in a more racially diverse study group, providing not only more data, but more varied data to analyse when assessing the safety profile and efficacy of the study drug.

Again, whilst a necessity of circumstance, the use of wearable devices became more prevalent, which allowed trial management teams to capture more data in a less intrusive manner. Whilst there are certain operational and clinical risks associated with monitoring trials remotely, 2020 has shown us this approach can and does work. Capturing data in real-time favours both the trial management team and the developer of the drug, because it reduces reliance on logbooks completed by research subjects, which often are not completed in full, or as guided, and allows for the capturing of data 24-hours a day over a defined test period.

The result is greater quantities of data and more insight to physiological trends and irregularities that lead to adverse events. This information is of particular interest to insurers when underwriting a newly-approved drug entering the marketplace.

So whilst information sharing may curtail, through 2021 and beyond we will likely see an increasing number of decentralised trials and all the benefits that I believe they deliver to patients, pharmaceutical companies and insurers alike.

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