No matter what industry you’re in, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is all the rage. It’s the shiniest of the shiny and new, and it’s everywhere.
In pop culture alone it’s the central theme of HBO’s Westworld, where humanoid AI robots pretend to be people, or even the most recent season of Silicon Valley where a major character was an AI-powered robot named Fiona.
AI is also the central, recurring theme at every conference. Even at giant tradeshows like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) where, this year, we saw autonomous vehicles, voice-enabled bot driving assistants within cars, L’Oreal’s thumbnail-sized UV sensor patch, and hundreds of other AI-enabled “smart” products. At South by Southwest (SXSW), it seemed every other session was about AI. Elon Musk himself, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, even made a surprise appearance where he fielded questions from the audience and warned against the irresponsible development of AI and the requirement to “work safely’ when exploring it.
AI is omnipresent and it’s no shock that it’s even crept its way into the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry, one that is usually risk averse and slow to adapt new technologies. And with increasing R&D costs and healthcare costs in general, paired with larger and more precise data sets, AI may alleviate multiple pain-points across the industry. But will we adapt quickly enough?
Pharma’s Recent History of Emerging Tech Adoption
Look at the adoption of social media, for example. A few years ago, social media had become the norm and a crucial tactic for brand engagement in every other industry. Customers were taking brand complaints, praise, and discussions to social, but pharma had no presence. The conversation was happening with or without us, and we had a choice to make – we could either meet our customers where they wanted to engage, or miss out. Clearly we needed to be there. Yet pharma was bound by requirements to provide fair balance, privacy and safety information among all branded promotional materials.
In 2014 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came out with draft guidelines entitled Guidance for Industry Internet/Social Media Platforms with Character Space Limitations—Presenting Risk and Benefit Information for Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices, and everything changed. Today there are hundreds of branded pharmaceutical product pages across social channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more, many with open comments. Pharma’s even ventured into Snapchat! These channels allow for precise targeting, but more importantly for opportunities to compliantly engage with customers for customer service purposes, gain invaluable brand and behavioral insights, and provide condition support communities.
So how is regulation affecting the pharmaceutical industry’s adoption of AI? What are the use cases within pharma for AI? With social media, it became clear that pharma had to either adapt or miss crucial patient and customer engagements. AI is no different.