How to keep pharmaceutical data in pristine condition
By Johan Scheepers, Country Head at Commvault South Africa
This year has thrown more challenges at the pharmaceutical industry than ever before, with many companies striving to develop effective treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 alongside expert scientists. As it has become more digital in recent decades, the industry now relies heavily on data that enables researchers to collaborate quickly and efficiently to find the answers the world desperately needs. During the pandemic, data has become even more important for this industry as employees have been unable to interact in person, and so being able to connect online and share and access data from different teams has been vital for life-saving work to continue.
But for this data to be used to its full advantage, companies need to have an effective data management solution in place that can help keep data organised, provide secure backup and recovery measures in case of downtime, and help meet strict compliance regulations – all while still being cost-effective. It’s important therefore that IT teams know the value of a data management system and what to look for when choosing one.
Why data is the lifeblood of pharmaceuticals
Data is essentially the crown jewels to pharmaceutical companies – in our modern world, it’s something they simply cannot function without. As mentioned, it holds this value for multiple reasons:
- Closer patient connections – Data can help researchers to understand how patients respond to different therapies and learn how to improve these.
- Value beyond therapeutics – Developments in technology are driving forward solutions such as medical apps to help with early screening diagnosis.
- Broader collaboration – Being able to share data with other organisations has huge implications; we’ve already seen this year how pharmaceutical companies are working with universities to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, for example.
- Future advances in medicine – Data is vital for developing new vaccines and treatments, being able to test them on patients and monitor the results, and then eventually be able to manufacture on a bigger scale.
To help support these needs, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly migrating to the cloud as a way to better collaborate with other experts, keep their data secure, and also reduce costs for data storage on-premises. However, with this transition comes increased challenges around regulations and compliance.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is also being adopted more readily to discover and analyse new insights from existing data. For example, AI can learn from patterns and trends in data to better predict future outcomes, speeding up the development process. Using this technology for some of the repetitive admin tasks can also allow employees to spend more time on actions that require a human focus.
With all of these exciting uses, it’s easy to see why data is so crucial – but that doesn’t mean it comes without challenges.
Balancing compliance and cost
There are two big obstacles that every pharmaceutical company is facing today: compliance and cost. Both are important aspects of business, and both can have a serious impact on profits.
Regulatory compliance is key. It’s vital to ensure that all processes meet the highest standard of regulations to keep sensitive data secure. In particular, data from patients or those taking part in new drugs trials needs to be kept completely confidential, and in many cases for trials, the data needs to be anonymised. However, at the same time, the results of each patient when collected must be attached to their name so that in the event of a medical concern being flagged, they know exactly who showed particular symptoms, for example. The growth in data being created by devices and wearables is also creating a new challenge, with regulatory bodies issuing strict guidelines around how that data is collected, transmitted and stored. Failing to comply with any data regulations, such as GDPR, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or MCA (Medicines Control Agency), comes at a high cost – not just in large fines, but in the potential halting of drug production and/or licence suspension, which could be devastating to an organisation.
There’s also the pressures on companies to keep costs down wherever possible, and this is often a reason why data management is less of a priority. But of course, you often need to spend a little more money to get a better ROI in the long term. Unfortunately, budgets are usually stretched too tight for excessive investment to be made in a business’s future rather than the ‘here and now’. Particularly this year more than previously, businesses across every industry are trying to find cheaper ways to provide the same service. When it comes to data management, it’s key to find a provider that can offer the protection this industry requires.
The need for good management
Good data management has a wealth of benefits and can improve a business’s time to market and time to value by accelerating the development pipelines of new products. Overall, though, data management is crucial for four main reasons:
- Data protection and security – Pharmaceutical companies need to be confident that their data is protected from both internal and external cyber threats, and that there are accurate backups in place that can be used to restore this data should any downtime occur for any reason.
- Operational resiliency – Businesses want their data management solution to help build up resilience so that mistakes can be learned from and not made again. Overall, this improves the day-to-day running of the business and prevents future disruptions.
- Data portability and agility – In today’s digital world, being able to automate the workflow to go from site A to site B is very important. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s on-premises, in the cloud, or both – data needs to be moved easily and quickly.
- Continuous cost reduction – Ultimately, most third-party services come down to cost. But while a data management solution will always cost the business money, a good solution will save money in the long term, by helping implement the automation of simple tasks and consolidating other repetitive tasks.
The pharmaceutical industry has been in higher demand this year than anyone could have anticipated, and that means the data used by these companies has been too. As potential treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 become closer to reality every day, it will be invaluable to have a data management solution that’s up to the challenge of keeping information in check.