If they had asked us a year ago, no one would have imagined that the pandemic would prove to be one of the biggest global emergencies in recent years. We will remember this traumatic moment as our grandparents remembered the Great War. Citizens’ priorities and media attention have focused on the coronavirus, forgetting the effects deriving from it on mental health, on delays in diagnoses, on the impact on fragile people forced to stay within the walls of their homes.
If the pandemic tsunami took every sector by surprise, many pharmaceutical companies invested promptly in research and development, developing effective solutions in record time while the centralization of care in hospitals proved ineffective: the structures collapsed and legitimate fear has distanced patients with fatal consequences from treatment. A management of public assistance paths flanked or integrated by the resources of the private sector would have been desirable.
The new grammar of condensed resilience
Our new daily life was marked by the accidental experiences of social distancing. Yet in this gap of human relations, science has found its moral rebirth, progressing further in the year of great uncertainties. And it confirmed its central role in the vision of a future that re-evaluates the extraordinary power of knowledge. An initial sharing and continuous collaboration has allowed researchers from all over the world to investigate and develop effective vaccines in record time. If scientific research continues along this path, we can imagine a more encouraging future for the whole of society. A future from which we will never want to go back.
Health has become the driver of digital transformation, which has undergone a strong acceleration. In the strategic plans of pharmaceutical companies, transformative projects related to the application of artificial intelligence and digitalization in various areas have become even more central.
In Italy, the electronic health record, introduced in 2012, was conceived as an integrated and easily accessible tool, equipped with both health information and the patient’s clinical history. To date, however, its function is limited to that of a repository with data that is not organized with a future perspective, to elaborate, for example, “unexpected” scenarios. By adopting the right cyber security precautions, digital medical records could guide the decisions of doctors and hospitals by truly connecting to the needs of patients.
Telemedicine also proved fundamental this year: technology has allowed doctors and healthcare professionals to assist their patients remotely, ensuring continuity of care, personalizing their therapies and reducing the burden on the public health system. At present it is mainly interpreted as a tele-visit, but there are already services available for telemonitoring which could, if used to scale, optimize costs and treatment times. The issue to be overcome in Italy is, as always, the regional fragmentation in healthcare which generates different standards and an enormous waste of resources.
Towards an Open Health where data is worth gold and synergies are diamonds
In the future, our industry will be guided even more by proximity to the patient. We live in an era characterized by an enormous flow of data which can provide us with information on the state and health of the patient that was unthinkable until a few years ago. For example, data collection based on wearable devices, applications that allow you to monitor the correct use of drugs and the use of data sharing platforms between doctors for diagnostic reasons will favor important changes in the patient experience. The health emergency has partly accelerated some telemedicine processes and reiterated the need for a multidisciplinary model where an analytical approach and collaboration allows for innovative solutions to be found. The need for a collaboration that integrates medical professionals with a data-driven approach is now clear: the experience of doctors can be enhanced by good data collection and management and by the work of AI centers, which aim to build intelligent algorithms capable of creating and recognizing valid predictive models. Sharing information will help to render therapies more effective and personalized: science and technology will work with a common goal, to take care of people.
Supporting the Biotech trend and meeting Pharma 10 years from now
The pharmaceutical industry, in great and evident evolution, promotes acceleration as well as the integration of transversal realities: the role of biotech start-ups has long been an engine in the health sector. To be actors in this scenario of great transformation, we inaugurated the year by acquiring the Arvelle Therapeutics company, with the aim of expanding our core area, dedicated to the central nervous system, to the delicate and worldwide disease of epilepsy. The acquisition confirmed to us that emerging companies are developing innovative and effective solutions: in a few months the new molecule for the treatment of epilepsy, the result of the acquisition, received approval from the EMA. This means that once the process of obtaining reimbursement in the various countries is completed, we will be able to give hope to the families of people with epilepsy in Europe (currently six million).
Joining forces with the centers of excellence in the academic universe and supporting or combining with the best startups is the way to respond to the new health challenges of our time. Innovative ecosystems can only benefit from investments in incubators and accelerators of new life science-related businesses, relying on capital from both pharmaceutical firms and the venture capital companies at the basis of the growth of our sector. We ourselves have recently done so by investing in Argobio, an accelerator that aims to become a European benchmark in the creation of start-ups, with a special focus on rare diseases and neurological disorders. I am convinced that this is a win-win strategy whose results we will see in the coming years, but on which it is essential to focus now. Because to change our lives today, dreams alone won’t take us far if we don’t act right away, without hesitation.
Pierluigi Antonelli, CEO Angelini Pharma