Life sciences companies face unprecedented challenges as revenues come under pressure as a consequence of pricing pressures caused by healthcare reforms and austerity measures, increased competition, and challenges in bringing new drugs and other products to market.

They are responding by focusing on growth opportunities in emerging markets, pursuing breakthrough innovation through collaboration with industry and academic partners, challenging and revolutionizing the traditional sales, marketing and research and development (R&D) operating models and focusing on operational efficiency.

Shifts in the behavior of patients and healthcare professionals and emerging technologies are changing the relationship life sciences companies have with their traditional customers and creating new opportunities for collaboration, which will have a fundamental impact on the future success of businesses.

In a recent Accenture report, Technology Vision: What It Means for Life Sciences, the  firm found the following six technology trends will continue to influence the pharmaceutical industry over the next three to five years.

#1: Context-Based Services: Where You Are and What You’re Doing

Today, location-based capabilities and wide-scale use of smart phones and other 3G and 4G devices have helped pharmaceutical companies find new ways to engage patients and provide them with useful services that can improve quality of life. For example, the makers of Clarityn created an app which provides users with detailed information about local pollen count and where to find nearby medication to help ease seasonal allergy symptoms.

Beyond apps, technology can be used to collect patient data in real time. Imagine, for instance, a patient’s heart-rate monitor that could detect erratic heartbeats and send this information to a smart phone. The devices could then “talk” and automatically make an emergency call to a specified healthcare provider.

This new generation of wireless sensors opens up a whole world of potential for life sciences companies—for gathering targeted information for research, efficacy and compliance. “These technologies can help bring products to market more quickly by allowing patients to provide real-time data right from their own homes,” said Anne O’Riordan, Global Managing Director of Accenture’s Life Sciences industry group.

#2: Using "Big Data" for New Value

Similar to other major industries, the pharmaceutical industry is learning how to utilize “Big Data,” the catchall term for the explosion of data and technologies emerging to support it. In healthcare, we’re seeing electronic medical record (EMR) data coming together with genomic and genetic data; financial data; and patient-reported data to deliver insight into which therapies provide the highest overall value to patients and healthcare systems at the lowest cost.

This information will be especially vital under healthcare reform and the upcoming move to accountable care organizations (ACOs). ACOs encourage better patient outcomes by reimbursing healthcare providers based on quality outcomes and measures. Using EMR data and e-prescribing information, physicians and insurance companies can better track patient outcomes over the long-term, a critical element for providers to demonstrate their performance and therefore be properly reimbursed.

Pharmaceutical companies will need to collaborate on this front as well and use this targeted data to improve areas such as drug development, meet the needs of insurers and provide compelling evidence of a drug’s benefits.

#3: Industrialized Data Services

While organizations continue to hunt for new and useful data, they are also looking for opportunities to share it. Enter: data services.

Traditionally, data has been used in silos, but data services helps to find opportunities to use data in many different ways, unlocking far more potential. For example, in R&D, establishing data services enables the use of clinical-trial data in trial simulations, which can yield findings at lower cost and with lower risk.

Data services will also enable R&D organizations to organize data from multiple outlets, including contract research organizations (CROs), academic institution, research lab partners and public health institutes. This allows for creative new solutions and a greater understanding on the efficacy and safety of drugs and devices.

#4: Pharma Gets Social

Over the years, social media has been a highly sensitive area for life sciences companies, which are often bound by strict marketing and FDA regulations.  But some companies are beginning to experiment with the new medium. For example, drug maker Sanofi has emerged as a social media leader by building a Facebook community for diabetes sufferers who connect online to share their experiences with the disease.

“These types of forums can help our clients better understand their customers’ perspectives, experiences and problems, while also providing information on current treatment trends and patterns,” said O’Riordan. “They can improve and focus on the health and wellbeing of the patients they serve, by engaging with customers and providing better customer service through an online presence.”

#5: Focusing on the Cloud to Cut Cost and Improve Business Functions

To date, the cloud market has mainly served as a tool for sales and marketing teams within most pharmaceutical companies. But that’s quickly changing. Today, the cloud market is adapting to meet the needs of all areas within life sciences and has shown to be particularly helpful in overcoming IP issues, security issues and has allowed many companies to cut down on operational costs. In fact, drug maker Roche recently announced it was moving to Google’s cloud-based applications, including Gmail and Google Docs, to support its more than 90,000 employees globally. The company believes it will enable employees to collaborate strategically without requiring large expenditures and potentially disruptive upgrades.

But it’s the funny sounding-acronym “PaaS” that Accenture believes has the greatest applicability in the life sciences industry. “Platform as a Service,” or PaaS, is a complete, pre-integrated platform that facilitates the deployment of applications without the cost and complexity of buying and managing underlying hardware, software or hosting capabilities. Typical examples include Amazon EC2, Google App Engine and Microsoft Azure. The platform can be used to develop, test and run business applications rapidly.

In terms of R&D, Gartner predicts that by 2014, 25 percent of R&D organizations will pilot discovery research applications using cloud computing.Eli Lilly and Pfizer, for example, have both adopted Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Platform to conduct simulation models in early discovery that have been operational within hours, whereas traditional in-house implementations would have taken weeks.

“ PaaS technology is rapidly evolving,” noted O’Riordan. “To be successful, life sciences organizations must evaluate their most valuable business processes, identify platforms to support these needs, and determine where PaaS best fits in to the overall IT strategy.”

#6: Growing Security Concerns

As life sciences organizations begin to adopt cloud, social media and mobile technologies in order to access and share information, they also face potential new security threats and breaches. 

To deal with these complex and ever-changing array of threats, organizations must move from simply monitoring and collecting data to understanding it and visualizing new behaviors and anomalies. As an example, companies could identify a possible internal threat by analyzing activity patterns of a suspect employee’s time spent downloading confidential data, which would in turn trigger a compliance check.

Accenture predicts that to better understand these risks and to detect attacks, organizations will increasingly turn to data platform technologies that provide data access and aggregation via services. The data platform will handle secure access to large volumes of fast-changing data that many companies are unable to manage in house.

Looking Forward

Whether it’s utilizing data analytics to identify the best-targeted and most cost-effective therapy or using social media to engage with customers, new modes of technology will continue to play a role in life sciences organizations. And those technology leaders that adapt, innovate and get it right will continue to be successful in the long-term.

To read Accenture’s full report, “Technology Vision: What It Means for Life Sciences,” click here.