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Pharmaceuticals

The tech-enabled R&D opportunities Pharma is still missing.

Neil Thomas, Partner and Head of Health Care and Life Sciences for EMEA at Infosys Consulting

The life sciences industry is arguably experiencing the greatest period of disruption and transformation ever witnessed. The convergence of COVID, global geopolitical and supply chain obstacles, and the reality of climate change has left the industry grappling with higher costs, difficult operating conditions, and market flux. However, these threats also run alongside an explosion of technological advancement.

Capitalising on today’s nascent technologies, pharma now has the opportunity to realise radical transformation – especially within the most challenging area of R&D. While considerable breakthroughs have been achieved through digitalisation, opportunities to streamline innovation are being missed. Here we explore three areas in which pharma can focus on technologies to drive cost-effective transformation in R&D and beyond.

Embracing blockchain for cost-effective R&D

As with all sectors, data is the true lifeblood of life sciences, but despite leaps in its use in R&D, there is still a lack of effective strategies that ensure the safe and effective use of big data to drive cost-effective innovation. Consider blockchain, a technology already used to significant effect in the financial services sector, similar in its high security and data regulation levels.

Clinical trial data is an essential component of drug development, and the integrity and security of this data are critical to ensuring patient safety and bringing new drugs to market. However, to realise the power of data within R&D, companies must be able to securely access and analyse sensitive data at scale.

As recent research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences highlights, “one of the major problems in the use of big data in medicine is that medical data has been collected across different states, hospitals, and administrative departments using different protocols. Therefore, new infrastructure resources are required to better cross-examine the medical data through proper collaboration between different data providers.”

Blockchain distributed ledger technology can help to address some of the challenges associated with managing vast sets of clinical trial data, including data privacy, security, and transparency – especially when considering the collaborative nature of today’s R&D. By storing clinical trial data on a blockchain, pharmaceutical companies can ensure that patient data is protected and anonymised while providing greater transparency and accountability to the numerous stakeholders involved in the process.

Furthermore, blockchain technology can help streamline data management. Automating processes such as data verification and validation reduces the time and cost of managing clinical trial data, freeing up resources to focus on other aspects of drug development. Trust, transparency, and immutability – the three fundamentals of blockchain – align perfectly with the requirements of the pharma industry. By improving data security, transparency, privacy, and efficiency, blockchain can help to improve patient safety, increase trust in the drug development process, and accelerate the pace of innovation in the industry.

Realising the potential of personalised precision medicine

One of the pervasive issues in the industry is the escalating costs of R&D. Not only that but patients and governments increasingly want more for less, especially in this new era of personalisation. As Elias A. Zerhouni, MD, former director of America’s National Health Institutes and Centres, accurately predicted, we are now in the era of P4 medicine – predictive, personalised, pre-emptive, and participatory. Now individuals expect services to be tailor-made and targeted to their specific needs.

Personalised precision medicine aims to provide individualised treatments based on a patient’s genetic makeup, lifestyle, and other factors and relies heavily on the effective use of big data and AI. This is where blockchain technology could come into its own, enabling big data and AI to come together to develop hyper-personalised medicine at scale.

While personalisation is often associated with higher costs, AI can reduce the cost of drug development for hyper-personalised medicine by enabling researchers to predict drug efficacy and safety more accurately. By analysing vast amounts of data, including genetic data, medical histories, and drug response data, AI can identify biomarkers and other indicators that can predict how an individual patient will respond to a given drug. This can reduce the need for expensive clinical trials and help researchers identify promising drug candidates more quickly.

AI-enabled hyper-personalisation approaches can also help researchers design clinical trials that are more targeted and efficient, reducing the cost and time required to bring a drug to market.

As the above research summarises, “Advanced machine learning approaches such as artificial intelligence and deep learning represent the future toolbox for the data-driven analytics of genomic big data. The emerging progress in these areas will be indispensable for future innovation in health care and personalised medicine.”

Bring potential to life with 3D printing

Developing personalised medicine through AI opens many doors, but production is another challenge. This is where 3D printing technology can support the development of small-batch medication, whether for prototyping or personalisation. For example, 3D printing can allow pharmaceutical companies to easily adjust the production process to accommodate small batch sizes, allowing the fast development of prototypes and custom medications for individual patients, supporting the aim of ‘batch of one’, through personalised precision medicine.

By enabling more targeted drug development, more efficient clinical trial design, and more accurate prediction of drug efficacy and safety, AI is critical to R&D and will be fundamental to the realisation of personalised medicine. Add to this the secure foundation of blockchain and the potential of 3D printing to support effective production, and the roadmap for future medicine is paved with today’s most innovative technologies. Through focused digitalisation within R&D, the industry can realise innovative channels for growth that could redefine life sciences for the better of all.

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Lifestyle

Summer running: expert tips to safeguard your eyes from heat and sun

Running, as one of the most natural forms of recreation, comes with a long list of health benefits such as better cardiovascular health, improved knee and back health, better immunity, improved mood and overall energy, and better sleep.

Summer, despite being considered a nice time for a run due to the sunny weather, is the most hated season in the running community.

Running in the heat takes extra energy and it can take a toll on eye health. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can cause cataracts, macular degeneration, and pterygium (growth on the eye’s surface), while sweat and sun cream can lead to eye pain and blurred vision.

Nimmi Mistry, professional service optician at Vision Direct, shares insight on how to protect your eyes during summer runs.

Blinded by the lights: UV ray exposure can lead to serious eye damage

Running enthusiasts usually have their summer runs in the morning or evening, as these periods have lower temperatures. Despite the sun being lower then and runners looking down during their runs, indirect sunlight can cause serious eye damage as it reflects from surfaces.

Our eyes have natural protection, as corneas absorb UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C radiation, but they can absorb only half of it. The rest reaches the retina, which is responsible for sharp vision and the macula, and can cause damage such as:

Pterygium or Surfer’s Eye. This condition includes tissue growth in the eye that is directly connected to long-term exposure to UV light and can affect anyone that spends a lot of time outdoors without adequate protection. You can actually see this as a lumpy growth in your eye and although it’s not cancerous, it can cause eye inflammation, lead to dry eye, and cause other eye issues like itching, burning eye pain, or even lead to blurred and double vision. The only treatment for it is surgery.

Cataracts: With age, proteins and fibers in the lens begin to break down, causing changes in the eye tissues. Cataracts are basically little clouds in the eye lens that can cause vision problems and typically start appearing around age 40.  Studies have confirmed that UV rays can trigger the eye damage seen in cataracts, as they harm the proteins in the eyes in the same way. Prolonged exposure to the sun may cause your eyes to deteriorate even before you are 40.

Macular Degeneration: This is another age-related eye condition in which the macula, the part of the eye responsible for seeing sharp details, gets damaged. It’s common in people 65 years and older, and while the direct causes are not completely understood (generally bad habits like smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure), studies have proven that exposure to UV rays increases the risk of developing macular degeneration.

Salt and acid from sweat leads to eye irritations 

Eyebrows are our natural barrier against getting sweat into eyes, but during summer runs they are not enough. The burning feeling of getting sweat mixed with sunscreen in your eyes isn’t just a temporary setback to your running pace.

Sweat that drips from your scalp to your eyes contains salt and acid, and can be potentially harmful. The salt in sweat can cause eye irritations, a burning feeling, blurred vision, or stinging eyes. If the sweat is mixed with sunscreen, the pain can be even sharper.

How to protect your eyes when running in the summer?

Whether you’re running on trails or on roads, you should definitely take care of your eyes, especially if you’re a long distance enthusiast.

  1. Wear sunglasses while running: This may seem logical but loads of runners still think running with glasses is uncomfortable. This may be true if they are wearing prescription glasses, but not if they wear specific lightweight sunglasses designed for outdoor activities. Wearing sunglasses is really imperative when it comes to eye protection as they block out 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB rays.
  2. Switch to contact lenses: If you’re wearing prescription glasses, seriously consider switching to contact lenses for sports or any summer activities. They will allow you to wear sunglasses, and with contacts, you also get additional UV protection and better peripheral vision. Daily contact lenses are the best choice for beginners, and they don’t have as much protein build-up, making them more comfortable to wear.
  3. Wear a running hat: The first choice for eye protection during summer is sunglasses, but if for any reason you can’t wear them, a running hat with additional UPF protection is a must. It will protect you from direct UV rays, but not from indirect UV rays, which again, can be really harmful. A running hat can be a nice addition to sunglasses, as it keeps sweat (combined with sunscreen) from dripping down and impairing your vision.
  4. Headbands: Headbands alone can’t protect your eyes from the sun, but it is a good idea to combine them with sunglasses to stop sweat and sunscreen getting into your eyes.

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Pharmaceuticals

Digital solutions offer key to better organisational efficiency and coordination in healthcare

Executive Chair of InnoScot Health, Graham Watson analyses the huge value which existing tech can realise for NHS Scotland

Healthcare innovation headlines are often made by the most impressive technologies – the likes of artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive medicine immediately spring to mind.

They capture the imagination, and rightly so given the exciting possibilities they offer and positive results which they are already producing, but of course they are not the entire solution. Instead, they represent effective pieces in the bigger puzzle that will eventually become the future of healthcare.

What also creates news headlines is spending that seeks to address the most pressing NHS concerns. Yet, such solutions do not always achieve the required result.

Akin to a leaking pipe, you can patch the hole in the short-term and the dripping immediately stops, but that does not mean the patch is necessarily an enduring solution. You might need to invest in an entirely new pipe.

In other words, by focusing on short term solutions, we may be left less able to focus spending on longer-term transformational change.

Grassroots thinking is also required then, and what is often less talked about is what is available in the here and now that can produce lasting results.

If the NHS is to do more with less and fundamentally work smarter, then we need to look at the tools that are already at our disposal and which do not require significant fresh resource – just more targeted approaches to how they are implemented and used.

That includes digital solutions for better leveraging of data to ensure that patients receive coordinated, seamless care; information shared quickly and securely between health professionals throughout the care journey; and digitally trained clinicians being increasingly unburdened of administrative processes allowing them to better focus on caring for their patients.

In essence, greater efficiency, systemic sustainability, less siloed systems, and giving back to clinicians that which they increasingly have less and less of – time.

If that digital shift in processes is managed effectively and then continuously monitored to identify potential improvements, it also likely translates to improved staff retention with clinicians able to make more confident decisions amid today’s challenging, often pressured work environment.

Secure and centralised cloud-based systems offer real time analytics, providing an at-a-glance dashboard of patient progress, including diagnoses, tests, and treatments, in tandem with the best possible accessibility across Scotland’s often nuanced healthcare system.

Most people are now familiar and comfortable with storing sensitive information securely in the cloud given just how much of our day to day lives are now kept there – and clinicians are no different, making NHS adoption a relatively straightforward culture change.

Indeed, there are great clinician-led examples already making waves, underlining the vast potential for existing solutions to be leveraged. Dr Matthew Freer, a consultant anaesthetist, is also CEO and co-founder of Infix Support – a cloud-based tech company focused on improving the efficiency of surgical operating theatres and tackling patient wait lists. His role in honing a more intuitive system for operating theatre utilisation is considered to be a game-changer.

Last year, InnoScot Health revealed the results of its independent survey of NHS Scotland workforce attitudes towards innovation, finding a marked enthusiasm to engage with new approaches and utilise technology to aid processes.

A total of 88% ranked big data and analytics – using gathered data to uncover hidden patterns and correlations for better decision-making and greater efficiency in healthcare delivery – as one of the most important areas for innovation in the future.

Also ranking 88%, digital apps – delivering information for patients, care providers and researchers, real-time patient monitoring, collecting community and clinical health data, and more – was a further prime focus for the workforce.

During this time of recovery and renewal, rapidly scalable digital innovations shaping the future of NHS Scotland must be integrated into its constantly evolving systemic architecture – exactly where they can have greatest impact – breaking down barriers, improving lives, and enhancing organisational efficiency.

When negativity can often predominate in NHS-related headlines, it is encouraging to note that we have a workforce responding positively and saying it is ready for a modern, agile, and sustainable health care system.

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Business

Recognising the value of protecting intellectual property early builds strong foundation for innovators

Innovation Manager at InnoScot Health, Fiona Schaefer analyses an essential facet of developing ideas into innovations

Helping the NHS to innovate remains a key priority during this period of recovery and reform. Even within the current cash-strapped climate, there is the opportunity to maximise the first-hand experience of the healthcare workforce and its knowledge of where new ideas are needed most.

Entrepreneurial-minded, creative staff from any discipline or activity are often best placed to recognise areas for improvement – the reason why a significant number of solutions come from, and are best developed with, health and social care staff.

NHS Scotland is a powerful driver of innovation, but to truly harness the opportunities which new ideas offer for development and commercialisation, the knowledge and intellectual property (IP) underpinning them needs to be protected. That vital know-how and other intangible assets – holding appropriate contracts for example – are key from an early stage.

Medical devices can take years to develop and gain regulatory approval, so from the outset of an idea’s development – and before revenue is generated – filing for IP protection and having confidentiality agreements in place are ways to start creating valuable assets. This is especially important when applying for patent protection because that option is only available when ideas have not been discussed or presented to external parties prior to application.

Without taking that critical initial step to protect IP, anyone – without your permission – could copy the idea, so anything of worth should be protected as soon as possible, making for a clear competitive advantage and ownership in the same sense as possessing physical property.

The common theme is that to be successful – and ultimately support the commercialisation of ideas that will improve patient care and outcomes – the idea must be novel, better, quicker, or more efficient than existing options. Furthermore, to turn it into a sound proposition worth investing in, it must also be technically and financially feasible. It isn’t enough to just be new and novel – the best innovations offer tangible benefits to patient outcomes and staff working practices.

Of course, even more so in the current climate of financial constraints, the key question of ‘Who will pay for your new product or service?’ needs to be considered up front as well.

Whilst development of a strong IP portfolio requires investment and dedicated expertise, when done well and at the appropriate time, then it is resource well spent, offering a level of security whilst developing an asset which can be built upon and traded. There are various ways commercialisation can progress and whilst not all efforts will be successful, intellectual property is an asset which can be licensed or sold to others offering a range of opportunities to secure a good return.

In my experience, however, many organisations including the NHS are still missing the opportunity to recognise and protect their knowledge assets and intellectual property early in the innovation pathway. This is partly due to lack of understanding – sometimes one aspect is carefully protected, whilst another is entirely neglected. In other cases, the desire to accelerate to the next stage of product development means such important foundational steps are not given the attention required for long-term success.

Good IP management goes beyond formally protecting the knowledge assets associated with a project, e.g. by patenting or design registration, however. When considered with other intangible assets such as access to datasets, clinical trial results, standard operating procedures, quality management systems, and regulatory approvals, it is the combination which will be key to success.

Early securing of IP protection or recognition of IP rights in a collaboration agreement, demonstrates foresight and business acumen. Later on, it can significantly boost negotiating power with a licensing partner or build investor confidence.

Conversely, omissions in IP protection or suitable contracts can be damaging, potentially derailing years of product development and exposing organisations to legal challenges and other risks. Failing to protect a promising idea can also mean commercial opportunities are missed, thus leading to your IP being undervalued.

Ideas are evaluated by formal NHS Scotland partner InnoScot Health in the same way whether they are big or small, a product, service, or new, innovative approach to a care pathway.

We encourage and enable all 160,000 NHS Scotland staff, regardless of role or location, to come forward with their ideas, giving them the advice and support they need to maximise their potential benefits.

Protecting the IP rights of the health service is one of the cornerstones of InnoScot Health’s service offering. In fact, to date we have protected over 255 NHS Scotland innovations. Recently these have included design registration and trademarks for the SARUS® hood and trademarks for SCRAM®, building and protecting a recognised range of bags with innovative, intuitive layouts. Spin outs such as Aurum Biosciences meanwhile have patents underpinning their novel therapeutics and diagnostics.

We assist in managing this IP to ensure a return on investment for the health service. Any revenue generated from commercialising ideas and innovations from healthcare professionals is shared with the innovators and the health board through our agreements with them and the revenue sharing scheme detailed in health board IP and innovation policies.

Fundamentally, we believe that it is vital to harness the value of expertise and creativity of staff with a well-considered approach to protecting IP and knowledge input to projects from the start.

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