Life Sciences

Five pharma trends for 2023: embracing challenges and opportunities

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped the pharma industry like never before with massive increases in research funding coupled with the fast-tracking of new technologies.

As the world recovers, geopolitical factors now enter the fray with high inflation/energy costs and the Ukraine war exerting influence as well as disruption to supply chains, outsourcing and procurement.

2023 has continued as 2022 ended – at a delicate time for the industry. What does the future of pharma entail? Throughout 2023 and beyond, these trends may play a greater role in shaping healthcare.

Cell and gene therapies

According to the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM), investment into new cell and gene therapies hit an all-time high in 2021 at $22.7 billion, compared to $19.9 billion in 2020.

Eighteen of the top 20 pharma companies have gene therapies in development with examples including Zolgensma, Novartis’ gene therapy drug for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and two multiple myeloma CAR-T therapies both Legend Biotech/Janssen and Bristol Myers Squibb/bluebird bio.

The sector is set to continue this growth into 2023 with ARM also identifying therapies for cancer as a hotbed of activity, boosted by 2017’s FDA approval of six CAR-T-cell therapies that specifically target blood cancers (Kymriah, Yescarta, Tecartus, Breyanzi, Abecma, and Carvykti).

The year will see an increasing regulatory acceptance of cell and gene therapies with 26 so far receiving the thumbs up by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), With four of these therapies receiving approval in 2022, expect the sector to build on this by green lighting more R&D efforts.

Supply chain pressures

Along with cell and gene therapy, the emergence of mRNA vaccine technology, could place the pharma supply chain under the microscope like never before.

The emergence of new innovations for vaccines and biologics needs specialised materials and temperature requirements for proper packing and transport. This all comes at a cost as does the transparency demanded at all times.

2023 will see further leveraging of artificial intelligence and big data across the supply chain as the pandemic has demanded improvements to speed and efficiency of medicine delivery.

These two therapeutic modalities, coupled with rising inflation has highlighted vulnerabilities in the supply chain, exacerbated by increasing labour costs, raw materials, and transportation.

This is in addition to continuing price pressures the industry is already contending with, especially in the generics sector. As pharma clients are not likely to fully swallow these price increases, profit margins will be under pressure.

The rise of digital and analytics tools

The emergence of technological solutions during lockdown has provided ample evidence of its power particularly in clinical trial recruitment and management.

But fears about the overwhelming choice of technology designed to oversee a given trial could be calmed in 2023.

Sponsors, CROs and solution providers will work to consolidate the technological offerings available for clinical trial platforms and workflows.

For instance, sites will gain from data-driven processes, such as payments being automatically initiated via electronic data capture or completion of subject activity via electronic patient-reported outcomes.

By combining site platforms, administrative burdens can be removed, efficiency can be increased and sites better equipped to give quality care and support for subjects.

Other innovations include the increased efficiency in handling the vast amounts of raw data pharma generates whether it is to  capture, analyse, or apply it to carry out actions and key decisions.

More examples include blockchain technology, which has so far proved effective in combating counterfeit and low-standard medicines that enter the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Its competence in digitizing transactions also makes it exceptionally effective for securely tracing pharmaceutical transaction activity.

ESG expectations

Pharma has been slower in implementing sustainable policies, but the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to opportunities to implement Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) strategies.

The pandemic saw the best of pharma and the societal impact it had in stemming the virus’ effects. While vaccine development can more than a decade, pharma was able to form successful partnerships to manufacture and deliver effective vaccines in a fraction of the time.

Companies such as Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca committed to producing COVID-19 vaccines on a non-profit basis to developing countries, shifting from an income-focused mindset to an approach that is benefiting society and populations.

2023 could well build on this focus on ESG with commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing, operations and facilities, the next port of call.

There are signs with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) developing a lower-emission propellant that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its inhalers by 90%.

Meanwhile AstraZeneca has committed close to $1 billion in efforts to reduce carbon emissions and water usage by increasing efficiencies in R&D, production, and distribution.

Changing pharma industry workforce

The COVID pandemic changed more than how quickly a vaccine could be produced and rolled out. It also forced pharma to work in new ways and accelerate digital partnerships.

Many firms have noted the advantages these new working approaches and are keen to implement them for the long term. These approaches include working from home (WFH) and a hybrid model.

Research suggests that remote working is here to stay, with 86% of UK CEOs saying the shift towards remote collaboration will endure (78% globally).

But the individual is becoming the focus with 61% of global CEOs conducting wellbeing initiatives and 93% of UK CEOs focusing on employee health and wellbeing as part of a changing business model driven by the effects of COVID-19.

The rise in remote working may also compound another challenge in rising employee expectations, who are expecting increased flexibility both in their current and future employee roles.

This could add to the woes of companies, which are already finding it tough to recruit technical and digital talent.

Pharma has in the past highlighted the shortage of sector talent that is linked to wider labour market trends, including an increase in demand for STEM-related roles across the life sciences industry.