Updated on 20/01/2023

Digital Transformation in the Pharma Industry

Digital Transformation in the Pharma Industry has had a huge and decisive impact. That’s what we mean by Pharma 4.0: a process that starts with Big Data and goes all the way to personalization and sustainability. That’s what we’ll be talking about in this post.

Industry 4.0 is a term that appeared for the first time in Germany in the context of a government project aimed at bringing the German industrial system back to the top of the world, thanks to digital innovation. The term has had enormous success, and has broadened its meaning well beyond national borders, becoming one of the most important keywords in the productive and technological world of today. When we speak of Industry 4.0 we are referring to a real Fourth Industrial Revolution, the one made possible by the Digital Transformation in which we are all immersed today.

What are the keywords of this revolution?

  • Big Data;
  • Internet of Things;
  • Analytics;
  • Automation, Robotics;
  • Artificial Intelligence;
  • Machine Learning;
  • Cloud Computing.

If we talk about B2C we have to add another keyword, which is really central: personalization.

In summary, Industry 4.0 was born and continues to develop from the most advanced interaction between man and machine. It’s a ”collaboration” that is aimed at deeply improving production processes, monitoring them with a precision never seen before: everything and then aiming at maximum optimization. There is also the aspect of a more fluid and tailored dialog between companies and individual consumers, which are really put at the center of all types of business. Finally, another aspect that is more fundamental today than ever before: the optimization of 4.0 also leads to a high and unprecedented attention to pollutant emissions and the balance to be preserved on our planet.

In short: efficiency, personalization, sustainability. Three objectives united in a virtuous circle, perhaps for the first time in the history of mankind. Surely there is still a long way to go, and we are only at the beginning of this revolution, but what is certain is that this paradigm shift has had an impact on all sectors of industry. 

The impact of Digital Transformation in the Pharma Industry has been large and profound; many fruits are being reaped in the present, and many opportunities will open up in the near future. The pharmaceutical companies that will guide the future of this industry will be the most careful and able to see the trends on the horizon before the competition and it is precisely on these trends that we want to focus in this post.

Let’s start with a preliminary question: what do we mean by Pharma 4.0? Then, we’ll talk about Big Data, and from there we will talk about the importance of individuals and personalization, and we’ll finish up by talking about sustainability.


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Pharma 4.0 – What does it mean?

Pharma 4.0 indicates the application of the logic and dynamics of Industry 4.0 and Digital Transformation in the pharmaceutical sector, one characterized by very specific aspects concerning security, regulations, privacy, and the use of personal data

This transformation begins to act already upstream, therefore in production. Digital, in fact, makes production operations more “intelligent” (to use another label, we are talking about Factory 4.0). Here the keyword is “optimization”, which is achieved through increasingly refined, deep, and dynamic analytics systems. This is thanks to the implementation of digital sensors and IoT (Internet of Things) and through increasingly precise, but also elastic predictive systems, even better if they are based on machine learning systems. In short, it’s all a matter of information, of Big Data.

Pharma 4.0, however, doesn’t just translate into more efficient and intelligent factories. The other big area where Digital Transformation is starting to offer really promising results is in research and development. It is above all a question of “networking”, in a network that is made more efficient and faster every day by new digital collaboration systems that bring together private companies, public administrations, industry giants, and innovative start-ups.

It is no coincidence that Farmindustria (the Italian association of drug companies) pointed out “that innovation in the network is sparking renaissance in biopharmaceutical research” (source: farmindustria.it). So, from the factories themselves, to the research and development laboratories, to the patients. Also in this last aspect, which is particularly important, 4.0 is making its power felt, radically changing the way pharmaceutical companies interface with their consumers.

Again, “collaboration” is an important theme, one that involves pharmaceutical companies, companies that deal specifically with health care, but also — more generally — companies in the tech sector. Here, extensive know-how, positively impacts the patient, who in turn becomes an active agent, provides feedback, and communicates more easily with companies, institutions, and intermediaries.

The goal is to go beyond the ancient perspective of pure drug administration to embrace a “beyond the pill” perspective (literally, beyond the pill), which concerns the health and well being of individuals at 360 degrees and it is precisely here that the theme of personalization emerges. We’ll return to this later. But, first, let’s start from the data.

Big Data: the engine of the revolution

At the origin of Digital Transformation in the pharmaceutical sector (as in all other sectors) there is something decisive, but also simple: a huge availability of data that the internet (in all its forms) has made available. This is what the much cited Big Data is: the digital traces that we all disseminate, almost at any time, and from many different devices.

Humans and our devices are more and more interconnected on the net. This translates into a huge amount of new data, and this is what we mean by IoT (Internet of Things). The result is that today, for the first time in history, companies have an almost infinite amount of information available about both their processes and their consumers.

The challenge is to collect this information, but — above all — to interpret it in a way that makes your business more efficient, from production, to distribution, to marketing, and Customer Care and this is what all the leading pharmaceutical companies are doing. They are also going even further, taking advantage of Big Data analysis also to improve product quality, keep side effects and their diffusion under control, monitor and make the distribution network more efficient, and to evaluate drug life phases and patients’ reactions (on a small or very large scale).

Then there is the whole sensitive aspect of risk management. Last but not least, there is the decisive aspect of commercial and marketing signals. In short, all the challenges of innovation, market, and reputation in the pharmaceutical sector are won or lost based on the ability to analyze data.

In this sense, what is the frontier? The answer is “precision medicine”, a theme that brings us immediately to the next point: personalization.

Pharma is becoming more and more “tailor-made”

Having more and more data available allows Pharma companies to increase the accuracy of their decision, and importantly, their knowledge of their patients as individuals, with their specific problems, behaviors, and needs. Of course, the path is not perfectly linear, because there are different intermediaries between companies and individuals: these are general practitioners, hospitals, pharmacies, and public administrations. All of this raises the fundamental point of integration between the different sources of data, and therefore the need to put on track effective systems of sharing and analysis (i.e. Artificial Intelligence) and this purpose.

The challenge is complex, but very clear: to address individual patients, to set up increasingly tailored treatment methods, also through systems that allow calibration of therapies according to the data coming from the patients themselves. This is what we mean when we talk about “precision medicine”. Here we move on to a fundamental side: that of the dialog between pharmaceutical company and patient. Here, we’re also talking about marketing and Customer Care.

This is where personalization becomes extremely important. It’s where companies like Doxee specialize by building one-to-one communication channels, starting from the data of individuals (safe, protected, always up to date, and legally compliant). Such channels are also interactive, from personalized mini-sites to personalized videos distributed via email. 

Personalization is the real turning point for the pharmaceutical sector, and the margins and opportunities to implement it are huge. After all, it’s all about transforming data into relationships.


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Digital is also sustainable

We started from the data to get to the individuals. Now, we’ll close by expanding our attention to the environment around us.

Sustainability is one of the most important (if not the most important) keywords for industry, in the present and for the future, for one simple reason: without sustainability there can be no future. In short, for companies in any industry, sustainability is a matter of responsibility, but also a matter of image and reputation. It is in fact the consumers themselves who are asking brands to become “greener”.

In pharma industry, sustainability passes through the optimization of production processes, which is made possible (as we have seen) by the analysis of data in the factory; this in the first place, with great attention to packaging. Sustainability also means making the distribution chain more efficient. And, above all, it is personalization itself that contributes to reducing overabundance and waste. To put it another way, the more “precision” and “tailor-made” medicine is made, the more sustainable and environmentally friendly it will be. Finally, it is important to learn how to share this with your customers and suppliers, with positive returns on your brand image.

Here, then, is the real result of Pharma 4.0 and Digital Transformation in the Pharma industry: the triggering of a virtuous circle that, starting from new technologies, makes production processes more efficient, improves patient satisfaction, and contributes to the care of the environment.

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