In these complicated times, the pharmaceutical sector has found itself facing unprecedented challenges, and doing so at the forefront. First of all, the management of the hectic phases of the health emergency triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic where we found ourselves having to react in a scenario never seen before, with absolute rapidity.

An enormous stress that involved all levels and branches of this sector, from large pharmaceutical companies, to the distribution chain, to international and national regulators, up to individual neighborhood and provincial pharmacies. The supply chain has withstood the shock remarkably well: today we can say that with awareness. However, attention: the actors and operators in the sector must not make the mistake of limiting themselves to emergency management

In this long and complex period, in fact, some trends have emerged that clearly point us in the direction of a new normal. And new approaches, new operational tools, and a new mindset have taken hold, which are here to stay and become increasingly consolidated. To quote a slogan: new opportunities born out of an unprecedented global crisis. So what is the primary driver behind all these changes? Digital Transformation. And what is the fuel that feeds the engine? Data. This post is dedicated to Big Data in the pharmaceutical sector, with its various applications and multiple benefits. We will proceed in order, starting with the basics. 


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Big Data and the Pharma 4.0 Revolution 

So, as promised, let’s start with the basics: 

“Big Data is high-volume, high-velocity and/or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making, and process automation”. 

This is Gartner’s definition of Big Data. But let’s go further: what types of data can be collected by companies? It’s difficult to draw up a complete list, but first of all we need to draw a line that divides data related to internal company processes (from production, to distribution, to personnel management, for example) from data related to customer management and communication. The latter we can divide into these macro-categories: 

  • Demographic Data: information regarding age, gender, marital status, employment, and income status. 
  • Psychographic Data: behaviors, beliefs, values, interests, lifestyles. 
  • Geographic Data: geolocation. A fundamental theme, especially for those players in the pharmaceutical sector (pharmacies especially) who base their business on proximity.  
  • Behavioral Data: data based on users’ web surfing behaviors, extracted from cookies.
  • Contextual Data: a wide field that concerns the context and environment that surrounds us; from news, to sentiment, to market fluctuations. 
  • First Party Data: data that a company (or a pharmacy) collects directly from its users and customers, for example through CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems. 

Of course, Big Data related to internal processes and externally facing Big Data, have different applications, utilities, and benefits. But both sides are critical. And, above all, it is of absolute importance to know how to integrate them. This is where the so-called Pharma 4.0 revolution starts, which, to put it briefly, is the application of the logic and dynamics of Industry 4.0 and digitalization to the pharmaceutical sector.

The field is vast: from production plants that are becoming increasingly smart and automated, to R&D departments, passing through distribution chains. But it’s a process of innovation that must also involve the national health system, right down to the entire network of pharmacies in the area. And then there are the patients, who today are no longer just the target, the simple recipients to whom the actors of this huge sector address themselves: today, patients are at the center of all these changes.

In short, Big Data in the pharmaceutical sector also becomes the starting point for a dialog between the pharmaceutical company and the person, between the doctor, the pharmacy, and the patient, which is becoming increasingly personalized and “close”. The topic, as you can guess, is huge. Now, we want to analyze some decisive applications of Big Data in the pharmaceutical sector, with their advantages. We have chosen to summarize them in four key points, involving areas that are intentionally very different from each other, just to give a taste of an overview that is really very broad. We’ll quickly dwell on research and development; then, on Digital Health; then, on document dematerialization; finally, on the new – increasingly personalized – communication with patients. 


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Research and development 

Think about the development of Covid-19 vaccines. Think about the immense amount of sensitive and complex data and information that goes into this research. Think about the need to not make mistakes. To evaluate results and recalibrate. To communicate between centers located in different and often distant places. And – above all – to do all of this quickly. Now, think about all this and you’ll have a very telling picture of the vital need for Big Data analysis and interpretation in the pharmaceutical sector.

But even moving to less striking scenarios than this, data analytics proves invaluable for several aspects of clinical trials. Again, this is a vast field, but here are a few examples: machine learning algorithms that are useful for recruiting patients for trials, others that are critical for evaluating partial or final results. There are still others that are invaluable for everything related to the safety or control of any type of adverse reaction, large or small. And the list could go on and on. 

But what do all of these aspects have in common?  

  • Unprecedented optimization.  
  • Cost reductions across the chain.  
  • Multiplied efficiency.

Digital Health 

What do we mean by Digital Health? The use of digital technologies for the health and well-being of individuals, a field that straddles the line between Pharma and Fitness. Here are some concrete examples: 

  • Smartphone apps dedicated to health.
  • Wearable devices: Takeda Pharmaceuticals, for example, is designing  an app with Apple Watch to fight depressive disorders (source: Cambridge).
  • An industry giant like Roche, instead, has developed a sensor to be implanted under the skin, which constantly monitors the blood glucose level of diabetic patients (source: eversense).
  • Ingestible sensors, such as those studied by Proteus Digital Health.
  • Project Blue Sky, a collaboration between Pfizer and IBM that, through the integrated use of various sensors and mobile devices, aims to continuously monitor Parkinson’s syndrome patients in real time (source: IBM). 

It’s a sector that is booming and with huge growth margins and that – again – feeds on Big Data. In fact, today we are increasingly talking about IoMT, “Internet of Medical Things”. Another mine of data will come from here, triggering virtuous circles of continuous innovation

Document Dematerialization 

Let’s completely change the field, moving to a side that concerns, on one hand, the pharmaceutical companies and, on the other, the whole network of pharmacies in the area. We are talking about document archiving, with the decisive shift from paper to dematerialized documents. 

The advantages are: 

  • Savings of costs, time, and space.  
  • Simplicity and speed in research and sharing
  • Reduction of error margins, risks of tampering, or loss.  
  • Increased security and transparency.  

All of this, at once. In order to have access to an architecture of this type, it is important to rely on specialized companies, such as Doxee, which are able to guarantee the management of business processes related to data transformation and the production, distribution and archiving of documents through the document experience product. 

New communication with patients 

The path of any mature digitalization is this: from data we must move on to building solid and lasting relationships with people. And this is where another revolution made possible by the exploitation of Big Data in the pharmaceutical sector comes in: a revolution that concerns communication with customers and patients. Data analysis makes it possible to do something very old in the new digital world: to have in-depth knowledge of the person in front of us. And, this, even when we’re talking about audiences of thousands or millions of people. Basically, it’s about collecting and deciphering the digital traces that each of us continuously leaves in the connected world.  

From this new in-depth knowledge, we move on to a Customer Care that is no longer one-size-fits-all, but becomes segmented and data-driven. Finally, it becomes truly one-to-one and personalized, with enormous advantages both for the individual client or patient and for companies, whether large or small. There are many tools with which to carry out personalized communication. Once again, everything lies in relying on companies specialized in multichannel and personalized communication systems and capable of designing a strategy that is tailored to the needs of each user.