As we move into 2024, the world is facing an unprecedented level of change on multiple fronts. Not only are we seeing an emerging digital revolution powered by rapidly advancing AI, but global climate issues and continual geopolitical instability are transforming the very nature of life on our planet.
These challenges are affecting every market sector including healthcare and pharmaceuticals, which can be slow to respond, especially when it comes to the adoption of new technologies. Our position as a global distributor for the pharmaceutical industry means we have a unique insight into what these changes mean for the sector in 2024 – and we’ve shared the most important ones below.
Supply chains will continue to flex
At the time of writing, the protracted war between Russia and Ukraine continues to rage, Israel’s conflict with Hamas is intensifying, and ongoing tensions over Taiwan mean the future of US and Chinese relations are uncertain.
At the same time, an increase in extreme weather caused by climate change means business operations – particularly material and ingredient sourcing – are likely to face further disruptions at very short notice.
For the pharma industry, this means that much of the globe is enveloped in uncertainty. Contingencies must be planned for every eventuality – wars beginning and ending, trade embargoes being applied and lifted to various markets, and more, all while preparing for price changes, material shortages, and other supply chain issues stemming from climate disruption.
As a result, flexible, agile supply chains and dual sourcing of raw materials will become key to maintaining throughput and delivering for patient needs.
An ageing population drives demand
Advances in medicine and a general improvement in living standards throughout most developed countries mean that the average age of these populations will continue to rise. The pharma sector, therefore, will come under increased pressure to meet the health needs of this ageing group of patients.
Along with other external factors outlined above, this increasing level of demand will put further pressure on all areas of the pharmaceutical supply chain. This will be particularly acute for companies that work on treatments for conditions that are more prevalent in the elderly, such as Arthritis or Alzheimer's.
To overcome this issue, companies must make more efficient use of their logistics and storage systems and build partnerships with distributors to facilitate complex sourcing of ingredients and materials and smooth supply flows.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
It’s been impossible to take even a cursory glance over the news headlines over the last 12 months without finding a story about artificial intelligence (AI). And while we’re still quite a way off from artificial general intelligence (AGI) – the sort of self-learning digital consciousness you might see in sci-fi movies – AI is still set to play its part in the digital transformation of the pharma sector.
Even though the AI we have today is known as ‘weak’ AI, don’t be fooled by the name - it’s still an incredibly powerful and complex tool. It can analyse and interpret vast amounts of data and identify patterns that humans simply cannot – and, thanks to machine learning, the speed and quality of these analyses are going to improve exponentially with time.
AI will soon be used to optimise complex clinical trials and to identify promising new drugs, ingredients, and materials. It will also automate and streamline the manufacturing process. And it could even assist with optimising logistics and material routing across the world. Most importantly, all of this will be managed with compliance and transparency, putting patient data first.
Digitalisation goes from ‘nice-to-have’ to ‘essential’
An important ethical question around AI lies in the way machine learning currently works. AI is only as useful as the data it’s provided with. That means AI is not necessarily the objective, calculating system that some perceive it to be - it inherits any problems and biases present in the data it is provided with.
When combined with the increasing challenges the pharma supply chain will continue to experience in 2024, spotty data collection could result in algorithms ‘baking in’ bad habits, which will affect the whole industry going forward.
As a result, digitalisation will be a key trend in 2024, as it facilitates good data management throughout the supply chain. Everything from active ingredient sourcing to patient records will need to be properly managed to drive the AI revolution, meaning tools like our Oomph CRM solution will become essential.
All of this could ensure that pharma finally shakes off its reputation as an industry that is slow to innovate.
Precision medicine and hyper-personalisation
Another benefit of digitalisation is that it helps facilitate a personalised, bespoke approach to medicine design and development. As our understanding of how different people respond to different drugs grows, this can be used to build models that will enable hyper-personalised precision medicine tailored to meet the needs of each individual patient.
The end goal of precision medicine – the ability to tweak active ingredients and dosages to meet each person’s specific profile, right down to their DNA – is one that relies greatly on other market trends, notably digitalisation, AI, and additive manufacturing. However, it does promise to offer the most efficient use of pharmaceutical resources, meaning that it will continue to grow as a trend throughout 2024.
As a leading distributor, we are experienced partners to the pharmaceutical industry. To learn how you can use our expertise to support your business, whether you are an additive manufacturer or producer, get in touch with us today.