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How Will Pharma Change in 2020?

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

The new year is open for business and we have donned our binoculars to get a clear view of what lies ahead. Whether it’s the pharmaceutical industry’s bid to improve the lives, and not just the health, of patients, or its determination to challenge the clinical status quo – it’s going to be an exciting year across the sector.


After a turbulent 2019, but optimistic final quarter, analysts have predicted a healthier outlook for 2020 pharma stocks. Whilst the US pricing debate will be sure to test stability, analysts have stressed that minimal patent expirations in combination with fruitful drug approvals, due to a 60% rise in applications, indicate that industry stock will enjoy greater strength this year. Immuno-oncology in particular is predicted to thrive, with experts estimating a total of $16 billion in sales potential in the US alone.


The possibilities of AI are exciting the imaging sector as the technology shows early signs of outperforming radiologists in identifying breast cancer, as well as equipping radiation suites with the capacity to seamlessly diagnose and treat. Both of these developments could deliver value to global health systems in the coming year, with AI diagnosis relieving pressure on medical professionals and seamless detection to treatment machines creating greater efficiency in the treatment cycle of patients.


Medicinal cannabis clocked a victory at the end of last year as the NHS agreed a price for GW Pharmaceuticals’ drug, Epidiolex. The mouth spray paves the way for other pharma companies to develop cannabis-based products of their own, taking a stake in an industry set to be worth $66.3 billion by 2025. Whilst regulation concerns have hampered potential acceleration, we can expect more companies to be filing patents and sponsoring clinical trials in 2020, as the industry tussles with the idea of investment.


Podcast popularity has rocketed in the past decade, yet only recently have pharma begun to sponsor and create original content of their own. Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lily, and Roche all have series that focus on treatment areas in their portfolios and it is estimated that more companies will adopt this marketing method in the coming year. The platform offers a unique opportunity to connect with patients and carers and offer long-form answers regarding disease care.


Amazon, Google, and Apple are set to become chief digital disrupters of the healthcare industry with their innovations in the preventative, diagnostic, and therapeutic sectors. In order to compete, pharma will need to increase their capacity for internal innovation in 2020; following the lead of companies like LEO Pharma, who has developed wearables for patients with skin conditions, and Novartis, who has created a ‘chip in pill’ technology to monitor transplant patients’ adherence to medication.


The marketing community will note a new strategy from US pharma marketers in 2020, who are moving away from spending advertising budgets on television ads and mass media, towards a more targeted, agile approach in which they deliver personalised ads to clearly defined audiences. Expect to see HCP algorithm-based approaches, as well as further social media and influencer campaigns as marketers allocate $336 billion to spend on digital this year.


Prepare for an eruption of life sciences start-ups in the UK this year, linked to an increase in larger, global companies investing in smaller accelerators and incubator businesses in 2019. The funding available has increased by four-fold, totalling a £2.8 billion investment. Knock on effects are expected to include a flooded market as well as competition for specialist facilities in the UK over the next 5 years.


The importance of patient happiness will be top of the agenda for many pharma companies in 2020 as they set themselves the challenge of going beyond treating diseases and symptoms, but also improving the quality of life of patients. A 2019 study into hepatitis B showed those classified as having a ‘positive outlook’ responded better to a vaccine than those feeling more negative, highlighting the importance of mental health in disease recovery.


Recruiting and retaining patients has been the weak spot of clinical trials for decades, but telemedicine technology will provoke a rise in remote participation this year. These patient-researcher platforms will speed up trials, ease patient burden, and improve the diversity of access. The technology simulates the trial experience through video conferencing and has the functionality to instruct when medicine should be taken and report back if it has not, meaning that accuracy is retained despite the trial being conducted outside the lab.


WHO classified false medications as the world’s most lucrative counterfeit good at the end of last year, pinpointing the industry’s value at $200 billion. Whilst the Falsified Medicine’s Directive will seek to iron cap the supply chain in the future, in the short term, expect to see an explosion of innovations in the developing world designed to expose the fakes in the marketplace. These include scratch and scan systems, in which patients can uncover a unique code then send it for verification.

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