Will see a move towards greater digitisation, use of AI and Big Data to hasten drug formulation to trial process: Nikhil K Masurkar

In many respects, 2020 has been a landmark year for the health and pharmaceutical industries that have stayed at the forefront of the global response to COVID 19. Healthcare staff have suffered the worst, even though they were hailed as ‘heroes’ of the pandemic. In September, Amnesty International reported that at least 7,000 health workers were killed worldwide as a result of COVID-19, with more than 500 in India alone.

The pharma sector on the other hand played a central role in devising a drug-vaccine response. As many as seven vaccines are approved in different parts of the world at a record time, with at least 10 others in Phase 3 of the trials. The pharmaceutical industry was also one of the strong performers in 2020, a year when several sectors were dragged down by recessionary pressures.

A major global supplier, the Indian pharmaceutical industry has been working vigorously to meet the growing global demand for HCQS, Remdesivir and Ivermectin drugs used in COVID management. The year also, however, came with a reality check. The disruption of supplies from China led to the realisation that excessive dependency on imports of APIs from that country for the Indian industry was not sustainable.

Taking note, the government and industry have initiated efforts to re-develop the production potential of key ingredients and bulk medicines for indigenous people.

Non-COVID disease studies and trials have also experienced a setback in 2020, with most global efforts focused on a COVID response. As we reach 2021, the lessons learned from the global pandemic and its effects on the sector are being carried forward. We will see a step towards greater digitisation, the use of AI and Big Data to accelerate the trial phase of drug formulation. As the COVID epidemic subsides, the industry will hopefully also restart its stopped trials for other diseases.

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