Enabling innovation by connecting an ecosystem of partners
COVID-19 has been a shock to the system for every industry, not least pharma, but the sector is already looking at new ways to build resilience for the future.
Kevin Nikitczuk, INTIENT Network lead at Accenture, notes that collaboration and innovation are two of the key aspects that allow pharma to be ready for (hopefully unlikely) future situations akin to the pandemic.
“With COVID-19, the industry has realised that they need to accelerate and expedite everything they do – from identifying new targets to executing clinical studies to getting drugs onto the market.”
The sharing of knowledge has already been critical in the industry's collaborative efforts to expedite a COVID-19 vaccine, and Nikitczuk believes that this open approach should extend beyond research into the software and data tools pharma uses every day.
A current problem, he notes, is that each of the many steps on this path requires different software tools – and most companies are using myriad different platforms within their organisation.
Part of this is an issue with unproductive competition – which can sometimes be a road blocker for innovation, particularly when proprietary technology is custom-built by niche players or developed in-house.
But it’s also true that over recent years – and especially during the course of the pandemic – the pace of technological growth in pharma has exploded, meaning there are more possible solutions available than ever, including more patient-facing technology such as telemedicine.
This fragmented landscape creates issues for pharma.
“If, for example, regulations change or new standards for processing data come out, companies are going to face difficulties if they don’t have the proper infrastructure to quickly pivot out their software with new tools,” Nikitczuk says.
“Because of that, they may miss out on getting their products to patients in time.”
Nikitczuk believes that open, cross-company collaboration will be key to building flexibility and, ultimately, resilience against these difficulties.
Accenture, for example, decided to take its previously siloed platform products in areas as diverse as research, clinical studies and patient support and bring them under one umbrella.
The resulting INTIENT Platform brings together multiple third-party tools to allow continuity and flow of data across software and companies, whilst also facilitating insights delivered by artificial intelligence.
Rahul Kabra, INTIENT’s Europe lead, says he hopes the platform will streamline and accelerate collaboration across an entire product life cycle.
“We have partners providing patient facing capabilities in the form of medical devices or tools to enhance adherence. We also have partners providing the backend technology to secure personal data or manage workflows.
“Pharma and external partners can now use all these tools under one, end-to-end platform.”
In fact, Nikitczuk notes that clients themselves had a large role to play in pushing for a joined-up approach – showing that the spirit of collaboration in the industry is putting to rest any concerns that competition will continue to be a barrier.
“Our clients started pointing out that even though they were subscribed to several of our platforms, these tools weren’t talking to each other, and everything was still siloed.
“We took their advice and worked with them to bring these platforms together onto one end-to-end solution. Then we started working on bringing third-party vendors in. It’s been really great to see the collaborations blossom.”
To further this, Accenture is encouraging clients to develop their own software tools or bring their existing niche partners into the ecosystem and strengthen its capabilities.
It is also further encouraging open collaboration by keeping the platform solution-agnostic.
“We have some partners providing very similar tools to each other, and that's okay, because some clients have a preference for certain vendors, and we want to be able to showcase that and provide clients with options.
“I think that helps foster collaboration and encourages a little bit of healthy competition – which is always good for science.”
Another reason for this approach is the fact that, traditionally, trying to get a software solution into a pharma company has been quite an endeavour.
“First you have to navigate procurement, which can be inhibitive for smaller start-ups. Even well-established firms struggle to get new products installed in large companies or even single departments which can be a time- and resource-intensive activity. We want to make this process incredibly fast.”
Nikitczuk adds that the more this partnership ecosystem and infrastructure is built up, the easier it will be to get future solutions onto the platform and into pharma companies.
Kabra adds that, as with pharma companies sharing knowledge to develop COVID-19 vaccines, he hopes that open collaborations like this in software will allow life science companies to take advantage of the collective intelligence of independent vendors who have poured all their time, energy, and passion into developing solutions – which, in turn, will enable the industry to push boundaries and accelerate innovation.
“By being more open, the industry can allow companies the flexibility to test and implement new, potentially game-changing technologies,” Kabra says.
“We might even see the days of laborious, expensive, and inefficient procurement and implementation processes become a thing of the past.”
This is part of the draw of true open collaboration – when different companies are aligned to the same goals, processes that once took months to do can be done in days, or even less.
“As the biopharma landscape grows and evolves, we must continue to uncover new insights and innovative uses for data,” says Kabra. “By doing so, we develop new opportunities to raise the standard and personalisation of patient care and accelerate treatments to market.”
Luckily, it seems that the industry is more than ready to be truly collaborative and drive this collective mission forward.
To learn more about how Accenture is bringing companies together, click here.
About the interviewees
Kevin Nikitczuk is a senior principal within Accenture’s Life Sciences, leading the network partnerships for the INTIENT platform. Kevin has an in-depth working knowledge of life science R&D after years of laboratory and corporate experience within the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical devices fields. Kevin earned a PhD in Immuno-Oncology from Rutgers University and has published peer-reviewed articles on his work and holds several patents.
Rahul has over 25 years’ experience in technology strategy, innovation, global partnerships and solution development. He has previously held positions as a Strategy Lead for Accenture’s Products Group, and as the Ecosystem and Ventures Lead for Accenture Technology. Rahul holds a degree in Computing from City University London, and an MBA from Henley Business School.