Nikkhil K Masurkar

The Indian pharmaceutical industry has come a long way, becoming the sunrise sector of the country. The use of Artificial Intelligence in the pharmaceutical industry has redefined how scientists develop new drugs, tackle diseases, and more. Delving deep into the discussion, Nikkhil K Masurkar, CEO, Entod Pharmaceuticals had an in-depth conversation with Kaanchi Chawla of Elets News Network (ENN). Edited excerpts:

With the growing technology penetration into the industry, what are the trends and innovations taking place in the Indian pharmaceutical industry?

The pharmaceutical industry, along with the healthcare industry, is witnessing a huge digital transformation in recent times. Developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain, big data analytics, and data science have completely changed how the pharma industry works. Using AI in the pharma industry has various roles expected to expand, like accelerating drug discovery and development. Some of the areas that are benefitting from Artificial Intelligence include clinical trials, fraud detection, and the overall improvement of medications. IoT is creating an innovative and disruptive pharma industry by reducing complexities and inefficiencies with real-time information to manufacturers in every step of the enhanced value chain system. Apart from that, by using SaaS and advanced technologies like AI, ML, and IoT, pharma industries can distance themselves from traditional practices in the supply chain and gain a competitive advantage by evolving further with technological transformations.

What are the factors driving the growth of the Indian Pharma Industry?

The Indian pharmaceutical industry has come a long way, becoming the sunrise sector of the country. Today, the industry is witnessing steep growth, with lots of innovation and employment generation. Today, India is one of the largest producers of low-cost drugs, both regarding value and volume. The growing market competition, increasing regulatory scrutiny, domestic price regulations, more tech innovations/investment in manufacturing processes, and new tax regimes have supported the pharma industry’s growth, creating a ray of opportunities for the sector to adapt to the changing global dynamics and emerge as a leading global pharma hub.

The rapid increase in technology augments risks. What is the biggest challenge faced by the pharmaceutical industry today?

Pharma risks continue to intensify with emerging technologies that provide access to company data, whether staying on remote devices or on the network. The frequency of phishing attacks – or fraudulent attempts to access critical information by posing as a trusted source or entity – is on the rise. The IoT can also increase an organisation’s cyber risk and present additional vulnerabilities by increasing the attack surface and creating more opportunities for hackers to gain access to the network. For this reason, it’s critical for companies to implement robust cyber security practices and protocols to effectively protect their technology from cyber-attacks.

Artificial Intelligence is becoming popular across all industries. Do you think AI is playing an imperative role in the pharma sector? If yes, how?

Over the past few years, using AI in the pharmaceutical industry has redefined how scientists develop new drugs, tackle diseases, and more. The key benefit of employing AI in the pharmaceutical industry is the time it takes to test a drug and the time it takes for a drug to get approval and reach the market. This results in great cost savings that would indeed lower drug costs for patients. With the help of AI, the initial screening of drug compounds to the predicted success rate based on biological factors and measuring RNA and DNA can be done quickly. Also, pharmaceutical companies deal with large volumes of textual data from various sources like patient reports, drug reports, etc. For researchers, processing and interpreting these large volumes of textual data can be tiresome and time-consuming. This is where AI can make a difference. AI algorithms can read, group, and interpret this data and thus provide a more efficient way to examine the data from various sources. Additionally, with the help of Artificial Intelligence in the pharmaceutical industry, pharma companies can reduce material waste, shorten design time, improve production reuse, perform predictive maintenance, and more.

Digital processes are gaining momentum in the pharmaceutical industry. Do you think it enhances transparency and mitigates the loss of data?

Yes, of course. For example, pharmaceutical manufacturing plants face a tension between the desire for continuous manufacturing, to make the best use of resources and equipment, and the need to track quality. They must quickly and accurately recall any product that falls short of standards, whether that’s because of errors in the process, contamination in the raw elements, or poor quality among the partially-processed components. Digital analytics solutions gather real-time data from every corner of the plant, constantly tracking processes, equipment, and raw material quality. If a product does need to be recalled, big plant data creates an audit trail to identify affected batches and reduce the extent of the recall. AI analytics solutions open up real-time visibility into operations, revealing performance gaps and helping identify root causes. Greater plant transparency underpins faster reaction times when incidents arise.

Unified data platforms automatically gather and share data with internal and external stakeholders, increasing understanding of the customer, changing market demands, and performance capabilities within the plant itself.

Production Linked Incentives Scheme (PLI) Scheme boosts domestic manufacturing and attracts large investments in medical devices. How are PLI schemes transforming the pharma industry?

Yes. Through the Production Linked Incentive Scheme, the government has tried to reduce imports by encouraging domestic manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. The PLI scheme has led to the initiation of the production of more than 35 products in India. However, the PLI scheme was far too skewed far too much toward generic drugs. I think more PLI schemes should come up to allocate for biologics, biosimilars, cell and gene therapies, etc.

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