Developing and producing medicines more effective? You can do it! With these 3 steps


Drug, or medicine development is a kind of Darwinism at its best. Only the strongest survive the entire process. It can easily take 12 years from start to finish before medicine has gone through all the steps of research, financing, production, and approval. The threshold to entry is so high and the development so complex that developing one new drug today costs anywhere between 1 and 2 billion dollars. Can anything be changed about that? Well, yes, but not without solving a big challenge!

1. Digitization

While almost all sectors have by now embraced digitization, the pharmaceutical industry seems to be doing its best to keep working as traditionally as possible. Today’s lab environment could have just walked away from an old black and white photo from 1930, while the complexity of the research has increased enormously.

Digitization offers opportunities to reduce the astronomical costs for R&D while at the same time creating an acceleration in the number of new medicines that can be brought to the market. This is an advantage for both the pharmaceutical industry and public health. A combination of technologies such as Digitization, AI, miniaturization, and IoT can usher a significant change in the laboratory. New medicines can be developed partly online using digital technologies and be “checked” against historical data from previous experiments.

2. Agile working

With all that said, technology is only as strong as the person wielding it. A computer is only useful for anything if you know how to use it. The same applies to the technologies we’ve just mentioned. In almost all cases, digitization coincides with a new approach to working. For a digital work environment, Agile working is by far the best choice.

These days, much work is carried out in multidisciplinary teams as they iteratively work on the development of a specific part of a product. Usually, this takes the form of a “sprint”, lasting around two weeks. After the sprint, you sit down with the team to discuss the progress, often in consultation with the client. During this discussion, you look at how the development went. What went well? What didn’t? And how you can incorporate the lessons learned into the rest of the development? In addition, it offers the client options to adjust the scope of the assignment based on new developments or insights from the “business” or the end-user.

Agile working is a controlled, yet fast way of working. By working in short cycles, you receive rapid feedback and efficiently arrive at a usable solution. The combination of digitization and agile working in the lab can lead to a significant reduction in the development, duration, and cost of new medicines, treatments, and therapies.

3. Culture change

In some sectors, this way of working is rather easy to introduce. In the pharmaceutical industry, it is a 180-degree switch from their current way of working. Undoubtedly, the biggest impact is the shift in the types of people required for running a project. You can’t really expect medical experts to have the competencies of a data scientist in addition to being experts in the field of drug manufacturing, can you? Someone who gains valuable insights from large amounts of gathered data is a scientist in their own kind of lab. By combining the IT department and the lab you not only create a new way of working, but also the need and necessity for new job profiles and roles.

The question now is of course: how easy this is to implement? And is it worth the effort? The best way is step by step, where you increasingly clearly show the added value per step. In this phase, it is important to involve as many people from the field as possible. The goal, that you eventually will achieve, is that employees can perform their work easier with better results. And probably, also with more job satisfaction.