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Will 2024 be the year of adopting AI in the pharmaceutical sector?

As the pharmaceutical sector is data intensive, AI powered tools have significant potential to streamline the data gathering process and support decision-making. This, however, also puts special emphasis on cybersecurity, regulatory environment and workforce development, notes Mikael Nurmi, Oriola’s Chief Digital Officer.


Digital and technology development is a fast-moving field, which seems to have even accelerated in recent years. This is evident for example when comparing Gartner’s digitalisation trends in 2020 and 2024. Out of 10 main trends in 2020, only three have remained in 2024. This is partly due to a natural cycle, where certain trends are normalised and become business as usual, as has happened with remote work and digital collaboration, e-commerce, 5G technology and cloud computing.

How does the landscape in digital trends look in 2024? One thing is self-evident: leaps in generative artificial intelligence (AI) have left a strong imprint. If we look at this from the pharmaceutical sector’s perspective, two highly relevant trends creating new possibilities are data, analytics and AI in broad terms, and sector specifically AI in healthcare. As in other industries, the potential of AI is related to increased efficiency, precision and automation. The pharmaceutical sector is data intensive, which means that streamlining the data gathering process and having better analytical tools to support decision-making, for example to identify new drug candidates, can shorten the product development process.

In Western societies, a key question in healthcare is the growing pressure of an ageing population and how to ensure patient and medicine safety for increasing numbers of patients with limited resources. Data, AI and digitalisation can be used to bring down costs, but also to improve precision with personalised healthcare, where treatment options and recommendations are based on data analyses and highest cost-efficiency. From the cost perspective, there are several ways pharmaceutical companies can benefit from increased automation, from laboratory automation for reducing time required for routine tasks to automated reporting for meeting increasingly strict regulatory requirements. On the other hand, challenges may rise from legacy systems that are hard to automate, which hinders the full adoption of AI tools.

Additionally, there are three other trends with special relevance for the pharmaceutical sector: cybersecurity concerns, impact on work and employment, and government and digital policy. These trends have more of a dual nature, as they reflect more the potential risks and challenges. First, cybersecurity concerns apply to all industries but are highlighted in the healthcare value chain due to handling for example sensitive health data. Second, AI will change work dramatically, and to gain from digitalisation, organisations need employees who can adapt and use new technology to increase productivity. Third, there are many unsolved ethical issues in AI, and governments and authorities will likely at least try to control it. The European Medicines Agency has for example initiated a workplan to form a strategy to maximise the benefits of AI while managing the risks.

As a service provider in the pharmaceutical sector, we at Oriola are investigating the opportunities within new technologies at different levels. In pharmaceutical distribution, digitalisation enables efficiency improvements and optimisation in the supply chain. With efficient use of data and analytics, we offer insights to support our customers in their decision-making. For example, our commercial data solution Oriola Insights is already offering pharmaceutical companies access to numerous reports that combine healthcare data from various sources in the Finnish market. As another example, in pharmacovigilance AI powered tools could help to automate adverse event detection from various data sources, a task our experts are helping pharmaceutical companies with.

It remains to be seen how these trends will change our work life in the next four years. Even if we may not yet know all the answers, I’m sure exploring these opportunities with our customers to find true value will be interesting.

Mikael Nurmi works at Oriola as Chief Digital Officer. This blogpost has been inspired by his keynote on digitalisation trends in the pharmaceutical sector at Oriola’s customer event in January 2024.