New Research: Digital Strategies Pharma is Prioritizing to Increase Operational Agility

November 17, 2022

Currently, half the world lacks access to essential health services1. With the population expected to grow from 7.8 billion in 2020 to 9.7 billion in 20502, demand for consistent access to vital drugs and vaccines will continue to increase.

This challenge demands that pharma companies implement strategies to increase their operational agility, with digitalization as an integral enabler. As the pandemic accelerated digital transformation initiatives, pharma companies recognized smart manufacturing’s important role in achieving operational agility. Smart manufacturing can help improve efficiency and visibility across manufacturing processes that support timely, global access to medicines, vaccines and diagnostics, including those in low- and middle-income countries.

Newly Released Research Sheds Light on the Value of Digital Transformation in Pharma
Results released today by AspenTech, in collaboration with FT Longitude, suggest that while implementation of digital transformation initiatives is on the rise in pharma, many companies have yet to delineate an integrated digital strategy. The study, Seizing New Opportunities: Pharma’s Roadmap for Smarter Manufacturing, shows results from the survey of 400 pharma industry professionals across the US and Europe on the future of digital transformation and manufacturing. The quantitative survey was complemented by in-depth interviews with industry thought leaders at GSK, Roche, Merck KGaA Darmstadt, Germany, and Kashiv BioSciences.

Operational Agility Will Power Growing Opportunities
According to the results, 60 percent of respondents expect cell and gene therapies and biologics to be the industry’s fastest growing pharma/biopharma revenue opportunities between now and 2027.  

The growing proportion of these modalities contributes to the demand for greater flexibility, agility and transparency than is currently present in most manufacturing environments. Our research suggests that the industry recognizes this need and is prioritizing digital transformation initiatives that will better support these growing opportunities.

In fact, increasing operational efficiency and agility was the leading strategic goal for respondents’ digital transformation journeys (44 percent). And 38 percent of respondents selected “implementing continuous manufacturing and/or process intensification” as one of the top three important steps to improving operational agility in the next five years (Figure 1).

Continuous manufacturing requires smaller footprints than batch manufacturing and enables more production lines (by modality and volume) which provides pharma manufacturers greater flexibility to seize opportunities around a wider range of therapeutic modalities.


One of the pharma industry experts interviewed as part of the research, Gareth Alford, Innovation and Manufacturing Technology Lead, GSK, had this to say about the important role of manufacturing agility today:

 “We all need agility within our manufacturing environments. The notion of building a facility to produce one or two products that remain the same for 15 years is outdated.”

Digital Transformation Obstacles

Despite a clear view of the opportunities ahead, the pharma industry is still facing a few obstacles that are preventing them from fully embracing their digital transformation journeys:

  • Cultural Immaturity – nearly one in four (23 percent) pharma companies agree that C-suite changeovers complicate their organization’s digital transformation progress. In addition, more than one in three pharma businesses (35 percent) are still struggling with an element of risk aversion when it comes to digital transformation progress.

  • Data Silos – data silos directly impede cross-functional collaboration for 48 percent of respondents, with this being more pronounced for the largest pharma businesses surveyed ($1bn+ USD). Fifty-three percent of that group claim data silos negatively impact internal collaboration.

  • Regulations – 54 percent of respondents feel regulations are undermining their digital transformation ambitions, while ‘improving regulatory compliance’ was recognized as the third most important goal for digital transformation.

The Journey to Smart Manufacturing
The research surfaced additional initiatives and learnings that the pharma industry is prioritizing to boost operational agility and efficiency in order to keep up with market demands in the next five years. Increasing the use of cloud/SaaS solutions was the respondents’ biggest priority (44 percent). Thomas Bratke, Roche’s Informatics Head, Technical Operations, offered an explanation:

“Cloud and SaaS systems represent a great opportunity to access and store data at scale in a much easier way than in the past. For instance, factory data produced on a daily basis can become globally available to contribute to wider capabilities and use cases.”

Results also revealed that recruiting talent to fill skill gaps was the second highest priority to improve operational agility (39 percent). Skill gaps must be addressed, especially for data science talent, as pilot projects are scaled up to create enterprise-wide value.

Looking Ahead
The complex pharmaceutical landscape is constantly evolving, especially with continued market disruptions coupled with advancements in supporting technologies. Moving from a myriad of manual and semi-digital processes towards self-sustaining digital transformation is critical for manufacturers, as it fosters the operational agility that is integral for navigating uncertain market conditions and global health crises. It allows companies to more readily capitalize on revenue growth opportunities and to more effectively deliver quality medicines around the world. 

Where are you on your digital transformation journey? Read the full report here and learn more about what your industry peers are saying.

 1 World Bank and World Health Organization: Half the world lacks access to essential health services, 100 million still pushed into extreme poverty because of health expenses, Dec 2017

2 International Institute for Sustainable Development: SDG Knowledge Hub, Aug 2020

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