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eyeforpharma Barcelona 2017 highlights: Industry at the brink of transformation

Hear what Anthill's delegates reported back from the biggest eyeforpharma Barcelona yet.

Anthill is just back from eyeforpharma Barcelona 2017. We sent a record number of delegates this year, which was fitting because the event was 30% bigger than in 2016. But is bigger actually better? We thought so.

As usual we were busy meeting, presenting (two workshops this year), debating and – most importantly – listening. Here are the highlights of what our delegates reported back:

Accelerating changes

A number of speakers noted that, while healthcare hadn’t really altered that much in 30 years, there is now a transformation underway and the pace is accelerating. Many people saw the next few years as bringing a period of intense change – as companies reshape themselves to patient-centricity, focus on treatment outcomes, and make more use of technology now available.

Bots, AI, digital transformation – the buzzwords were coming thick and fast. Perhaps too fast for a few who wondered whether 'all this' was something best left to others. Most, though, expressed the belief that change couldn't happen fast enough – or pharma would become a supplier for someone else's 'health solution'.

AI assistance for reps

A good example of what's underway was a presentation from MSD showing their use of artificial intelligence to aid customer-facing staff. Operating like a ‘golf caddie’ offering advice, the system provides suggestions for call planning – highlighting which healthcare professionals to visit with recommendations for content to discuss.

Reps are free to ignore these suggestions but must provide a reason so that the system can improve. So far, around 70% of the AI’s recommendations are accepted – a figure that is likely to get even better as the system learns.

Google & co

There was much discussion about the agile pure-technology companies that are moving into the healthcare space that life science companies previously had for themselves. New partners and players like Amazon, Proteus, IBM and Cambridge Cognition were all mentioned. And with Google presenting twice at the event, the companies were very much top-of-mind at Barcelona in 2017.

New collaborations

Collaboration was the key theme this year, so it’s no surprise that many presenters explored this topic. What was surprising though was the many different forms that collaborating was taking.

A particularly interesting example was a project from LEO Pharma in which anyone can send molecules to them for testing for a potential role in treating skin diseases. This operates as a fully-transparent free service, with the only goal from LEO Pharma being the potential for a future partnership if the initial results look positive.

Agile communications

One theme that ran through the whole conference was the need to be more agile and work in ways that were more responsive to the market and the customer. Happily, this was also the subject of one of Anthill's popular workshops.

The need to increase not only the speed of project delivery but also its scale was also regularly highlighted. With concerns that the industry is too tentative and suffering from 'pilot-itus', there were calls to rollout innovative patient services much faster.

Industry ready for change

Barcelona 2017 showed an industry changing but in very positive ways: the application of machine learning to help reps, intriguing initiatives to improve adherence, the use of data analytics to help payers save money. It all demonstrates a willingness to try something different and openness to new kinds of collaboration. That can only be a good thing.

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23rd March 2017



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