Pharma on a precipice: what does AI mean for industry and corporate affairs

“With AI set to remain, and become more important in the drug discovery process, how will it affect corporate affairs professionals?”

Debates on the impact of AI are omnipresent.

We cannot escape discussions about the positives, removing human inefficiency, and removing cost outlays for businesses, but also the perennial conversations about a potential catastrophe for humanity at the hands of unbridled AI. Looking beyond the hyperbole, there are many immediate, innovative applications of AI that will enhance our lives, and health.

AI is already reshaping how the pharmaceutical industry research and trials new products, bringing lifesaving therapies to market faster. Industry investment in AI is nothing new. Companies and investors have recognised it’s potential for years, pouring billions into emerging technologies.  Before looking at AI’s influence on corporate affairs in life sciences, we need to cover what it is doing for the industry more broadly.

Applications of AI are reducing cost and time on clinical trials and improve outcomes of drug development. It is impacting safety and streamlining processes for pharmacovigilance.

One of the most significant areas where AI is transforming drug development is in R&D. Applying machine learning to colossal datasets can enable the rapid identification of new molecules. Companies and clinical researchers can cross-reference data, scientific literature and information from clinical trials at an unprecedented pace.

In short, AI is cutting down elements of the R&D process from years, to months. AI designed medicines for motor neurone disease, lymph cancers, and inflammatory diseases are reaching trials in humans, and will likely be available for patients soon.

AI tools are being applied to most drug discovery processes. Werngard Czechtizky, Head of Medicinal Chemistry, Research and Early Development, at AstraZeneca said that AI is involved in 70 percent of programmes at the company, focused on small molecules. Big pharma is also developing closer ties to tech companies, evident by looking at recent developments in three of Ellwood Atfield’s clients. AstraZeneca has extended its collaboration with Benevolent AI, the drug giant has its own in-house team, applying AI to its R&D process; Pfizer also extended its partnership with an Israeli AI company in 2022; and Sanofi announced new programmes with Exscientia as well as work with Insilico Medicine.

With AI set to remain, and become more important in the drug discovery process, how will it affect Corporate Affairs professionals? It will have a significant impact on monitoring and horizon scanning, an already near automated process. It will also assist with briefing and other activities. AI may lead to some, more junior, job briefs becoming less relevant (a future article will cover this in more depth).

Day to day, corporate affairs teams within biopharmaceutical companies will need understand the technology, both the benefits and risks, and add it to their arsenal of policy positions and campaigns materials.

They will need to be prepared for potential questions on efficacy from sceptical Parliamentarians, regulators, Government ministers, officials and most prominently, patients and patient organisations.

The world of public policy and government affairs is constantly evolving. Our clients have adapted to digital innovations, the rise of social media, and the digitalisation of engagement during the pandemic. Looking ahead, skillsets in corporate affairs, particularly in digital communications and engagement, will need to keep pace with AI. Like other digital transformations and trends, this will require new expertise within existing corporate affairs directorates not just in the life sciences ecosystem, but across all sectors and organisations.

Ellwood Atfield is uniquely positioned to hear from practitioners on the issues driving the agenda, across different sectors, and specifically in health and life sciences. If you would like to arrange a conservation about your team, or your next move, then let us know and we can arrange a time to discuss partnering.

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