Advances in drug development require a skilled workforce

Suresh Katta, CEO and Founder of Saama Technologies, spoke to Outsourcing-Pharma about rapid technological advances in drug development and how companies can build a workforce that can keep up.

OSP: Could you please talk about some of the changes and requirements in the clinical trial industry that alter what we expect of drug research and development personnel?

SK: We are beginning an exciting new era where drug development teams can look to artificial intelligence (AI) as a welcome new collaborator. AI allows them to take clinical study strategy and design to the next level.

Human AI in the loop allows drug development staff to work closely with their new digital colleague. AI is expected to be embraced to elevate the clinical trial process, just as science has been embraced to elevate the drug development process.

OSP: Specifically, the rapid digital evolution of clinical trial technology at all levels has caused dramatic changes. How does this affect the workforce?

SK: The rapid digital evolution of clinical trial technology allows study managers, medical monitors and safety officers to focus on their most meaningful work and eliminates the need for these experts to spend time on banal and laborious aspects of clinical trials. This allows the clinical trial process to take full advantage of the knowledge and education they bring. AI also creates a single source of data truth, which builds organizational awareness for more effective decision-making.

OSP: How can managers find and hire the right people to manage the ongoing digital transformation?

Suresh Katta, CEO and Founder, Saama Technologies

SK: In order to optimize digital transformation, the industry needs to recruit and activate experts at all organizational levels who are aligned with leveraging analytics and technology to achieve greater efficiency. Biopharma has done a great job of adding scientific experts across all organizations, but now needs to move on by integrating AI and machine learning (ML) experts as well. These professionals should become standard team members throughout an organization, not just in the IT department. Innovators who exhibit early adoption characteristics will be especially valuable to life science companies in the years to come.

OSP: Is there an advantage over looking for recent college graduates or recruits with experience in drug research/development? What advantages (or disadvantages) could each offer to the organization bringing them?

SK: Experienced drug development professionals and recent university graduates bring valuable skills and perspectives, and each can learn from the other. Seasoned clinical trial veterans

offer years of ingrained expertise, and that brain trust can and should be harnessed by the next generation. However, our industry must also embrace and benefit from the exciting thinking of recent university graduates, which has the potential to redefine the life sciences.

OSP: Can you train existing staff to help them get up to speed?

SK: Organizational transformation can only be achieved from the top down. Leaders and senior managers must create an environment conducive to learning and change, which means changing existing business practices and mindsets. Once this happens, considerable progress can be made in terms of training existing staff to adopt and master the new technologies.

OSP: Feel free to talk about other challenges associated with the growing digital transformation of the drug research and development workforce, and how companies can best address them.

SK: As the industry addresses and embraces digital transformation, one of our key challenges is to ensure that the ecosystem of partners around drug development does as well, including regulatory authorities. Suppliers must move in the same direction, at the same speed as sponsors. To do this, we must cannibalize old methodologies and work hand in hand to institute new technologies and associated processes.

OSP: How can technology providers help their customers (and potential customers) prepare for and adapt to this digital transformation?

SK: Tech companies are ready and able to surgically insert AI into existing processes. Smart AI-based apps work with existing technology to complement and upgrade current systems. Technology providers can digitally empower these systems and make them smarter rather than tearing them down and replacing them, setting the life sciences ecosystem on a path of digital transformation and innovation.

OSP: Do you have anything to add?

SK: Despite the incredible progress and successes made by the life sciences industry, approximately 90% of known diseases remain untreated, incurable or incurable. The digital transformation of life sciences will lead to a better quality of life for people with diseases and improve the health of the global population.

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