Pharma companies lean on AI for better innovation, efficiency

Execs struggle to hire AI workers, survey finds.
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· 3 min read

As the pharmaceutical industry increasingly embraces artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance innovation, some executives remain skeptical or struggle to find skilled workers to oversee its implementation.

Those are the takeaways from the latest annual survey that Rackspace Technology, a Texas-based multicloud technology services company, shared exclusively with Healthcare Brew. The survey was completed by Coleman Parks Research. The findings—based on responses from 45 pharma information technology (IT) decision-makers surveyed in December 2022—suggest that although AI adoption has come a long way in the pharmaceutical space, challenges persist.

“What’s happening in AI isn’t impacting all areas of business equally, at the same time, which drives us toward those challenges that exist around people right now,” Jeff DeVerter, Rackspace’s chief technology officer, told Healthcare Brew. “It’s going to be a fascinating area to watch over the coming months and years.”

Almost two-thirds of pharma IT decision makers (65%) listed a shortage of skilled talent as their greatest challenge to AI/machine learning adoption, and 67% said implementation of the technology has led to shrinkage in their workforce.

More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) said AI and machine learning lead their IT/business strategy—compared to a majority that listed robotics as most important in the industry just two years ago. About half said they started using AI and machine learning one to two years ago.

Most pharmaceutical IT decision-makers further said they use AI and machine learning for product lifestyle management, followed by data analysis and innovation, according to the survey. More than two-thirds (67%) also plan to use the technology to improve efficiency, predict business performance, and reduce future risk.

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The fastest-growing AI initiatives, meanwhile, include intelligent search, document processing, and customer engagement, the survey found.

“It’s just like what we saw in all areas of technology—whether that’s the Industrial Revolution or the data and IT revolution. People have to up-skill their capabilities because what they used to do, they did out of necessity for the organization. Now technology can do that for them,” DeVerter told us.

Just 21% of respondents, however, said they “strongly trust” AI or machine learning results, while 54% said they trust them “only slightly.”

With AI built on data, DeVerter argued that the hesitancy to trust AI and machine learning results could be rooted in concerns about the quality and diversity of a company’s underlying data sets and models. Low-quality data, he noted, “could cause harm,” in the pharmaceutical industry more than other sectors, due to its role in healthcare delivery.

Fewer than a third of survey respondents (28%) said they strongly believe there are enough checks and balances in place to avoid the negative consequences of AI. Meanwhile, 42% strongly agree there’s sufficient governance in place to safeguard against misuse of the technology, and 58% said they’ve encountered pushback or scrutiny about the penetration of AI in their company.

Despite that pushback, DeVerter said he expects use of AI in the pharmaceutical industry to grow in the coming months and years.

“I do not see anything that is going to keep this train from accelerating even more,” he said.

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