by Ian Perrin 4th December, 2018
4 min read

Artificial Intelligence: UK ‘pharmatech’ industry growth

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a mainstay in the public’s vocabulary for several years now. Tech revolutionaries have painted a futuristic and transformed world, if not a dystopian one; but only recently have we started to understand what this means for the ordinary citizen, such how it is transforming consumer healthcare.

The ever-faster power of computer processors, the ability to house and analyse huge amounts of digital data, twinned with an increased knowledge of the role genes play in disease, have thrust AI into the fore of the medical research frontier. See the work Google is doing to research how AI may be able to prevent blindness in people with diabetes by processing thousands anonymised retina scans in India; or the work done by companies such as Exscientia or C4X Discovery here in the UK.

The development of medicines is a long and arduous process. With an average 14-year development timeline, 5 years of which is spent getting an idea from a lab primed for clinical trials, and a failure rate of 90%, the potential benefits of AI are unparalleled and there for all to see. The UK is recognised as a flourishing hub for artificial intelligence in health, but if the UK is to be the universal leader in this space, the Government must take significant steps to boost the industry.

Why should the Government invest in Artificial Intelligence?

The most common explanation for the high cost of medicines is exactly what is set out above. Millions of pounds are invested in the research and development of medicines, most of which never see the light of day. It is projected that AI could shave a third off the 14-year development cycle for medicines: the logic goes that if R&D becomes less cumbersome, so could the costs of these medicines to the NHS be reduced.

AI technology can process unstructured patient electronic health records (EHR) data and medical literature and learn to solve the challenge of the resource-intensive task of identifying the appropriate patients for clinical trials. Manually finding patients for trials with the right clinical attributes, creating multifaceted spreadsheets to guide the matchmaking, is a costly and lengthy endeavour and will most likely be less accurate than computer processed identification. This could contribute both to safer and more potent testing of medicines and improved cost-effectiveness by streamlining the process of trial development.

Innovators in the sector use computer power to trawl through biological data, medical research, publications and other sources to build models of disease. The suggestion is that this will be significantly more accurate and impactful than manual research. In almost all other applications of technology, solutions to problems are often found that humans cannot see – at least not without much greater investment of time and resource. With the caveat that this logic must prove to be true, patients would almost certainly see improved health outcomes, particularly in areas such as rare diseases where progress can be slow.

What is being done and what can you do?

The Government has already recognised the power of AI in healthcare. Earlier this month, for example, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the opening of five new centres of excellence for digital pathology and imaging, including radiology, using AI medical advances across the UK. On 19th November, the House of Lords debated the report by the Artificial Intelligence Select Committee which recommended steps to ensuring the UK stays on the front foot in the area.

Indeed, the Britain is thought by some in the industry to be ahead of both Silicon Valley and Boston when it comes to AI in pharma.

However, to take the industry to new heights, to become the true global leader, the Government must take a significant step forward and provide backing to the industry.

As experts in government and healthcare communications, GK Strategy can help the ‘pharmatech’ sector communicate its value to government. We can set out why investing now could potentially provide significant savings in the future, why it could make medicines more accessible and improve health outcomes for patients.

Using our expert knowledge of Government and Parliament, and our ability to communicate to a wide range of stakeholders, we can work with you to put artificial intelligence at the top of the Government’s healthcare agenda.


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