Despite mammoth research budgets and resources, healthcare giants have traditionally been slow on the uptake with new technologies. However, the ground is shifting quickly. A PwC study found that 63% of healthcare executives are investing in AI today, and 74% already say they plan to do so in the near future.
GlaxoSmithKline are one of the most well-known global health and pharmaceutical firms, and they don’t plan on getting left behind, as the appointment of their first ever Chief Digital & Technology Officer in September 2017 shows. Formerly the Chief Information Officer for Walmart, Karenann Terrell is responsible for GSK’s digital, data, and analytics strategies. Upon her appointment, she was given a company-wide remit to transform how new technologies are used across the group – enabling her to be “very ambitious” about how GSK plan to digitise Pharma. “Our CEO Emma Walmsley has made DD&A an absolutely central element of how GSK is going to improve performance going forward,” Karenann says. “I find that an incredibly energizing prospect.”
Terrell explains that, from better discovery, development, and manufacturing of drugs, to improved interactions with customers, doctors, and patients across the board, technology – including AI – is set to “improve nearly every aspect of our business. “Given we have such a big opportunity, my priority is to focus on the areas that will provide not only the greatest returns, but the greatest learning opportunities,” she admits.
Streamlining The Drug Discovery Process With AI
GSK’s plans are nothing short of ambitious. They have a huge wealth of data just waiting to be exploited for innovation. To stay ahead of the curve, Karenann is not planning for disruption – she’s aiming for it. “Personally, my priorities are the leveraging of our GSK data in end-to-end business improvement, as well as driving innovation opportunities in our R&D pipeline,” she explains. “We also want to significantly disrupt our relationships with our customers, the healthcare providers, and finally, with our patients themselves.”
Karenann explains that GSK is already investing in in-silico methods as a means of not only innovating in R&D, but ultimately, streamlining GSK’s drug discovery and development efforts. “We believe that harnessing our data, modern supercomputers, and machine learning will enable us to develop medicines more quickly – and with higher precision and quality,” she says.
GSK’s automation of significant aspects of the drug discovery process is already, namely reduced cost and greatly improved speed. “A big component of what it takes to make a medicine can benefit from next-generation computing and machine learning,” Karenann argues. “Approximately 1/3 of the total cost of developing a medicine (>$2.5bn) is spent during the time it takes from identifying your target (the process in your body you want to affect) to testing your molecule in humans for the first time. This process can take around five years. Our goal with artificial intelligence is to reduce the time to just one year in future.”
GSK: AI A “Huge” Business Opportunity for Healthcare and Pharma
The pharmaceutical giant are already developing partnerships with some of the many AI firms working on innovative healthcare solutions. “Our partnership with Exscientia – one of a growing number of partnerships – will combine their AI-enabled platform with our expertise in order to discover novel and selective small molecules for up to 10 disease-related targets.”
Overall, Karenann sees AI as a “huge” business opportunity for healthcare and pharma. “Firstly, it’s an opportunity to harness the technology to prove it can work, but also in the discovery phase of research and development – where computing power and learning algorithms can assist our world-class scientists in speeding future medicines in market.”
“Along with R&D, our regulated manufacturing and supply chain will benefit from AI simplifying high levels of complexity with solutions that target the highest areas of reducing risk and improving quality.”
Karenann and GSK at The AI Summit NYC
“I think some might be surprised to see me at all at the AI Summit NYC, as healthcare has generally been behind the curve on adopting new technology. They are soon going to learn that GSK recognizes this, and is leading in many parts of the industry with regard to technology. We are prepared to take on the challenge through experimenting with learning cycles and new fresh approaches to life sciences which enable GSK with speed and innovation. Hopefully, they are also going to learn that GSK is a place where, through technology, we can make a real difference – in some cases, a life-saving difference – to our patients around the world.”