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How automation and AI are revolutionising Pharma

by David Poole | 3 mins read

Cognition Exec Chairman David Poole says that technology is transforming the pharmaceutical industry

It may be trials of cutting-edge AI applications being used to detect cancer cells more effectively that understandably grab newspaper/website headlines. But there is another equally important area where technology is, at last, revolutionising the health industry.

While pharma has arguably lagged behind other sectors when it comes to using advanced automation technology, investment in pharmaceutical automation is now increasingly rapidly.

According to Aris Global’s Industry Report: State of Automation, Artificial Intelligence and Data in Life Sciences, 72% of organizations surveyed used at least some form of automation in 2022, up 4% year on year, with top benefits listed as efficiency gains/cost savings (35%), improved quality and compliance (27%) and deeper insights and increased flexibility/scalability both on 15%.

However, there’s a marked difference in the type of automation organizations are using with 38% still not using advanced automation or AI, suggesting there are huge opportunities for the deployment of pharmaceutical technology – or pharmatech.

Here are several ways that intelligent automation and AI is transforming the pharmaceutical industry.

Helping drug discovery

The chances of discovering a new medicine and bringing it to market are very small. Pharmaceutical firms typically spend years conducting research only to see most of their potential remedies fail before they ever reach patients.

Up until now researchers have relied mostly on text-based data and medical records from hospitals. However, with new technologies and massive amounts of digitised data in various formats, including text and images, scientists can design and implement experiments on a scale not possible before.

“When it comes to health data, there has been a revolution,” Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University told The Economist. “In the past five years, you’ve had large amounts of accessible data in digitised form that you can actually get at for the first time.”

That’s what GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is banking on. It has set up a new office in London dedicated to using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to analyse vast sets of biological and genetic data which it hopes will lead scientists to the next big breakthrough.


Accelerate clinical trials

Designing and completing clinical trials requires gathering vast amounts of data which is not only time-consuming but also prone to human error as it involves multiple manual repetitive processes such as entering patient data into multiple systems.

However, intelligent automation can accelerate clinical trial management through the automation of patient data entry, cross-checking patient records against electronic health records, matching patients to relevant trials, scheduling appointments, notifying patients of times and dates to show up and generating clinical trial reports.

All this allows pharma companies to bring new medicines to market in much shorter timeframes, enhancing worker productivity and improving overall business performance.


Reskill employees

According to a 2020 McKinsey article, Pharmaceutical Operations: Creating the Workforce of the Future, 50% of existing work in the pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industry could be automated by 2030. While this could result in more than 90,000 existing jobs disappearing, it could also create up to 120,000 new jobs.


Digitization is already reducing the amount of manual data entry with McKinsey predicting the demand for roles with social and emotional skills will increase by 33%. In this new digital world, McKinsey says there is a particularly urgent need for pharma companies to reskill their workers to fill emerging gaps in talent. 



Streamline supply chain and inventory management

Supplier onboarding can be a lengthy process, requiring the collection of a large amount of suppliers’ data and due diligence to determine adherence to compliance regulations. Then there’s the signing of the contract and inputting all the data into the vendor management system.

Intelligent automation bots can collect and enter data from vendors’ records such as PDFs, emails, and contract details. It can also cross-check the details with other sources to ensure accuracy, identify when vendors’ processes aren’t aligned with regulations and send notifications when needed to inform suppliers of changes or alterations to orders or processes.


Boost sales

Since Covid-19, face-to-face interactions have been increasingly virtual. However, according to Bain & Company’s research that isn’t a problem as 70% of business-to-business buyers say virtual sales calls are as effective as in-person calls for complex products like pharmaceuticals.


Furthermore, automation can also help enhance the role of the sales rep. By using bots to track customer feedback, retrieve timely and accurate sales data, or manage orders and inventory, the sales team has more time to engage in high-value activities that require their human skills of communication and persuasion. 


Improve safety and compliance

Pharma firms face large fines if they don’t comply with the growing number of regulations. Yet many regulatory affairs departments in pharma companies still have manual processes, with regulatory professionals using spreadsheets to track their compliance activities.

For the last 9 months Cognition has been working with Qinesca – a pharmacovigilance company that provides life science companies with vital safety insights. Using embedded AI solutions in conjunction with KYP AI, we have been able to automate several processes, generating savings of $500,000 to date.


According to Automation Anywhere, almost seven in 10 pharma companies (67%) are increasing automation in their regulatory workflows with one advantage being that bots create trails that make it easy for audit teams to do their jobs.





There is no doubt the potential of technologies such as AI to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry is huge. According to an Economist Impact report on the pharma sector, 71% of respondents said that they believe AI will have a positive impact on their organizations ability to thrive in the next three years. Furthermore, a higher proportion of pharma respondents highlight AI’s importance to their industry compared to other sectors, such as retail, financial services and manufacturing.


Cognition will be hosting Pharmatech Live, part of its HXL (Human Experiences Live) event series at 1 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9JA in October 2023 – register your interest by emailing