Medical Affairs digital and AI transformation is here

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By Joe Doyle, EVP Digital Health and Sachim Makani, EVP Scientific Strategy

Digital transformation is a driving force for pharma communications teams and today it is rising in medical affairs, with a feast of channels and touchpoints for scientific learning. So when the Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) group advertised a tech and innovation summit my colleague, Sachin Makani and I attended to join a new medical education world. Here’s our takeaways:

Leveraging Technology and Data to Create Innovative Solutions

Charged with caffeine, we took our first dive into the innovation syllabus with insights in artificial intelligence from Kevin Hartman, Practice Leader – Data and AI Solutions, UC Berkeley.

Joe – AI is a reality for our teams at Virgo Health, and Kevin shared great insights – such as, “hallucinate is when AI makes up a result that is incorrect, but close.” His students’ projects for healthcare included a clinical trials chatbot that optimizes real-world evidence and one that helps search relevant pub med articles for medical questions stood out the most.

Sachin – Totally agree about that real-world evidence and mining through PubMed examples, Joe. I was excited as I imagined how much time something like that could save us. This was the first of many instances we heard that day of how AI can make us more efficient.

Digital Transformation in Medical Affairs: Is it a Complex Goal?

Vruti Patel of Xeris moderated a group that included experts from IBM, Astellas, Pfizer, Inizio, and Alucio. The Q&A featured ideal thought starters for the day.

Joe – My favorite question from the moderator was “You can’t be super proactive with medical information; how do you balance that?” The panelists referred to a time just five years ago when we didn’t even say the words Marketing and Med Affairs in the same sentence. Jessica Wong of Alucio explained that our pharma data, especially peer-reviewed examples, is public, and corporate entities are helping health professionals find it for the betterment of patients. Rishi Ohri, Astellas, added that he’s been able to achieve more by helping legal and compliance understand the importance of digital amplification. Virgo Health works with a couple of brands where this is a reality, and it makes all the difference.

Sachin – This was my favorite panel session, the discussion that didn’t have anything to do with AI or medical affairs per se but team-building and collaboration. One approach highlighted by the participants was to “highlight junior members” and “celebrate small wins.” Another highlight was 6-3-5 Brainwriting Ideation, where 6 people come up with 3 ideas each, in 5 min. (After 6 rounds, this = 108 ideas). Good when the objective is to generate many ideas without a single voice dominating the room.

Missing Link Between Organizational Vision, Strategy, and Execution for Medical Affairs

Another all-star cast was led by Bratati Ganguly of Planet Pharma. She guided a group of executives from Biogen, Ipsen, Servier and Syneos Health.

Sachin – Main takeaway for me here, whether we’re talking about a technological, personnel, or organizational innovation, is to fail small, fail fast, and fail forward. By failing small, the sunk costs are small, and by failing forward you set yourself up for the next step, which will hopefully be a success.

Joe – Our med affairs partners crave digital opportunities, but don’t always have the internal staff to help make new programs and channels successful. Hearing Shashi Singh of Agile N2N use the magic words “audience first” made me smile. Gerard Deisenroth of Ipsen added that it helps when your med affairs team has change management expertise, or your company has a COE with storytelling experts to envision success for decision-makers.

The Promise and Potential of Augmented Intelligence for Medical Affairs

If the morning keynote tackled the origins of AI, the afternoon session followed perfectly with a call to action – AI is here, it is time to use it – with entertaining guest speaker, Matt Lewis, Chief AI Officer of Inizio.

Joe – It was nice to see focus on the human side of technology. Matt made us feel at ease by pointing to one fact – humans start and finish every use of AI. And AI can motivate employees, taking away the drudgery and opening it up for employees to think more, to be more strategic. A great question from the room asked about web3 technologies (bitcoin, metaverse, AI, etc.) and which is the right innovation to get behind. Matt pointed to one fact – AI is the only innovation that is already here and widely used.

Sachin – We know this: AI is here and it’s not going away. We are currently integrating AI with client partners to create the most positive impact, safely and ethically and identifying the next generation use cases for AI to assist our teams with creativity, efficiency, and quality. Leveraging new capabilities and channels will be vital for future medical affairs communications, Matt’s real-world examples were a great validation that we are headed in the right direction.

New capabilities and channels for future medical affairs communications gave us all assurance that we are getting more personalized to bring health with a human touch.