Big Data and Digitalization
Overall, most respondents chose big data and digitalization (34 percent) and economic austerity (28 percent) as the primary forces of disruption in pharma today.

Figure 1: Overall Survey Responses

For PharmaBoardroom’s respondents from the Asia-Pacific region, big data and digitalization was by far the primary force of disruption for the pharma industry. This is perhaps unsurprising as many Asian countries and companies are at the forefront of digital trends that are helping to reshape the way that healthcare is administered.

Figure 2. Survey responses from the Asia-Pacific Region

As well as the repositioning of the so-called ‘Asian Tigers’ of Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan as technology and innovation hubs; in Southeast Asia, an area of comparative underdevelopment on a global scale, “The lack of legacy infrastructure can [actually] liberate health systems (both public and private) from financially daunting capital costs” observes John Forsythe, PwC’s digital healthcare leader in Australia, Southeast Asia, and New Zealand. “Cloud-based technology, mobile enablement and fees for service models will lead to faster deployment and increased benefits for patients,” he continues.
Microsoft’s director of health and social services for APAC, Callum Bir, adds that “in many countries in Asia, there are communities where women have never had any access to healthcare and much of this can be around entrenched cultural norms that prevent women from seeing a male physician. In this type of situation, virtual healthcare can really begin to challenge some of these norms and break down these access barriers – just posing the question of whether it would be different for a woman to consult a male physician via video conference begins to start such conversations.”
Economic Austerity in CEE
While big data and digitalization is seen as the primary force of disruption in pharma for respondents from Western Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific; those polled from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) polled point to economic austerity as the most disruptive force facing their industry; negatively impacting growth and access to innovative medicines for patients.

Figure 3. Survey Responses from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)

In Greece for example, public expenditure on pharmaceuticals has decreased from USD 5.5 billion in 2009 to 2.08 billion in 2016 as a result of swingeing austerity measures; Shire Greece’s Christos Dakas pointing out that “it’s important to recognize the extent to which the Greek [pharma] market has been disfigured by the country’s financial and banking woes.”

Figure 4. Public Pharmaceutical Expenditure in Greece 2009-2014

In Hungary, a central European country with a tradition of excellence in pharmaceuticals, vice president of the Hungarian Hospital Association Dr. György Velkey cautions that “At some point, the healthcare agenda simply fell by the wayside as the government’s focus shifted elsewhere … we’re now in a position where there’s going to have to be considerably greater political intervention before we can start making inroads into the massive backlog of issues encumbering our country’s overburdened healthcare system … mobilizing that political willingness is a prerequisite to ever being able to restore the system to its former glory.”
Latin American Austerity
Respondents polled from Latin America and the Caribbean also focused on the disruptive power of economic austerity policies. In Mexico, for example, where total health spending only amounts to 6.2 percent of GDP, one of the lowest rates among all OECD countries, “real health spending’s growth has been decreasing by 0.5 percent every year since 2012, while administrative costs have increased by five percent and represents 8.8 percent of total health spending – almost three times the average of the OECD,” explains Cristóbal Thompson, executive director of AMIIF.

Figure 5. Survey responses from Latin America

To pick just one consequence of these spending cuts, they could severely restrict access to medicine for the 14 percent of Mexicans who have diabetes (13 million people) and lead to an epidemic of this chronic disease. “If we are not able to implement game-changing prevention and control measures in the immediate future, health investments to cure chronic diseases will skyrocket from USD 4.3 billion in 2016 to USD 19 billion by 2050” cautions Novo Nordisk Mexico’s Morten Vaupel.
Writer: Patrick Burton