It’s no secret that technological advancements are constantly revolutionizing the healthcare landscape, and it is through these advancements that the role of the Pharmacist continue to evolve. Even though modern society tries to mold the profession to just mere dispensing of drugs, pharmacists are evidently much more than that. It’s clear that Technology holds the potential to spur significant progress to the pharmacy career and patient care in general.
According to grandviewresearch.com Digital Health Market size exceeded USD 74.2 billion in 2020 and is estimated to grow at over 10.7% between 2021 and 2028. The market growth is attributed to the growing popularity of healthcare IT. Many private and public institutions have already moved to the wave of IT adoption by fully digitizing their entire enterprise. Additionally, major technology companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Tencent have begun to focus their efforts in digital health.
Evidently, technology keeps getting better and more convenient, especially when it comes to management of chronic diseases like diabetes and blood pressure. It has allowed Patients to become more involved in the management process while allowing Pharmacists to monitor adherence to medication e.g. BP monitors, Glucose meters, Pulse Oximeters etc. Furthermore, digital health systems such as Electronic Health Records (EHR) and E-prescribing have helped digitize the profession and given pharmacists the ability to monitor and better track the patient’s overall health and safety. Now, I know most of you are saying “But we already know this, tell us something new” Well then, lets get to the good stuff.
How technology shaping the future of Pharmacy?
AI guided drug design
In April 2021, Evotec a German biotechnology company in partnership with Exscientia, a company that applies artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to small-molecule drug discovery, announced a phase 1 clinical trial on a new anticancer molecule – A2 receptor antagonist designed to help T cells fight solid tumors. Previously, the drug discovery process would take about 5-6 years in order to come up with a drug candidate, however, this was light work for Exscientia’s Centaur Chemist AI that found the drug candidate in just 8 months . The AI sorts through and compare various properties of millions of potential small molecules, looking for 10 or 20 to synthesize, test and optimize in lab experiments before selecting the eventual drug candidate for clinical trials.
It is evident that Technology is revolutionizing Drug Discovery, it not only saves time and money but also has a higher success rate. The future of drug discovery is AI, big pharma companies are hugely investing in it and partnering up with AI companies. Here are a few examples:
- January 2020 : Bayer collaborates with Exscientia to discover cardiovascular and oncology drug candidates using their artificial intelligence drug discovery platform Centaur Chemist.
- February 2021: Exscientia and the University of Oxford collaborate to develop treatments for Alzheimer disease.
- March 2021: Iktos applies its AI-driven de novo design software to a number of Pfizer’s small-molecule programs.
Will future clinical trials be carried out in the digital space? Will we bypass animal trials with organs on a chip? (a multi-channel 3-D microfluidic cell culture chip that simulates the activities, mechanics and physiological response of entire organs) I guess only time will tell.
2. Digestible/Digital pills
A digital pill is a pharmaceutical dosage form that contains an ingestible sensor inside of a pill. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved tiny digestible microchips that can be added to pills. The chips are about the size of a grain and are made of copper, silicon and magnesium.
Once in the GIT the chip interacts with stomach juices, it transmits wireless communication to a skin patch or relays it to a patients smartphone or a computer at the doctor’s office. With smart pills, invasive procedures can be completely phased out. Afterward, the chip dissolves and passes through the digestive system normally. These devices are used for improved diagnostics along with patient monitoring and targeted drug delivery.
What are the uses?
First, this tech can be used to monitor adherence to medication and improve concordance between patient and pharmacist. We all know that adherence to medication is paramount especially in curbing superbugs, take TB as an example, adherence to the treatment regimen is mandatory, skipping a dose could cause life threatening situation to the patient. Smart pills can be linked to a smartphone app with which the patient can monitor when to take next dose, self-track for to see if they missed any, and actually become more empowered as a partner in therapy.
Secondly, Smart pills can be used in diagnosis of gastrointestinal disorders and are potential replacements for conventional techniques which are invasive like endoscopy. Instead of inserting probes through the esophagus which cause discomfort and bears risk of tearing the mucosal lining a wireless capsule endoscopy (WCE), can be easily administered and maneuvered to capture images
Thirdly, it can be utilized in Vital Sign Monitoring. The built-in sensors allow the measurement of all fluids and gases in the gut, Core body temperature and local pH.
3. 3D Printed drugs
3D printed drugs could be the future of personalized medicine. These drugs are fully customized to meet each patient’s needs. Although the technology is still in its infancy, it shows great potential in revolutionizing the pharmacy sector. 3D printing technologies have already been utilized in healthcare to custom make prosthetics, implants and other medical devices. Another interesting potential is 3D Bioprinting – which can be utilized to produce living tissue, bone, blood vessels and, potentially, whole organs for use in medical procedures.
If you think this is cool, well, this final scenario takes it one step further
4. VR Integration to pharmacy
In pharmacy, Virtual Reality has been applied in very fascinating ways. These include:
a) pain management
VR technology is highly immersive capable of “hijacking” an individual’s visual, auditory and proprioception senses, thus acting as a distraction that limits the ability for processing actual physical and sensory stimuli. The technology has been applied in the management of pain both physical and psychological. VR has been found to be significantly more effective in reducing pain in children undergoing burn treatment than were analgesics alone. VR has also been applied in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, arachnophobia, and claustrophobia
b) Pharmacological modeling for Drug Discovery
VR can provide full scaled simulations of receptor binding sites and show how drug molecules interacts with them. This allows researchers to drag and rotate the ligand within the binding site to make instantaneous modifications which can be incorporated into the design of more effective drugs.
c) Pharmacy Education
The use of VR in pharmacy education opens a new gateway in how knowledge is delivered. When learning pharmacology, pharmacy students are required to understand how drugs and receptors interact, but as drugs and receptors are three-dimensional, this information can be difficult to illustrate and explain during classroom sessions. Therefore, students may be better able to learn drug-receptor interactions by viewing a 3D model rather than the 2D graphics that are often presented during lectures. Anatomy and physiology could also be taught through 3D schematics that incorporate demonstrations of how drugs affect specific organ systems to achieve clinical outcomes.
Today, Technology has helped in delivery of evidence-based healthcare, allowed self-monitoring of chronic conditions, increased compliance to medication and enhanced concordance between patient and pharmacists. The future of pharmacy seems even brighter than ever, with continuous improvements in technology, so too will pharmacy evolve to greater heights. I hope this article has tickled your mind to visualize the endless possibilities on how technology impacts the field of pharmacy.
How is technology shaping the future of Pharmacy? Share your thoughts down below