What does it mean for a pharmaceutical company to be digital and how do we get there? That’s what Reza Olfati-Saber, PhD, Global Head AI & Deep Analytics, Digital & Data Science R&D, at Sanofi tackled yesterday at the DECODE: AI for Pharmaceuticals forum.

A digital pharma company is agile, Olfati-Saber argued, enabling it to discovery drugs faster and develop and manufacture drugs more efficiently. Olfati-Saber pointed out that of the four first-movers in COVID-19 vaccine race—BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals—all have reputations as digitally-advanced companies.

“The one thing all four companies have in common is all of them digitally-advanced biopharma companies. The last two, among the larger pharma companies, happen to have very advanced AI and ML capabilities,” Olfati-Saber said.

“Digital” can be hard to pin down, Olfati-Saber conceded, and he observed that many groups are eager to jump in and claim AI expertise. Lawyers seek to define “ethical AI” but don’t generally take medical ethics into account, he said, while management professors claim to roadmap the “digital transformation journey” without any industry-specific insight. Even “digital” is defined in the most convenient way for each industry.

Olfati-Saber narrowed the scope to discuss the meaning and architecture of digital transformation specifically for pharma R&D.


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