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Ten developments to watch out for

The people, companies and innovations that are making a difference in the life sciences industry

There are so many interesting and exciting digital and technology developments happening in the life sciences sector right now.

We take a closer look at 10 to keep an eye on. These include innovations, companies and people that are making a difference in the life sciences industry.

1. mHealth – wearables and sensor technologies

It is estimated that more than seven million patients worldwide benefit from remote monitoring and the use of connected devices as part of their care regimen. mHealth (mobile health) device technology has evolved to the point where it is now possible to collect a vast array of physiological data including vital signs such as heat rate, respiration rate, oxygen saturation, continuous glucose monitoring, sleep and activity data and use advanced analytics to monitor patients in their home.

2. AI and machine learning

Artificial intelligence can crunch vast quantities of data to find patterns and make predictions, without being explicitly programmed to do so, and in 2017, Andre Esteva and his colleagues at Stanford University used a set of almost 130,000 images to train some AI software to classify skin lesions. AI is being developed to improve diagnosis in eye disease – DeepMind, the London-based subsidiary of Alphabet, Google's parent company, has an AI that screens retinal scans for conditions such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.

3. Robotic process automation

The industry is in the process of developing pragmatic solutions that leverage advancements in automation and analytics and focus on data quality, safety and integrity to drive meaningful improvements for patients, physicians and other R&D stakeholders. These include intelligent automation of drug safety through identifying how intelligent automation technologies can be used to support the delivery of pharmacovigilance processes and limit errors commonly associated with manual data processing.

4. Blockchain

Blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of ordered records called blocks and each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block. The use of blockchain in the recording of events, medical records and other record-management activities, identity management, transaction process and proving data provenance are all being looked at.

5. Virtual technologies

Technologies have advanced to enable an increasing amount of patient care to be delivered remotely, be it the use of Skype, smartphones, tablets or apps. These technologies allow patients to receive care at home and in certain cases reduce the geographic barriers for patients having to travel long distances to get access to clinical care. Technology today can enable the collection of patient data online via smart apps and devices, very often as the patient goes about their normal daily activities. The advent of concierge services through organisations such as Clincierge is increasing patient participation, making it simple and convenient for the patient to participate in clinical trials by performing visits in the comfort of their home. This can increase patient satisfaction and ultimately accelerate the delivery of new effective medicines to the market.

Sensor pills, which are activated when they reach the patient's stomach, are also providing greater insights into monitoring compliance with dosing regimens remotely. Companies including Proteus are unlocking novel insights into patient health patterns and medication treatment effectiveness. – Thomas O'Leary, ICON

6. Immunotherapies (CAR-T)

The European Medicines Agency has recently granted Gilead and Novartis the first approvals for CAR-T therapy in Europe. The unique development approach and pricing models introduced with CAR-T are transforming the pharmaceutical business model. As a genetically modified therapy, the unique process of collecting patients' cells, altering them in a lab and infusing them back into patients disrupts the standard clinical trial, supply chain and commercialisation models. – Ciara Farrell, senior associate, Arthur Cox

7. Truata

Truata is a Dublin-based data analytics company that enables companies to both maximise their data analytics utility and minimise their risk of non-compliance with privacy regulations. Based on the principle of privacy by design, the Truata Anonymisation Solution independently anonymises data before it is analysed to deliver a compliant and ethical approach to data analytics. Truata was formed in 2018 by Mastercard, IBM and C3 IoT and has already won the prestigious 2018 HPE-IAPP Privacy Innovation Award and been shortlisted in the Emerging Business Investment Category at the 2018 Invest in Ireland Awards. Its chief privacy officer Aoife Sexton was also shortlisted for the Woman of the Year and Innovator of the Year at the 2018 Women in IT Awards Rob Corbet, head of technology and innovation at Arthur Cox

8. Genomics Medicine Ireland

Genomics Medicine Ireland (GMI) is leading one of the largest and most ambitious population-scale genomic research studies in the world. GMI's discovery programme has the potential to be transformational to patient care in the future as a key building block in the development of precision medicine – an approach where treatments are tailored to suit a patient's genetic blueprint as opposed to the one-size-fits-all approach which is used today. This research has the potential to be of benefit to patients both in Ireland and around the world. – Colin Rooney, partner, Arthur Cox

9. Process innovation

Companies need to be much more cost-efficient, competitive and leaner, so the area of process innovation is massively important and from a life science perspective, there is the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Technology Centre in UL, which is doing a lot of work around how to support companies to be much more efficient and effective in delivering manufacturing processes. Deirdre Glenn, head of life sciences at Enterprise Ireland

10. Design-led innovation

We are finding the customers or large multinationals are reaching back into their suppliers and they want them to be more than just commodity partners. They want them to become preferred suppliers, so that they become the designers and innovators of the products of the future for the large multinationals. This is particular to the medtech side. Deirdre Glenn, head of life sciences at Enterprise Ireland