3 Trends Shaping the Pharma Industry in 2019


The pharmaceutical market’s value is accelerating at a groundbreaking rate and is anticipated to exceed $1.1 trillion globally by 2021.(1) In an era of unprecedented innovation and profitability potential, there are several major trends that are increasingly influencing the successes and competitive advantages that pharma companies can achieve over the next year. Three of these hot-button issues are highlighted below. A more comprehensive analysis of these and several other pivotal issues that are realigning the pharma industry can be found in the complimentary “Top 5 Trends in the Pharmaceutical Industry in 2019” white paper.

#1 – AI Advances Beyond Drug Discovery

Once regarded as costly gimmicks, artificial intelligence (AI) applications are rapidly becoming prime drivers of efficiency for forward-thinking pharma companies. Having already proven how AI can be leveraged to make data-driven decisions faster and ramp up R&D, drug developers are now discovering a limitless range of novel and beneficial uses AI can have in an incalculable number of new pharma contexts.

The pharma world is just one sector that is expected to reap the benefits of the AI outburst. Gartner, the world’s leading research and advisory company, estimates that one in five knowledge workers around the globe will rely on AI to do nonroutine jobs by 2022.(2) But the emerging technology’s impact is particularly penetrative in the data- and research-intensive pharma industry. AI is enabling professionals in pharmaceutical occupations to be people again in the workplace, thanks to Optical Character Recognition (OCR) applications and other enhanced data-capture tools. And AI is not just eliminating staffers’ monotonous tasks — it’s also helping them locate data patterns faster, interpret data analyses sooner, and make more informed and timely decisions.

Life sciences industries have a particular interest in enhancing data processing efficiency for the resulting impact it can have on the development and improvement of therapies and life-improving products. Ongoing initiatives are currently seeking pioneering uses for AI in pharmaceutical sectors like precision medicine and in the creation of hyper-targeted drugs. Other developing AI applications that are opening eyes around the pharma world include:

  • Data preprocessing and analytics tools that integrate different types of data with existing business processes.(3)
  • Automated matching of drug intervention data with patients to predict drug treatment results.(4)
  • Diagnostic tools.(5)
  • A virtual approach to drug repurposing.(6)
  • Deep learning networks for predicting the pharmacological properties of drugs.(7)
  • Genetic research, recognition and interpretation applications.(8)
  • Drug delivery mechanisms.(9)

Swiss pharma giant Novartis is even equipping sales representatives with AI “assistants” to help them choose which doctors to visit and what topics to discuss with them.(10)

With new pharma applications emerging on a seemingly daily basis, the sky is the limit on the benefits and value AI can bring to the industry this year and beyond.

#2 – Medical Marijuana’s Budding Potential

Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly betting that marijuana — historically demonized as a leading source of social afflictions — will become a major player in the pain management domain and potentially bring a multitude of other beneficial therapies. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted its first approval of a cannabidiol (CBD) medication — the epilepsy treatment Epidiolex — in June 2018, paving the way for other pharma organizations to hop aboard the medical marijuana money train.(11) Projections from Global Market Insights estimate that the revenue of the medical cannabis market will exceed $55 billion by 2024.(12)

Pharma organizations are dumping billions of dollars into investigating new marijuana-based therapies and are even joining forces with established cannabis companies. Sandoz Canada partnered with the licensed cannabis producer Tilray in June 2018 to co-brand noncombustible cannabis products, and many more similar alliances are expected to follow suit as such partnerships prove fruitful.(13)

Presumably, the final hurdle remaining on medical marijuana’s path to legitimacy is its classification as a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S., which equates cannabis with oft-abused drugs that have no accepted medical use, such as heroin, peyote and ecstasy.(14) But that designation may soon change, given that the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and instead place it under the oversight of federal agencies that would regulate the drug analogously to alcohol.(15)

It’s still too early for researchers to determine the competitive displacement effects that marijuana-based medicines might have on drugs used to treat health issues other than pain management (i.e., cancer, nausea, HIV, sleep disorders, muscle spasticity, headaches, etc.) or on alternative therapies like acupuncture and homeopathy. The only guarantee is that the market for medical marijuana products will continue to accelerate with at least the same expediency as the legalization efforts of national and state governments.

#3 – The Industrywide Proliferation of Cloud Technology

While businesses throughout the world have flocked to cost- and resource-saving external computer servers over the past decade, the pharmaceutical industry has historically been one of the last to hold out, favoring to manage its highly sensitive data in tightly controlled on-site databases. Data security and compliance concerns have traditionally made pharmaceutical companies skeptical of using external networks to access resources and data.

With every passing day, however, more pharma companies are realizing that cloud computing offers greater efficiencies, cost-savings and competitive advantages without jeopardizing security or compliance. Cloud computing has now secured a foothold in the industry, thanks to a shift that began in pharma R&D labs and has since spread to wider industry adoptions once successes became evident and data security and integrity was proven. “Externalization — basically the virtualization of research — has been the prime driver to get people over some of the resistance and move to the cloud,” said Michael Elliott, CEO and chief analyst of the life sciences IT consulting firm Atrium Research.(16)

Cloud technology’s capacity to decrease overhead costs is proving to be especially beneficial to smaller organizations. Budget-conscious companies are now able to implement best-practice business processes identical to wealthier corporations without being required to make large capital investments or pay for costly customizations. With these stabilizing effects — and the technology’s extending usages in a variety of pharma settings — the cloud is expected to continue to facilitate the leveling of the industry playing field over time.

Cloud computing, medical marijuana and AI are just a few of the transformational trends that will be exerting a significant influence on the pharma industry over the coming year. For more in-depth analysis of these and other critical issues that are reshaping the pharmaceutical landscape in 2019, download the “Top 5 Trends in the Pharmaceutical Industry in 2019” white paper.


  1. The Growing Pharmaceuticals Market: Expert Forecasts and Analysis,” The Business Research Company, May 16, 2018.
  2. Gartner Says By 2020, Artificial Intelligence Will Create More Jobs Than It Eliminates,” Dec. 13, 2017, Gartner website.
  3. Artificial Intelligence in the Pharmaceutical Industry – An Overview of Innovations,” Dec. 19, 2018, Emerj website.
  4. Artificial Intelligence in the Pharmaceutical Industry – An Overview of Innovations,” Dec. 19, 2018, Emerj website.
  5. Health care start-up says A.I. can diagnose patients better than humans can, doctors call that ‘dubious,’” by Arjun Kharpal, CNBC, June 28, 2018.
  6. Virtual repurposing can speed the discovery of new uses for existing drugs,” by Inga Peter, STAT, Jan. 11, 2019.
  7. Deep Learning Applied to Drug Discovery and Repurposing,” by Daniel Gutierrez, insideBIGDATA, May 28, 2016.
  8. Advances in AI and ML are reshaping healthcare,” by Megh Gupta and Qasim Mohammad, TechCrunch, March 16, 2017.
  9. Artificial Intelligence: Microchip Based Drug Delivery Through Resealed Erythrocytes,” by A. Rode, Sharma S. and K. Hatware, BioChemistry: An Indian Journal, published Feb. 9, 2017.
  10. (10)“Novartis puts AI on the job to help reps say the right things to the right doctors,” by Eric Sagonowsky, FiercePharma, Jan. 9, 2019.
  11. (11)“FDA approves first drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy,” FDA News Release, June 25, 2018.
  12. Medical Marijuana Market worth over $55 billion by 2024: Global Market Insights, Inc.,” Globe Newswire, Aug. 22, 2018.
  13. Sandoz Canada Becomes the First Canadian Pharmaceutical Company to Enter the Medical Cannabis Field,” Globe Newswire, June 19, 2018.
  14. Drug Scheduling,” DEA website.
  15. Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act reintroduced in ‘the most pro-cannabis Congress in history,’” by Andrew Blake, The Washington Times, Jan. 10, 2019.
  16. Cloud computing, or: How the pharmaceutical research sector learned to stop worrying and love the cloud,” by Rick Mullin, Chemical & Engineering News, Oct. 24, 2016.


James Jardine is a marketing content writer at MasterControl, Inc., a leading provider of cloud-based quality and compliance software solutions. He has covered life sciences, technology and regulatory matters for MasterControl and various industry publications since 2007. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism from the University of Utah. Prior to joining MasterControl, James held several senior communications, operations and development positions. Working for more than a decade in the non-profit sector, he served as the Utah/Idaho director of communications for the American Cancer Society and as the Utah Food Bank’s grants and contracts manager.

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