Technological advancements, climate change and population growth affect how manufacturers research, develop, create and distribute medicine.
The future of the pharmaceutical industry will look very different from what it does today.
The pharma industry faces several challenges as of 2023. It's one of the world’s most heavily regulated, conservative markets because of safety concerns. That’s a good thing for patients but also leaves less room for scientific innovation.
Inflation is also rising to unprecedented levels, increasing the cost of labour, transportation and raw materials for drug manufacturing. This comes when the pharma industry already faces price pressures, especially when selling generic drugs. Pharmaceutical profit margins experience strain when customers don’t have to pay full price for their medicine.
Additionally, like many industries in 2023, the pharma industry faces labour shortages. The current talent pool is too small to meet industry demands, so many businesses struggle to recruit employees. Many workers have increased expectations for flexibility due to increased remote work.
What trends can people expect to see in the field of pharmaceutics?
Climate change brings more tropical and hygiene-related illness outbreaks. In fact, it exacerbates at least 58% of human infectious diseases.
Natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes lead to an uptick in cholera, respiratory conditions and mosquito-borne illnesses. Wildfire smoke contributes to heart and lung disease, displaces disease-carrying animals and can even transport microbes through the air. The warming climate allows tropical diseases to spread north.
The pharmaceutical industry should brace for a higher demand for medicines to treat preventable, climate-related illnesses.
Consumers have become more eco-conscious in recent years, and that trend will likely continue well into the future. The pharmaceutical industry currently generates a lot of plastic and chemical waste. Many medication packages are not recyclable, and chemical sludge often ends up in waterways. One study found metronidazole, an antibiotic, in concentrations more than 300 times higher than the safe target in a river near a drug manufacturing facility.
In the coming decades, manufacturers may face increasing pressure to switch to glass or cardboard containers, use less packaging and take steps to mitigate their environmental impact, such as by using chemical reactions that produce fewer byproducts. This pressure will likely come from consumers and authorities enforcing new regulations.
Some people have difficulty swallowing pills of a certain size or shape. Additionally, children often refuse to take medicine if they don’t like the taste.
What if pharmacists were equipped with 3D printers to manufacture drugs on demand? They could dispense pills in a patient’s desired size, shape, dosage or flavour to create a personalized experience and increase patient compliance. This process could also improve safety for children and dementia patients, such as by making pills in different colours.
Additionally, 3D printing pills minimizes waste and is cheaper than manufacturing large batches of medication, some of which may not be needed. The world’s first 3D-printed medication, Spritam, treats seizures and melts in patients’ mouths, making it safer than swallowing a pill. It may be a sign of what’s yet to come in the future of the pharmaceutical industry.
As with all major industries, pharma has gone digital. To solve the recruitment crisis, even small pharmacies will probably increase their internet presence, investing more time and money in reaching an online audience. Pharmacies will likely hire more marketing professionals such as copywriters, graphic designers and recruiters to meet their hiring needs.
Another major trend in the pharmaceutical industry is telehealth. Patients can now meet with a doctor virtually — whether via videoconference, a phone call or text messaging — and have medication delivered to their door.
Although it presents challenges, such as verifying patients’ identities and accurately measuring their blood pressure, telehealth has vastly improved health care access for those in rural areas. It also boosts compliance since some people are reluctant to see a doctor unless they are ill. Pharmacies will likely see an uptick in patients referred via telehealth.
Imagine a future where artificial intelligence (AI) helps find new drug combinations. It already combs through large medical information databases to look for trends, highlighting medicines that could treat specific diseases. What if scientists took it a step further?
AI could test drugs on physiological models that mimic the human body rather than on people and animals. It could help scientists visualize how molecules interact, giving them the green light to proceed with human trials or nipping them in the bud.
Because AI can handle large volumes of data, it could generate thousands of molecular models and predict which would work best in the human body. It could also develop creative study designs and estimate how many people — and which demographics — would need to participate in trials.
This process would vastly speed up the creation and distribution of new medicines. Currently, 55.2% of acute care facilities in the U.K. take more than two months to resolve shortages of certain drugs. The rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine hints at improving medical technology, including strengthening the supply chain.
The future of the pharmaceutical industry will include more patients than ever as the human population expands. The number of pharmacies and drug manufacturers must scale accordingly to handle this increased health care burden.
Additionally, life expectancy has increased due to improvements in health care and, at the same time, birth rates are falling. The ageing population in many countries means the pharmaceutical industry is treating more age-related diseases like strokes, heart problems and dementia.
Although it won’t be perfect, the future of the pharmaceutical industry looks bright. The health care industry should brace for higher rates of preventable and age-related diseases. However, innovations are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, allowing great strides in drug development, manufacturing and delivery. Patients can look forward to more personalized treatment and better options overall.