Pharmaceutical Industry in 2021: Top 11 Pharma Trends

Pharmaceutical Industry in 2021: Top 11 Pharma Trends

Have you been following the trends in the pharmaceutical industry? If so, you’re probably concerned about one thing. That is, how drastically has the global pandemic affected the course of the pharma market?

Our article describes the current challenges and relevant trends in pharma. Keep reading if you want to know what 2021 has in store for the industry.

Major challenges in the pharma industry

The healthcare sector faced numerous challenges in 2020. Some of them were predictable, while others seemed to come out of the blue.

Here are the most significant challenges impacting trends in the pharmaceutical industry.

Rising prices 

New medicines are becoming harder and more expensive to produce. Recent research concludes that the median cost of developing and bringing a new prescription drug to market stands at $985.3 million. At the same time, estimates stand at around $2.7 billion for medications that target specialized therapeutic areas (such as immunomodulating agents). 

If we compare these numbers to previous reports, it becomes apparent that the cost of drug development is rising by 10% every year. As a result, pharmaceutical companies are forced to increase prices. 

And where does that leave consumers?

Reduced demand for prescription medicine

Expensive medicine is beyond the reach of many low and middle-income households. On the other hand, healthcare systems and low-cost technologies are becoming more accessible to the general public.

Pharmaceutical companies have to become more cost-conscious and focus on bringing prices down to support the demand. Until then, many patients are likely to manage their healthcare using beyond-the-pill services (we’ll touch on them later on).

Loss of exclusivity 

The rise of applications for biosimilars in the US and Europe is one of the current trends in the pharmaceutical industry. These medical products have no clinically meaningful differences from already-approved biomedicine. As a result, they are cheaper to develop and obtain approval for, and consequently, cost less than name-brand drugs.

Biosimilar development has accelerated since late 2013, leading to a peak LOE (Loss of Exclusivity) rate in 2019. According to Statista forecasts, LOE will lead to a $30 billion negative impact on the US pharmaceutical industry by the end of 2021. In a few years, only a handful of the top 20 pharma products will be without an alternative.

Cybersecurity threats

Technological advancement and digitization have their downsides for the healthcare sector. Cybersecurity threats remain one of the most common challenges for the industry. 

In 2017 alone, a single pharmaceutical company suffered a claimed  $1.3 billion loss as the result of a single cyberattack. Despite an increasing frequency of attacks, the quality of data protection remains subpar. According to statistics, 89% of healthcare organizations experienced data breaches (with nearly half of them suffering multiple attacks each year).

The ongoing epidemic and rising costs don’t help the situation. Pharma companies simply can’t focus on improving their security at the moment. Nonetheless, we hope that cybersecurity will become one of the key trends in the pharmaceutical industry in the not-too-distant future.

Do you want to be one step ahead of the competition? You can accelerate drug development and movement through regulatory processes by building secure preclinical and clinical software. A reliable platform will help your company stay organized, comply with regulations, and keep pace with the current trends in the pharma industry.

Key trends in the pharmaceutical industry

Could anyone have predicted how 2020 would turn out? Without further ado, here’s where the pharma industry is likely headed in 2021 (if there’s no new worldwide crisis waiting for us).

1. Growth of medicine spending

Following the 2020 pharmaceutical trends, developed countries show steady growth in spending on medicine in 2021. According to the IQVIA’s 2019 Global Use of Medicine in 2019 report, the spending will exceed $1.4 trillion by the end of 2021. This represents a steady increase in comparison to prior years

The growth is driven primarily by new products and innovative technologies in leading pharmaceutical markets, such as China and the United States. This trend will likely continue through 2023 despite the pandemic.

2. The popularization of beyond-the-pill

According to Shiden Sedgh Bina (a 2016 PharmaVOICE 100 honoree), pharma companies have more resources and tools to solve health problems than ever before. Observing how attractive high-tech is for both customers and investors, companies will inevitably rely on the latest innovations in pharmaceuticals to create new digitally-driven medical solutions. 

Experts call these products beyond-the-pill services. They come in the form of digital pills, wearable trackers, sensors, and apps designed to provide real-time information and gamify treatment. 

Beyond-the-pill services are not new to the pharmaceutical industry (as illustrated by MySugr‘s success). Nonetheless, there’s a big opportunity for beyond-the-pill solutions to gain even more traction in 2021. That is, if pharmaceutical companies are willing to invest in trial design and patient engagement.

3. Importance of patient engagement

Here’s the deal. Beyond-the-pill solutions require a clear understanding of the customer’s needs. Stakeholders must generate value for the patients if they want to find a market. And how do you maximize patient engagement?

Life science organizations should involve end-consumers in trials, drug designs, and decision-making processes. This includes having C-level specialists focused on patient advocacy.

Many big pharmaceutical companies have already created positions such as the Chief Patient Officer and Chief Digital Officer to improve patient engagement. It’s not too late to follow this trend if you want to reach more patient populations and expand your business “beyond” the pill.

4. Expanded use of RWE

Real-word-evidence (RWE) is nothing new for the pharmaceutical industry. However, its recent advancement makes it one of the latest pharma trends to watch.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US approved this practice for several medications (such as Blincyto and Bavencio) in 2018. That same year, the FDA developed a strategic framework for the use of RWE in biologics and small-molecule drugs.

RWE has undeniable benefits during drug development, especially if pharma organizations combine it with randomized evidence. For example, it can confirm the results of randomized controlled trials (RCT).

According to the Deloitte 2018 survey, over 70% of respondents expect RWE to become an integral part of their C-suite by 2022. Thus, we believe that real-world-evidence will be one of the key trends in the pharmaceutical industry in the upcoming years.

5. Emphasis on digital marketing

Companies around the world are suffering from event cancellations. The rapid spread of COVID-19 prevents pharma companies from showcasing new products and services. That is, of course, if they don’t find other ways to conduct these events. 

What’s the most effective way for companies to reach out to new businesses and investors during a lockdown? It’s actually easy. Event streaming will become one of the new trends in pharma marketing in these times of the global pandemic.

Digital marketing was a weak spot for many pharmaceutical organizations long before 2020. But in 2021, healthcare businesses can’t afford to be without a robust online presence. Therefore, we can assume that digital marketing will become one of the most important marketing trends in the pharmaceutical industry. 

Do you feel that your company is falling behind in this sphere? A reliable digital technology vendor can build tailor-made solutions to enhance your sales and help your business expand.

6. Natural language processing (NLP) for patient enrollment 

Despite NLP not working well enough in the past, in the last 3 years this technology has undergone an extreme makeover. It has made more progress than any other subfield of artificial intelligence. NLP is everywhere: in word and sentence predictions in your email, in smart assistants, in tailored search results, and in accurate online translations. 

Pharmaceutical organizations all over the world have started to harness the power of NLP to leverage insights from unstructured medical data. In clinical trials, the analysis of a dataset with the assistance of NLP helps to identify doctors-influencers within a specific dataset(s) and to tackle the overarching problem of timely patient recruitment.

With the help of NLP, new doctors that haven’t yet participated in a clinical study, can be identified and invited to join in. These are potential candidates for principal investigators that can source considerable numbers of eligible patients that fit a clinical trial’s inclusion criteria.

The information obtained from NLP and social graphs helps contract research organizations (CROs) to increase the international and domestic market penetration and save costs spent on marketing by allocating their resources more efficiently.

7. The rise of Telehealth

Physical interaction between the patient and prescriber was the traditional form of treatment and marketing. However, the pandemic has altered familiar models. Thus, 2020 gave rise to new trends in pharma marketing, such as Telehealth, with software tools that allow doctors to deliver healthcare services to patients remotely.

According to the Future of Work 2020 IPA and BCG report, over 70% of prescribers are willing to engage with healthcare companies exclusively using digital mediums. Therefore, you should take part in the adoption of new technology in the pharmaceutical industry. 

It has already started. You can easily look around and see healthcare professionals and pharma organizations that are implementing new Telehealth opportunities to leverage value and boost sales.

8. Opioid prescription decline

Illicit drug use and the prescription of opioids remains one of the most complex issues for the pharma industry. 

In 2018, the FDA introduced a class-wide Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for long-acting and immediate-release opioid analgesics. This strategy emphasizes prescriber training and patient education to ensure that the therapeutic benefits outweigh the risks of addiction, unintentional overdose, and death. 

However, these measures have done little to help with the issue. Inconsistent clinical practice guidelines for chronic pain treatment and differences in prescription practices across the industry continue to complicate the issue, which suggests that the decline in use will continue through 2023.

9. CDMO market growth 

Faster time-to-market and improved cost-efficiency are the primary reasons for the popularity of outsourced manufacturing services. According to the 2020 Drug Discovery Outsourcing Market report, the drug outsourcing market will grow from $4.5 billion to $12.7 billion by the end of 2030.

The potential for contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMO) will rise as well, mirroring the outsourcing model’s increasing popularity. These organizations offer exceptional value in the pharmaceutical sector, providing such services as:

  • Product development
  • Clinical testing
  • Commercial manufacturing or API and drug products
  • Regulatory support

Based on the Outsourced Pharmaceutical Manufacturing 2020 review, the CDMO market will grow from $90 billion in 2019 to $117.3 billion in 2023. Consequently, we expect contract services to become one of the biggest pharma outsourcing trends in the ensuing years.

10. Deep learning for adverse event monitoring 

Adverse event reports are saved in a variety of formats and are highly fragmented. What’s more, the amount of reported adverse events is growing every day, making it more difficult to analyze and process all the reports, and thus define the most important ones.   

Machine learning (ML), and in particular deep learning, has an enormous potential to disrupt adverse event analysis as it is now. Statistical methods can correctly elicit and validate adverse events and exclude the noise-induced ones. Deep learning automates previously manual routine and bothersome processes, and provides contract research organizations (CROs) and company-sponsors with comprehensive insights about the tested drug.  

11. High-Tech implementation in R&D

Outsourcing is just one of the ways used to control operating costs. Many companies (predominantly larger enterprises) are likely to invest in technology to improve their team’s efficiency. 

Life science companies worldwide aim to refine the production cycle with AI (Artificial intelligence), ML (Machine Learning), cloud technology, and other digital investments over the coming years. 

What are the benefits of high-tech solutions for R&D? They can:

  • Help identify appropriate drugs for specific conditions
  • Run cost-effective trials for drug design
  • Identify optimal times to start and change medical treatments
  • Improve algorithms for drug research and development
  • Offer valuable insights into business strategies
  • Gather health data more efficiently
  • Improve patient engagement

AI already provides practical benefits to pharma organizations. For example, advanced algorithms accelerated the analysis for the Ebola virus treatment, reducing the process that would otherwise have taken months to less than one day.

Most biopharma organizations have yet to become digitally mature. However, 55% of leading companies believe they are close to taking full advantage of the new technologies. COVID-19 accelerated many current trends in the pharmaceutical industry, chief among them being the digital transformation.
Explore how technology can help you to bring treatment to patients faster and with a lower cost.


The pharma market is changing in response to the rapidly evolving expectations of customers and investors. However, current trends in the pharmaceutical industry didn’t come out of nowhere; they have been developing for some time.

COVID-19 didn’t reshape the whole industry. On the contrary, it only fueled the development of pre-existing trends, most notably in the areas of patient engagement and digitalization.

If you’ve been following recent trends in pharma, you should be ready for the next year. If not, we can help your company catch up and keep up with the times.

Avenga is a reliable IT partner that drives pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical firms towards innovation and digital transformation. Contact us if you want to learn more about our technological solutions.
Digital transformation in the Pharmaceutical industry

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