Can clinical trials find a booster-shot or a better petri-dish or both when we look towards technology for help? Kanishk Duggal, the CEO of ICRI (Institute of Clinical Research India), explains what can change in the logistics parts as well as the bench-to-bedside cure-journeys. He also prescribes where and how AI can be of use.
What has been the role of technology in supporting vaccine-related processes like logistics, inventory management, mapping, efficacy measurement, etc. Or any other area where technology proved/can prove to be a great help?
The technological boom in the 21st century has taken the entire logistics industry to new soaring heights. Yet, I feel that distributing the COVID-19 vaccines in India’s first mass vaccination drive is proving to be a daunting task. It requires expansion of India’s existing logistics capacity at a rapid speed, especially in some of the more densely-populated parts of the country, where such infrastructure is severely limited. Logistics need to be in sync with technology when it comes to vaccine distribution which requires the fastest delivery and storage hence cold-chain capacity and delivery measures need modifications with rapid expansion.
Can AI be collaborative or competitive when we think of its corresponding existence with humans – in healthcare?
The existence of AI with humans can prove to be collaborative in the area of healthcare. The complexity and rise of huge data in healthcare points that AI will increasingly be used within the field. Different types of AI are already being used by Healthcare, and life sciences companies. The main categories of applications involve diagnosis and treatment recommendations, adherence, and administrative activities. It also seems quite clear that AI systems will not replace human clinicians/healthcare professionals on a large scale, but rather will augment their efforts to care for patients. The fact can’t be ignored that AI will be developed by humans to provide better and improved services to deal with the increased demand for improved healthcare facilities. Human work cannot provide the speed though that AI can to healthcare.
Anything new that we have learnt – thanks to the pandemic – about collaboration and technology – in the area of drug discovery?
The race for a cure across complex healthcare crisis and individual diseases is highly competitive, placing enormous pressure squarely on the drug-development segment. This is something we have seen during the initial days of the COVID-19 Pandemic. With access to COVID vaccines now, we can expect continued evolution of technological innovations, even more pharmaceutical-technology partnerships & collaborations and continued progress in clinical trial models, all with the aim of expediting drug development. These collaborations have the potential to result in more productive and cost-effective bench-to-bedside solutions.
How pragmatic are ideas like decentralisation, blockchain, AI, medical imaging and quantum computing in clinical research for the future?
The fact that we are at the dawn of AI technology indicates that its role in clinical research could grow exponentially in the years ahead. Also, up until now, the adoption of decentralised trials has been slow – and it’s easy to understand why. Healthcare is a highly regulated industry, which means professionals tend to be risk-averse. I believe a new approach to clinical research is certainly needed now and increased decentralisation of clinical trial is just one way. Similarly, Medical Imaging techniques are being increasingly used in clinical trials to provide evidence for decision-making. So, all these ideas collectively are playing an important role in taking clinical research to new heights in the future. Ideas like decentralization, block-chain, AI, etc. are the backbone to the end product of Clinical Trial which is a Vaccine and vaccine development is the future of the world hence the factors mentioned above are indeed the irreplaceable factors in Clinical Trials.
Anything bold but interesting that you tried out during 2020 in the use of technology? How does its presence help you in remote education, virtual classrooms, fast-tracking of careers and lifelong learning concepts?
I believe that COVID-19 has worked as a catalyst for educational institutions to grow and choose platforms with technologies, which have not been used before. Being in the education sector, we tried to survive the crisis with a unique approach and minimising the challenges to wash away the threat of the pandemic. It is evident that without the presence of technology, the education sector would have faced a lot of bumps. In this time of crisis, we focused on following a well-crafted and effective educational practice for the capacity-building of young minds. Education has experienced a huge shift from offline to online which was, in fact, the demand of the hour where the pre-existing features like virtual classroom, etc. were explored& evolved beyond its potential.
What disruptions or new skill-areas can be expected to emerge by the advent of 3D printing, AR, NLP, AI and robotics in healthcare?
Health robotics will continue to evolve alongside advancements in machine learning, data analytics, computer vision, and other technologies. Robots of all types will continue to evolve to complete tasks autonomously, efficiently, and accurately. With changes in technology, new drugs, new treatment protocols and new devices there is a huge need to up-skill the existing healthcare professionals globally. Robotics in healthcare will ease-up the human load and the manpower can be used effectively in research and planning while the execution can be well performed by robotics & AI.
By Pratima Harigunani
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