The evolution of pharmacovigilance

Pharmacovigilance (PV) has big changes coming in the form of disruptive technology. Organisational structures and responsibilities must adapt to respond to current and projected changes to business needs. Here, industry leader Jamie Portnoff shares her thoughts and experience of PV with us.

Jamie, please tell us a bit about yourself and your background 

My name is Jamie Portnoff, and I am the founder and principal consultant at JMP Consulting. JMP Consulting assists clients in the pharmaceutical industry to achieve and sustain compliance and improve overall performance in pharmacovigilance (PV) and related functions like quality, medical information and regulatory affairs. Before founding JMP Consulting, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry. Not many management consultants working in PV have hands-on, real-world PV experience; this experience means I understand the realities of day-to-day work in and around PV, and how challenging it can be to deliver against requirements and expectations.  In my earliest days in industry, I especially enjoyed working with people and on projects, and I soon realised that I wanted to marry up my problem solving and analytical skills with my practical industry knowledge, and after a few years of working with big consultancy companies I decided to start JMP Consulting.

Big changes are coming in PV, but before we look at the future, we need to understand the past

Let us look at the last three decades.

In the 1990’s there were basic PV safety database systems, such as ArisG, ArisLite and ClinTrace. Fax machines were a huge part of the tech that enabled PV processes, with a high volume of incoming and outgoing data by fax. Processes were extremely paper-intensive and were designed to accommodate transactional work, such as processing of cases and putting aggregate reports together; everything was very compliance-focused. Consequently, there was demand for full-time roles dedicated to paper management, typing up documents and data entry. Teams were typically regionalized, and everything was done “onshore”.

In the 2000’s, PV technology became more sophisticated, more globally oriented. There were advances in what the technology could do, and consolidation of major tech players due to M&A activity. Paper-based processes began to give way to more digitization and electronic workflow management. Analytics tools become more prevalent and more user-friendly.  However, a typical PV department was still very paper-intensive. Some of the regionalized models began to consolidate to one system, one process, and one organization, particularly between US and Europe. 

Throughout this decade, more stringent regulatory requirements were continually being introduced, such as the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS), as well as Volume 9a. Consequently the bar was being raised for the calibre of work, and quality management expectations were increasing. We saw more focused teams dedicated to signal detection and risk management, and specialized teams emerged to manage increasing business system needs as the regulatory requirements led to increasingly complex systems. Dedicated vendor oversight teams were also required as companies began to work offshore with vendors.

Over the last decade, good pharmacovigilance practices (GVP) were introduced in the European Union (EU). The Qualified Person for Pharmacovigilance (QPPV) is not a new requirement, but it became clear that this person needs a whole team around them to support them and help shoulder the workload.

Offshore work has grown in magnitude, partnerships between companies have become an integral part of how business is done, and next generation technology is rolling out to improve efficiency and consistency. Safety systems have become truly global, enabling a scalable end-to-end safety process within a single system.

Figure: Illustrated examples of the way the world of PV has evolved.

What will happen with the advent of next-generation technology?

Big changes are coming with PV technology, which will drive major shiftsin the way we think about how PV work gets done. We have seen evolution in PV technology before, but it seems this time around will be more impactful than anything from the past 20 years.

With the advent of next-generation technology, new hard skills will be required, such as understanding of machine learning, natural language processing and artificial intelligence. Organizations need to be able to manage transformation of the PV business effectively and regularly, and leverage advanced analytical tools to derive meaningful insights from various data sets. Additional ‘soft’ skills will also be needed, such as adaptability, flexibility, open-mindedness as well as the ability to ‘think outside the box’ to drive improvements through innovative thinking.

New roles within the organisation will emerge, with specific roles dedicated to:

  • Analysis/interpretation of safety data, enabled by technology
  • Evaluation and management of enterprise data and real-world evidence (RWE)
  • Analysis of the availability and impact of further technology advancements on PV processes (leading to continued transformation of the PV function)
  • Cross-functional engagement

Meanwhile, other roles will fade out and teams of people (in-house or outsourced) performing transactional activities will become a thing of the past.

What does it mean to be future-ready in pharmacovigilance?

From a process perspective – Processes must be highly scalable to accommodate growth in volume and complexity, and a blend of proven and cutting-edge technology is needed to support and enable this. A future-ready process has metrics to enable continuous improvement; it can efficiently evolve and adapt to simultaneously accommodate new regulations, innovative products and evolving stakeholder expectations.

From a technology perspective – Highly agile, flexible and robust, technology needs to be business-led with strong IS support and should be woven into an organisation’s processes, not vice versa.

From a people perspective – People in the organisation must accept increasing automation of processes – you can have the best technology in the world, but if the people in the team are rejecting it, it is not going to be successful. Well-managed resource models are also hugely important.  The organisational structure must be designed around the business’ needs, not vice versa. Employees should offer more than one skillset and in return, they must have a pathway to develop professionally. It is critical that a team can approach things from different angles and can adapt to change – these days excelling in just one area is often not enough.

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For more information, please contact one of the Scimcon team today

+44 (1638) 661 631


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