Last month I “virtually” attended the World Drug Safety Congress on September 2-3, 2020 on behalf of Adis Pharmacovigilance.   Originally scheduled as an in-person conference for March 24 – 25, 2020, due to COVID19, it was rescheduled as a virtual conference in September 2020. 

According to the conference organizers, the conference had:

  • 600+ attendees
  • 80+ speakers
  • 50+ Heads of PV & Safety
  • 30+ Countries
  • 70% Pharma & Biotech’s

These statistics seems similar to previous conferences; however, this was my first virtual conference, so it was very different experience as an exhibitor. Adis PV had a “virtual” booth where visitors could pick up Adis PV literature and/or make an appointment to talk with the team.    There was no foot traffic around the booth, so the opportunity to have drop-ins was not there, all visits were reserved on-line, and there were no informal opportunities to network such as tea breaks.  Even for delegates this would have changed their usual conference experience, with the main focus on the presentations and fewer opportunities to connect with peers.

The theme this year was the impact of technology on pharmacovigilance (PV).  I attended the interesting Keynote address on Technology for PV efficiency: integrating new technologies into PV practices to improve operational processes, reporting, and risk assessment.” with a moderator and three panel members, two from consultancy and one from pharmaceuticals.  A key point they emphasized was that intake automation is becoming increasingly essential. As a result, more and more pharma companies are implementing automation in case intake. Certain vendors are also becoming more involved in automation as a much-needed service.  The technology vendors are becoming essential to implementing technology, because they generally understand it better than the pharmaceutical company and often big pharma is hesitant to spend resources on new technologies. As pharma companies move away from paper-based AE/SAE reporting, buy-in needs to obtained at all levels. Some in the panel disagreed with the idea of every company building a solution from scratch, as then you can’t learn from the experience of others.  These companies should focus on one particular area to start with rather than trying to tackle the entire workflow automation at once. Companies that are not currently involved in any aspect in any PV automation, should start learning and implementing automation, even one step at a time.

There were other interesting presentations and panels throughout the day that I was able to “attend”, including topics ranging from Evolve Or Revolutionize, Global Pharmacovigilance Networks, and Staying Compliant. As to be expected in the current environment there was a session on COVID-19 Vaccines, about Safety Reporting and Assessment: Challenges and Strategies. Here it was discussed that the use of automation could improve signal detection from months/quarters to days and weeks. However there will need to a mechanism for looking at AE’s for vaccines when used concomitantly with other therapies, and automation is possibly the best option to mitigate this challenge.

Automation was a continued theme on day 2 of the conference, and in the session entitled “Automation in PV – What? Why? When? And How: Advancing process technology & validation in PV” there were presenters from several major Pharma companies including Alexion, Astellas, BMS, Sanofi and J&J.  They talked about Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and how it could improve the PV process. Eventually the goal would be to drive the entire PV system to automation, because the current processes become obsolete.  It was even said that companies need to let go of current methodologies as they are a drag on efficiency.  For example, Sanofi alone had 100,000 cases in the last six months, a daunting number for any company. Therefore, AI or intelligent automation is the wave of the future.

Overall, I found the conference sessions very interesting and informative.  Being relatively new to the PV area, I learned a lot and was introduced to new areas.  Although being virtual detracted from the conference, it was managed the best it could, given these COVID times. On the whole, it was a valuable conference, and those with a focused interest in PV should consider attending future meetings, even if virtual conferences are the new norm.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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