AI’s Role in Accelerating COVID-19 Vaccine Time-to-Market

Ayush Jha, Manager, Supply Chain Applications, Bristlecone

Even the average consumer – now living in a world of social distancing, watching what’s happening in the markets, and hearing about friends and neighbors suddenly out of work – can identify which verticals are most and least impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Industries like travel and tourism are clearly struggling, and small businesses are fighting for their survival.

On the upside, there are several industries that stand to gain something – revenue, recognition or some other benefit. Healthcare workers are being heralded for their resolve. Grocery stores have what many would consider a “good problem,” with demand aggressively outpacing supply.

Many eyes have been focused on the Life Sciences industry, and for good reason. COVID-19 has done two things for pharmaceutical, diagnostics and medical device companies – long-time industry leaders and newcomers alike. On the one hand, it has demonstrated how much of a detriment it can be to rely heavily on China for medicinal ingredients and device components; on the other, the entire world is counting on pharmaceutical companies to help eradicate this virus.

There’s a race underway to develop a vaccine, and several are quickly speeding toward human trials. As of this week, there are over 90 SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates in varying stages of development, and some research teams recently began preliminary safety trials. Companies in the Life Sciences space have also been instrumental in developing tests and treatments.

As organizations sprint toward the finish line, the first to arrive may not be the one that is first to discover a viable vaccine but rather the one whose process flows seamlessly – from research and development, to production and distribution, to marketing and patient experience.

This represents an opportunity for digital technology providers to play a role in helping the Life Sciences industry leverage technology like AI/ML to expedite their go-to-market strategy. And it represents an opportunity for Life Sciences companies to be early adopters and lead the pack.

Let’s take a look at a few of the areas where AI/ML can make a significant impact.


Clinical trials are the testing benchmark that make or break a drug. Strict regulatory protections put in place to safeguard human subjects make clinical trials both an essential and an imperfect part of the process. Trials often consume roughly 70% of time invested toward the development of a new vaccine. These trials generate enormous amounts of data and datasets that need to be analyzed at every step for efficacy among varying factors associated with enrolled participants. This gets even more interesting when the study and response need to occur in real time.

With clinical trials, time is always of the essence. Machine Learning and AI-enabled applications can play a substantial role in churning through huge amounts of clinical trial datasets – ideating, iterating, concluding, training and retraining of the models – and delivering the results rapidly.


Once a vaccine is FDA-approved and ready to sit on the shelves of U.S. pharmacies, insurers will begin incorporating it within their tiers of drugs and vaccines. The placement of the new product will require descriptive analytics, findings and insights based on a number of factors – copay premiums and out-of-pocket costs, geographic location, patient demographics, etc.

Machine Learning can fast-track this critical step by processing all of the data and providing analytics and insights that are timely and easily consumable.


Discovery of a new virus or disease – and subsequent development of a new drug or vaccine to combat it – requires a stronger, more cohesive marketing effort than other drug launches, one that is largely rooted in education. Accelerated timelines, like those we’re seeing with COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, put increased pressure on sales and marketing teams to quickly ramp up promotional efforts, including extensive physician, patient and pharmacist education.

Channeling marketing budgets (driven by ROI and other factors); analyzing the effectiveness of educational efforts, promotional campaigns, targeted marketing and physician outreach; and branding and launch strategies are just a few of the many areas that require early results and rapid course corrections. Time is of utmost importance – and certain missteps can be deadly.

Building usual run-of-the-mill advanced analytics models for marketing takes time and incurs huge costs. AI/ML-based automated solutions are the way to go.


Once the drug/vaccine is in the market, it’s critical for the manufacturer to track and analyze the patient journey. In the search for recurring patterns and actionable insights, patient-level data is another massive chunk of big data that must be analyzed with extreme care.

AI-based solutions are very much in demand here.

While Life Sciences companies are doing their part to develop a successful vaccine, there is no better time for technology companies to contribute to the cause. The only real question is:

Are AI/ML visionaries, data scientists and tech innovators up for the challenge?