Protecting patient data is crucial for pharmaceutical companies

Over the past 12 months, the digital threat landscape has evolved significantly, with COVID-19 being used as a common bait to drop ransomware into networks.

The pharmaceutical industry possesses sensitive information such as R&D data, patents, and patient information, making it a prime target for hackers. Unauthorized access to sensitive information has threatening implications, including loss of public trust, theft of intellectual property, and significant loss of revenue.

The cost of pharmaceutical data breaches

Cybersecurity breaches inflict huge costs on pharmaceutical companies. 2020 estimates place the average cost of an attack at US$5.06 million, 1.3 times the global average.

Besides the monetary aspect, cybersecurity breaches can disrupt clinical trials which can turn out to be even more expensive. To avoid this, companies must determine what data is held, how it is processed, and what regulations, if any, must be followed when processing clinical data. Any digital platform implemented by pharmaceutical companies to improve the patient experience or the efficiency of business operations must be integrated with strict data protection measures to ensure the security of personal health information.

Protecting patient data is imperative

With the accelerated digitization caused by the pandemic, the risk of cyberattacks is increased, especially in the pharmaceutical sector. Pharmaceutical companies are looking for ways to protect patient data, as well as commercially valuable information such as patents and intellectual property. Harnessing new technologies can help pharmaceutical companies protect patient data and minimize their vulnerability to cyberattacks. This, coupled with solutions that encrypt sensitive data and enable early detection of threats, can build public trust around the use, processing and storage of their personal health information.

What makes Pharma a prime target?

There are several reasons why cybercriminals see the pharmaceutical industry as a tempting target.

1. Patient data can be sold online

Pharmaceutical companies process the personal health information of clinical trial participants, including medical history, lab results, biometric information, and more. All of this is valuable to hackers. Medical identity theft can lead to false medical claims or cybercriminals opening new lines of credit and accessing insurance details.

2. There is more medical data available digitally today than ever before

In the digital age, there are many sources through which personal health information is collected. This includes electronic medical records, clinical trials, fitness apps, and wearable devices. Despite data privacy concerns, the popularity of smart devices and wearables continues to grow.

How the Pharmaceutical Industry Protects Patient Data

With the amount of data generated worldwide expected to reach one trillion gigabytes by 2025, governments recognize the need to protect patient data, which includes the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Several emerging technologies can help pharmaceutical companies protect data. Blockchain, for example, can better manage data collected during clinical trials, encrypt patient data, and prevent unauthorized access to identifiable information.

Pharmaceutical giants and academic institutions are already testing blockchain to manage supply chain challenges and clinical trials. The blockchain offers transparency and traceability of information. Several industry-led initiatives are already underway to convince regulators such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the viability of implementing blockchain for clinical trial management.

The digitization of life sciences has led the industry to become increasingly data-rich. While digitization has the potential to drive sustained growth and create new value streams, flaws in cybersecurity protocols can lead to unauthorized access to commercially valuable research, corporate, and patient data. Additionally, failure to comply with safety standards and regulations can lead to substantial fines, amounting to millions of dollars. To that end, progress is already underway, with organizations investing in encryption and intrusion prevention systems. Ultimately, digital solutions must leverage cutting-edge technologies along with full cybersecurity compliance to drive sustained growth, without compromising patient data security.

by Subhro Mallik, SVP and Global Head Life Sciences, Infosys.

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