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June 29, 2022

Pharma knowledge management guide

How can knowledge management improve strategic decision-making for pharmaceutical organizations?
pharma knowledge management

Knowledge management was introduced and productized by consulting firms in the 1980s with two primary goals: to open the lines of organizational communication and foster situational awareness. Both of these goals are achieved by identifying, capturing, analyzing, retrieving, and disseminating information within an organization. Now that we’ve answered the question of what is knowledge management? let’s dive deeper and discuss knowledge management in pharma.

Common challenges pharma companies face

How is knowledge management playing a role in the pharmaceutical industry? Knowledge and insights are used to inform thousands of important decisions throughout the drug development process. Everything from pre-clinical research to clinical trials to product launch and beyond is driven by collected knowledge in the form of clinical data, patient input, HCP insights, payer feedback, public conversations, and an ever-growing list of channels that life science professionals can mine for directional scientific information. This information is especially important when it comes to making critical business decisions and should be stored in a knowledge base.

The knowledge management process is complicated by an ever-changing global outlook. Traditionally, most pharmaceutical companies face recurring challenges around the rising costs of ongoing research, the difficulty of patient enrollment for clinical studies, manufacturing issues, fluctuating public opinion, and patent expiration, to name a few. Anticipating the problems that may arise from these challenges – and strategizing ways to confront and solve them – is a perfect use case for knowledge management. Currently, the industry is facing remaining crisis-induced difficulties brought on by the global pandemic, including:

  • COVID-delayed clinical trials. Trial sponsors are still feeling the effects of clinical trials that were delayed, extended, or even canceled due to restrictions and lockdown measures in 2020 and 2021. As a result, companies are looking to technology to reduce the amount of face-to-face interaction during trials, which can help make up lost time and be used in case of future disruptions.
  • The cost of research and development. COVID-19 vaccines were developed quickly but at a high cost. These efforts both depleted capital and set up an expectation that essential drugs could be developed and brought to market in months. Companies must now find ways of saving time during the drug development process without overspending.
  • Supply chain disruptions. Pharmaceutical and medical device companies suffered the same severe supply chain disruptions as every other industry in 2020 and 2021, with little relief well into 2022. Organizations must find a way to anticipate and head off these disruptions in the future.
  • A cultural shift from cure to prevention. As many consumers show increased interest in special diets, exercise, and early screenings for common diseases, some life science companies may see with less demand for medication and a corresponding drop in funding.
  • Pursuing cures for so-called incurable diseases. Research into potential cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, rare cancers, and other conditions have taken place over decades. As the years pass, funding sources may dry up, or other priorities may emerge and divert funds and awareness.

What kind of information is captured by knowledge management systems?

Information captured as a part of knowledge management may come from:

  • Documentation
  • Processes
  • Onboarding
  • Information
  • People
  • Training
  • Expertise
  • Advice
  • Technology
  • Practice
  • Continuous improvement

Almost every one of these information sources can be broken into sub-components according to three primary types of workplace knowledge. Understanding the differences empowers you to identify the most effective tools for facilitating specific knowledge management practices or to choose from among the various types of knowledge management systems.

Applications of knowledge management in pharma

Pharmaceutical firms use knowledge management in a variety of ways. Firms can choose to allow cross-functional teams access to pharma knowledge management software or repositories to eliminate duplicate work or information silos. Knowledge management can be used to aid training, improve efficiency, keep historical records, and many other applications, including:

  • Intellectual property protection. Intellectual property is key to building a competitive advantage in the pharmaceutical industry, and organizations guard IP closely. With knowledge management, organizations can track where IP is stored and who can access it.
  • Research and development. In a complex R&D environment, knowledge-sharing is an important driver of innovation. Knowledge transfer within a company’s R&D organization can lead to more creative applications of promising products.
  • Manufacturing. The pharmaceutical manufacturing process generates huge amounts of data, which can be used for everything from ensuring safety to streamlining manufacturing processes.
  • Understanding the patient experience. When pharma companies make an effort to solicit, record, analyze, and use patient insights, they will create a higher degree of trust with consumers and can help HCPs understand the benefits of particular drugs, dosages, or delivery methods.

How is knowledge management different from insights management?

Knowledge management systems broadly apply to nearly any type of industry and can be made available throughout an organization. While some of these systems can preserve confidentiality, encourage user interaction, and passively inform decisions, none of these are knowledge management’s primary focus. For instance, knowledge management in healthcare settings is often used to collect information gathered from patient interactions, but patients may not be directly engaged and may not have a guarantee of privacy or anonymity.

Insights management can also be used in different types of organizations, but recently, life science and healthcare organizations have gravitated to insights management platforms built specifically for their unique requirements. Insights management platforms work for life science organizations’ unique needs because they focus on compliance, support thoughtful and informative discussions, and provide directional information that directly drives decisions. These qualities make insights management more suited for pharma knowledge management applications.

Ready to take a deep dive into insight management? Start with our blog series.


Octet. 5 challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry in 2021.

KM World. What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained.

Technological University Dublin. Knowledge Management in the Pharmaceutical Industry: Between Academic Research and Industry Regulations.

Eccenca. The Need for Knowledge Management in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing.


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