Q&A: What are Digital Pharma East presenters saying about industry changes?

The Digital Pharma Team had the pleasure of speaking several members of our Digital Pharma East faculty to highlight industry shifts in digital innovation and the life sciences. Hear from the experts directly on emerging technologies, challenges, AI, patient centricity and more.

Among our speakers, Brandi Ascione, Marketing Innovation Consulting, and Larry Brooks from EVOLUTION ROAD, Melissa Halkyard, Vice President, Product Development and Marketing at PRECISION XTRACT, and Linda Ruschau, Chief Client Offer at PATIENT POINT.

Brandi Ascione and Larry Brooks from Evolution Road both shared some insightful information on current trends in digital pharma and where we are headed. Here’s what they had to say:

We often talk about digital disruption and its impact on healthcare and pharma, what are some emerging technologies that will disrupt the industry yet again, changing the way pharma does business in the next 5-10 years?

Life science organizations are continuing to see complex healthcare industry macro trends impact commercial business models. New technologies including big data, AI/machine learning, and evolving and emerging channels are rapidly providing innovative solutions to enable the shift. In the next 10 years, we expect to see exponential growth in four areas of innovation: new program innovation within existing digital channels, new digital marketing solutions driven by technology, the evolution to digital health customer value innovation and new commercial model innovation. The latter will provide game-changing opportunities for life science organizations to create new revenue streams with FDA-approved digital therapeutics and interventions. We expect to see brands – and sales forces – focused on therapies that aren’t wholly or even partially compound-based but instead are driven by innovation focused on health outcomes.

Because pharma is a highly regulated industry, it still lags behind in adapting to digital trends. Can you identify some challenges pharma stakeholders continue to face in building and implementing processes that convert and your suggestions on how to overcome those challenges?   

The pharma industry is slowly adapting its commercial model and leveraging new digital solutions, particularly in smaller-scale pilots. Leveraging these pilots to measure commercial impact and a program’s ability to scale by meeting customer needs is certainly the primary objective in many cases. However, it is also important that pilots seek to better understand internal pitfalls and core capabilities that need to be developed to operationalize digital innovation. As an example, it is common for pharmaceutical companies to enhance their ability to apply novel market research methodologies and processes that are based on gaining rapid and iterative customer feedback to better understand customer problems, implications and potential solutions among multiple customer types.

AI has become the new BI. What does this mean for pharma in collecting big data and using it to build better business models?

The use cases for AI are vast and span the entire pharmaceutical value chain.  For pharmaceutical commercial teams, digital solutions can passively and actively collect behavioral and patient-reported data which can be combined with clinical and claims data as well as insights that represent social determinants of health, i.e. access to healthy food and clean air, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of a particular person in the real world.  These big data sets will become the basis for using AI to personalize the experience pharma provides its customers.

Patient centricity has also been a focal point for the industry for several years, has pharma done a great job in moving closer to value-based healthcare in keeping the patient and customers at the forefront of their marketing strategies?

While pharma has a reputation for being slow to adopt digital and innovation compared to other industries, progress in driving value-based healthcare is trending faster than expected. Evolution Road has worked with nearly all our clients to shift planning models from promotion-centric to include consideration of shared goals across customers including patients, providers, and payors.  The solution set to meet these shared goals are radically different than traditional pharma marketing.  Focused largely on disease and therapy management, executed through new partners and innovations, pharma is experimenting with and iterating on a new approach that is anticipated to have a rapid uptake in marketing and commercial strategies over the next 1-2 years.

And last, what do you see as the major challenges in building a successful business plan for digital initiatives?

Traditional commercial teams have been slow to adopt a digital-centric approach. While digital marketing has proven to successfully drive business impact for decades the planning process has not evolved to maximize its potential. Clients lack confidence in digital’s ability to drive impact at scale, perpetuating yearly planning cycles focused on long-standing solutions that are becoming less impactful: reaching providers, many of whom are no longer accessible, with a sales force and driving general awareness among patients with TV despite increased cord-cutting and complex media consumption habits. Digital remains a small investment overall.

Shifting this dynamic will require commitment to these areas:

A planning cycle that puts digital strategy at the forefront and doesn’t accept a cut-and-paste digital plan without support for how it will drive business.

Measurement and analytics to gather granular insights that demonstrate specific drivers of impact.

Rapid optimization cycles and increased budgets to prove potential at scale.

Insights and research that inform a digital-centric approach to creative.

Piloting programs focused on shared goals with key customers, like driving outcomes through digital health solutions.

Melissa Halkyard was also more than happy to add to Brandi and Larry’s points.

Melissa Halkyard

On emerging technologies and their impact on the pharma industry:

Likely the biggest disruption will be from new entrants into the healthcare ecosystem who are known disrupters, e.g. google, apple, amazon. These competitors have significant differentiation in key capabilities that are lacking in healthcare today, e.g. technology, data, and analytics.

On pharma being highly regulated industry and lagging behind in digital trends:

Pharma struggles to use technology largely due to the highly regulated environment we operate in-and the high penalties associated with making a mistake. This has created a very risk-averse culture within pharma companies. This is compounded by this risk-averse and old-school culture makes it very difficult to attract the innovative talent that would help us to see our way safely through to innovation.

On AI becoming the new BI:

AI will transform both the clinical development and commercialization of pharmaceuticals. However, as with all things pharma, we will likely lag other industries until some of the bigger players like Amazon, Google and Apple enter the market. The opportunity is very significant, especially when combined with wearable technology that will enable the collection of vast amounts of patient data leading to faster diagnosis, more targeted therapeutics and improved adherence. All of these things will fundamentally transform our current business models.

On pharma moving closer to value-based healthcare:

The value chain of healthcare delivery is complex and patients have so many touchpoints along the way-especially for chronic and complex disease states. Patients want to return to their “normal” life-which in some cases means fewer people reaching out to them about their health. Pharma’s sweet spot may be in collaborating with providers and payers who have natural and necessary touchpoints with the patient.

On what she sees as the major challenges in building a successful business plan for digital initiatives:

Short-term guaranteed ROIs. Many pharma companies are short-term, quarter by quarter, performance-driven. Trying something new doesn’t always result in immediate results. I am a huge advocate for small-scale, rapid pilots that test concepts and enable the organization to learn with smaller investments. If success is seen, the concept can be refined and then scaled, giving leadership confidence in the financial outcomes.

Linda Ruschau

On pharma moving closer to value-based healthcare, Linda Ruschau, Chief Client Officer, Patient Point adds:

Yes! As the industry shifts to value-based care, brands are changing or adding to their marketing strategies to reach patients and providers in distinct, meaningful ways. Brands are moving away from one-size-fits-all approaches and are instead exploring targeted methods (like point of care!) to deliver the right message to the right audience when and where they need it most. For example, by delivering point-of-care patient testimonials and support group information, brands are helping patients better navigate the care journey. At the same time, brands can also provide diagnostic tools and co-pay references at the point of care to help providers and patients secure affordable treatment and drive adherence.

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