Knocking on the Door of a New Reality

Pharma Tech Outlook: Pharma Tech Magazine

Knocking on the Door of a New Reality

By Matt Lasmanis, VP & CIO, GSK US

Matt Lasmanis, VP & CIO, GSK US

Mobile health, industry consolidation, and the rapid expansion of health data are driving towards a healthcare landscape that is more connected and information intensive. In this new future, pharma and life sciences firms must ask themselves what role they should play. Their CIOs must know the answer.

Welcome to the Real [Digital] World

Over the last 15 years most industries have adapted to the new reality of providing on demand, digital access to information and services wherever their customers are. In healthcare, this trend is in full swing. The vast majority of US healthcare providers (HCPs) are now using smart phones, tablets, and mobile apps for professional purposes (most studies cite upwards of 80 percent). Consumers are following suit, with most studies estimating a third of the population are now using their mobile devices for health-related purposes (for example downloading mobile health apps, searching for information, and other use cases).

"The healthcare industry is going through a period of intense change that requires firms to let go of the past and embrace the future"

In contrast, although growing steadily, use of digital channels by pharma and life sciences companies remains limited, estimated at only 3 percent of annual spending. By far, firms still rely primarily on the use of sales representatives to engage HCPs in person, a practice that first emerged in the 1950s. Companies also continue to pay external experts to speak about their medicines on their behalf, typically to peer groups of doctors in external venues on dates that may or may not be convenient for HCPs’ busy schedules. These events have raised questions around whether they are in the best interest of the companies hosting them or our customers and patients.

At GSK, we have taken steps to bridge this divide and modernize. As of January 1 of this year, we no longer pay external experts to speak about our prescription medicines. We are the first pharma company in the world to take this step. In parallel, we launched a new global webinar platform that enables our internal medical experts to engage virtually with HCPs at times most convenient for them. The platform also includes a global HCP information portal with click-to-chat capability in select markets, allowing HCPs to ask questions of our internal experts in real time. These are the first steps into our new reality – convenient, on-demand, digitally distributed content and events that are provided by GSK medical professionals.

Some Assembly Required

At the macro level, the healthcare industry is in a period of significant change. In pharma and biotech alone, merger and acquisition activity soared to a record $300 billion+ in announced deals in 2015. As firms seek to navigate various environmental pressures, business model evolution will be a key tool in the strategic toolbox. Pharma and life science’s CIOs are typically tasked with preparing the right integration strategies so they can rapidly respond to new partnerships, mergers, acquisitions and divestitures. Just as important, however, is developing insight into where IT can be a driver of top line value, not simply an efficiency play.

As an example, in 2015 GSK closed a $20 billion asset swap with Novartis, which included acquisition of Novartis’ vaccines business excluding flu. Eight months after the close of the transaction, we were able to complement the integration by launching a proprietary new ecommerce platform focused on the US customer - GSK Direct - to speed up the contracting process for both vaccine and pharmaceutical businesses. In particular, the new platform makes it easier for qualified health care providers who purchase vaccines directly from GSK. They have the ability to pre-book seasonal vaccines for the next year, register for a GSK vaccine and/ or pharmaceutical contract, and place vaccine orders directly on the site.

The site was designed with an intuitive, user-friendly interface, and features simplified ordering, streamlined shipping capabilities, and more advanced discounts and savings capabilities. We don’t publicly break out our sales by ecommerce orders, but to give you a sense of scale, GSK had more than £1 billion in sales in its US vaccines business in 2015.

Data, Data, Everywhere

It is estimated that today 30 percent or more of all data now generated by society is directly or indirectly healthcare related. Due in part to new legislative incentives, use of electronic medical records (EMRs) has increased almost threefold in the United States over the past decade. EMRs and related healthcare information technology tools such as electronic claims, ePrescribing, lab diagnostics, and genomic testing systems are beginning to generate large healthcare data sets (aka healthcare “big data”).

No strangers to big data, at the core of the pharma and life sciences industry is the clinical trials process, which involves advanced analysis of large volumes of clinical data to determine the safety and efficacy of a medicine or vaccine prior to regulatory approval. As a result, many IT organizations have developed a considerable analytics and data science acumen that may have potential both internally and in collaborative opportunities with the outside world. In one example, GSK has a longstanding commitment to make all our clinical trial data available publicly for research. This year we published our 1,700th trial, which means that every clinical trial conducted since the inception of the company is now available to the external world for research purposes.

The Hard Part and the Easy Part

It’s been said that innovation isn’t just about new ideas; that’s the easy part. The hard part is letting go of what used to work, but will soon be obsolete. The healthcare industry is going through a period of intense change that requires firms to let go of the past and embrace the future. Pharma and life science CIOs are well positioned to lead their companies through this change, provided they can bring the right mix of strategic skills, creative vision, and focused execution to the board room table.

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