Pharma’s best digital embracers? They’ve got these 4 traits in common: expert

digital transformation
Quick digital adopters in the pharma space usually have more diversified portfolios, boasting a generics, specialty or consumer segment.

Pharma still lags behind other sectors when it comes to adopting digital technology. But some companies are doing better than others—and those companies have a few things in common, one consultant says.

As EY partner Todd Skrinar said in a recent interview, the drugmakers most inclined to adopt new digital approaches have a “bias for partnering around real-world evidence” to make sense of fragmented data.  They’ve got a “leadership approach” to clinical development that “puts reality into using innovative tools” to do things like enabling trials to be done on a more remote basis.

And that drive to create a “better, healthier population” globally? They “don’t see that as in conflict” with some of the goodwill work they do. Case in point: Some companies, while trying to make “charitable inroads” that will help emerging markets populations that lack access to good care, will test new digital approaches that can make a big impact—and, if they prove useful, eventually be moved over to bigger markets, Skrinar said.

But perhaps the biggest characteristic digital-leaning companies share is “a healthy appreciation for the reality of disruption from non-traditional entrants,” he said. They’re the drugmakers keeping tabs on what Amazon’s going to do next, or how Apple could impact some of their more traditional lines of business.

They also tend to be the ones with more diversified portfolios, often boasting a generics, consumer or specialty segment. The reason? “In the commodity businesses, that’s where in many cases the threat of disruption from other entrants that are willing to take some risks around many strategies, including digital, is greatest,” Skrinar said.

And on the specialty side, there’s opportunity, too, as “that’s where a lot of the convergence around the actual medicines and the drug delivery systems that use data and intelligence as part of the treatment is coming together.”

That’s not to say the pure plays are out of the game; on the contrary, some of them “have really embraced it early on and ... are ahead of the pack,” on the digital front, Skrinar said. But “I think the pharmas that have diversified their portfolios ... in general those organizations seem to be a little further down the path with digital adoption, he noted.

Meanwhile, though, the pharma space as a whole is still a bit behind the pack, Skrinar said; a bell curve would have a wide range of digital adoption levels, but “still be scooted over to the left a little bit,” weighed down by the latecomers.

Slowly but surely, though, that’s changing. “I think you’d still have to look at our sector and say generally speaking, we’re behind many other sectors in embracing digital,” Skrinar said. “But I think the pace of adoption is increasing.”

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