The life sciences industry is rooted in innovation in therapeutic areas that are collectively responsible for increasing the global average life expectancy by 20+ years in the last half-century by managing diseases and conditions while improving the quality of life. But when it comes to digital transformation, the industry and more broadly healthcare, has not experienced this kind of universal change. Compared to other industries, little has changed since the turn of the century when it comes to the business models, operating models, or even the R&D process, despite scientific and technological advances.
Insightive.tv sat down with Usama to understand how Immunomedics is challenging traditional life sciences industry standards, and to gain insight into the barriers that prevent digital transformation across the broader healthcare industry.
Insightive.tv: What does digital transformation mean to you?
Usama: The terms “transformation” and “disruption” have been loosely thrown around in the technology and the digital health industry for over a decade. However, as most of us know, there has been little by way of measurable transformation or disruption. Transformation connotes that there is a fundamental shift in the business model or the operating model of a company that results in differentiated economics, or novel and more effective ways to deliver products and services that dramatically change the user / customer experience.
The pharmaceutical industry is fundamentally focused on therapeutic innovation, and there have been trillions of dollars invested in R&D to create entirely new classes of therapeutic technologies that have benefited society at large and driven tremendous value by extending life and making sick people healthier. That’s the engine of innovation that the industry is focused on. And the industry business model remains closely aligned with the goal to deliver therapeutic innovation.
Digital technology – web and mobile solutions, big and small data, sophisticated analytics, machine learning, micro- and nano-technology applications, virtual and augmented reality, among various other technologies – however, have significantly lagged in the healthcare industry broadly, and in pharma specifically. While, tens of billions of dollars of investments have been made over the years, they have not fundamentally altered the operating model – the “how” of a business – of companies. Instead, digital technology is still treated as a bolt-on or an after-thought. The strategic and economic case for digital technology has not yet arrived at C-Suites and Boards of most healthcare companies.
At Immunomedics, we believe that the potential of digital technology to provide us with strategic advantage is unbounded. Whether this is integrating disparate research datasets to better understand disease models, leveraging clinical and trial data to better design trials, using remote technology and augmented reality to execute “virtual trials,” engaging with HCPs and patients through extremely well-designed tools, solutions, and interfaces, or integrating enterprise data to understand our business and the environment we operate in with step-wise differentiation so that we can “see around the corners” – the use cases are unlimited. To take advantage of these opportunities, we have purposely invested in digital and data innovation and solutions teams that work across the business with the Executive team.
Insightive.tv: What kind of impact has digital transformation had on the healthcare industry, and specifically in the ‘Big Pharma’ and biotech space?
Usama: To date the ROI of digital technology has not been commensurate to the significant investments made over the years. There have been hundreds of thousands of well-intentioned “experiments,” but most have been conducted in siloes, most have not scaled, and ultimately there has been little impact on the business or operating model of the incumbents. We can point to incremental improvement and some operational efficiencies, but there has been little impact on how the industry conducts research, executes trials, takes product to market, or meets the needs of various customers and stakeholders.
That said, there are important initiatives that have and are occurring, especially on the consumer and retail end of healthcare. From telemedicine, to point of care / mobile / predictive diagnostics, to bespoke self-directed care, to better designed experiences in the care setting – there are models that companies are looking to scale. On the biopharma side, experiments with adaptive trial design, virtual trial execution, virtual detailing, and differentiated patient engagement, among others, show strong promise, but they still require time and smart investment to scale and have a broader impact.
Insightive.tv: What is preventing more radical change in the industry?
Usama: There are numerous, complex reasons why industries behave differently. Beyond industry structures and incumbency, however, there are more specific reasons for how digital innovation can be done in more structured ways to deliver higher ROI.
Governance, culture, and leadership — In order to manage a portfolio of digital innovation that ranges from incremental product development to disruptive business models, change and commitment must begin with the Board of Directors, CEO and Executive Team. New structures are required, decision rights need an overhaul, and a new set of cultural values and norms must be established. Leadership and talent profiles across all innovation organizations have to be systematically reevaluated.
Strategic focus — Innovation may be unpredictable, but it is not random. In a finite resource environment, Executive Teams have to be very clear about the domains and the projects they want to pursue. Focusing on the highest priority problems and hypotheses, and relentlessly pursuing solutions for those will yield better outcomes.
Innovation execution — In an era of democratizing innovation, where modern tools and methods can enable just about anyone to create and launch new products and services in a matter of months, large enterprises have to redesign their product development and digital innovation execution processes. The focus should be on capital efficient methods (lean, agile, customer co-creation, etc.) for shaping, iteratively developing, and continuously validating hypotheses to de-risk projects and to increase their market probability-of-success.
Venturing and open innovation — A company may have the most brilliant collective of in-house designers, engineers, scientists, and innovators – a few thousand, maybe even tens of thousands – but there are tens and hundreds of millions of people on the outside who are also very smart, likely less encumbered, and have probably solved the very problem that a company may have been working on for the past several months or years. Building external digital innovation ecosystems to augment internal capabilities can dramatically accelerate problem-solving and increase the probability of success and ROI.
Portfolio management — “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” as Deming famously said. To a large extent that axiom still holds true. Executive Leaders have to be obsessed about the strategy, the process, and the outcomes of digital innovation across the corporate portfolio.
Insightive.tv: How have you approached digital transformation at Immunomedics — what do you do differently?
Usama: At Immunomedics, we have a unique opportunity to serve patients with very late-stage cancers with some amazing science and therapeutics that we’ve been building.
We have used the principles defined previously to set up a distinct Digital and Data Solutions team with executive sponsorship. In this function, we have defined three distinct roles that hyper-collaborate: experience design, digital innovation and enterprise-wide data science. Our team uses a lean and agile approach to solve a focused and finite set of high-priority business issues. Our approach to solving these problems is to deeply understand root and proximate causes by over-engaging with the appropriate customers / users / stakeholders. We also use our vast collective network of digital technology and digital health experts and innovators to accelerate the process of discovery, design, validation, and scale-up. We have an obsession with data, data science, and deriving new and unique insights that allow us to understand science, business, and business processes with entirely new lenses.
Insightive.tv: What would the future of the industry look like if it could adopt digital technology at a fundamental level?
Usama: While it is hard to predict the future, one can make broad stroke prognostications by extrapolating technology trends and by learning from industries that have in fact “transformed” over the past few decades. Proliferation of personalized and big data sets, democratization of high-powered computing technology, miniaturization, artificial intelligence and machine learning, augmented and virtual reality, the internet of things, blockchain, robotics, among other seminal trends will change the way research is conducted, trials are designed and executed, products are manufactured, commercialized, and distributed, patients are diagnosed, drugs are delivered, and medicine is hyper-personalized are all within the realm of possibility. Once we arrive at those changes, the “transformation” would have already occurred, silently, without notice.
Usama Malik, the Chief Business Officer at Immunomedics — a biotech company committed to becoming the “leading antibody-drug conjugate” company worldwide — sees an opportunity to redefine how digital technology and experiences can shape new business and operating models and be used to rethink how products and services are delivered to enhance customer experiences. Immunomedics is developing a powerful portfolio of monoclonal antibody-based therapies that are first and foremost focused on patients with late-stage cancer, where there are few safe and effective therapeutic options.
The company is integrating digital tools and technology into both treatment delivery and the R&D process. To do that, Immunomedics has taken a unique approach to digital adoption, creating an agile biopharmaceutical company that is staking out new ground in an industry dominated by traditional incumbent giants.