Digital health round-up: Sanofi appoints digital chief, and more

Sanofi has become the latest big pharma firm to appoint a chief digital officer, choosing Ameet Nathwani to take up the position, adding onto his current role of executive vice president, chief medical officer.

In the newly-created role, Dr Nathwani will be responsible for enhancing Sanofi’s strategy to integrate digital technologies and medical science to improve patient outcomes.

Ameet Nathwani

His mandate will include scaling up Sanofi’s ongoing portfolio of digital initiatives by developing broad external partnerships, building out internal infrastructures, and exploring new business opportunities for Sanofi in the digital space.

Nathwani joined Sanofi in May 2016 as chief medical officer. He has more than 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

Prior to joining Sanofi, he was the global head of medical affairs at Novartis and served as an extended member of the Pharma Executive Committee, where he led the establishment of a Real World Evidence Center of Excellence and Digital Medicine capability.

He joined Novartis in 2004 as the senior vice president and global development head of the cardiovascular and metabolic franchise and for over 11 years held a number of senior development and commercial positions, including the global head of the critical care business franchise.

As digital tech becomes increasingly important to pharma companies’ success, several firms have created similar positions.

Last year Pfizer appointed Lidia Fonseca as chief digital and technology officer during its leadership shakeup.

And in 2017 both GSK and Novartis created such positions, although unlike Sanofi’s internal promotion they chose to hire execs from the world of retail to head up their digital operations – Karenann Terrell and Bertrand Bodson respectively.

J&J buys robotics firm Auris for $3.3bn

Johnson & Johnson’s rumoured interest in Auris Health has been confirmed with a $3.3 billion buyout deal that boosts the group’s position in the fast-growing surgical robotics market.

Redwood City, California-based Auris, which is led by surgical robotics pioneer Fred Moll, will become part of J&J’s Ethicon division when the cash deal closes, with another $2.35 billion in the offing for Auris shareholders if various milestones are reached.

Privately-held Auris already has an FDA-approved system called Monarch that is currently used for diagnostic and therapeutic bronchoscopic procedures, such as for the diagnosis of lung cancer. The system has a video game-like controller that allows endoscopes and biopsy tools to delve into the deepest reaches of the body, much farther than traditional devices.

Lung cancer has been the primary focus of Monarch’s development to date because it has the potential to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage than current methods, potentially allowing earlier treatment and a better clinical outcome.

J&J is seeking to increase its share of the surgical robotics market, which some predict could reach a value of around $12 billion by 2025. The company is jostling for market share with other big players including Medtronic and Intuitive Surgical. Shares in the latter company slipped a little on the news of J&J’s takeover.

J&J has been selling off some of its medical device units – most recently sterilisation products and its blood glucose monitoring business LifeScan – in order to increase its investment on faster-growing categories such as advanced and general surgery, vision and interventional solutions such as ablation equipment and catheters.

NHS staff should be trained in AI and robotics, says report

The Topol Review of the training needs of the future NHS workforce has published its recommendations – including an increase in the number of clinicians trained to use digital, AI and robotics technologies.

Commissioned by the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, the Topol Review is led by California-based scientist Dr Eric Topol, an expert in cardiology, genetics and digital medicine.

Its overall remit is to identify the training needs of NHS staff in technology such as AI and digital medicine.

According to the report, 90% of NHS staff will require some element of digital skills, and the entire report is guided by the principle that patients should be partners that are well-informed about health technologies.

A panel of experts on digital medicine put together by Topol recommended the NHS should be a “trusted source of health information” and be funded properly.

It should expand research and development in digital medicine, working closely with patients to co-create these technologies to meet their needs.

The NHS must invest in digital skills training, through a Digital Academy, continuous professional development, and sabbaticals and secondments.