How digital is transforming the commercial leader’s role in biopharma

Views & Analysis

Pharma’s evolving role in patient care

The digital revolution has already reshaped the commercial engine of biopharma companies. Pharma’s digital initiatives now routinely enable new channels that educate and market to patients, physician engagement that is more efficient and effective, and novel payment mechanisms and distribution models that improve access to therapies. The pandemic accelerated the need for digital innovation across the healthcare ecosystem and created enormous opportunity to improve patient experiences and save lives.

Pharmacos are no longer merely solving distribution and patient education challenges; they are full-fledged partners in a complex and multi-disciplinary patient journey reimagined by digital technologies.

The possibilities are nearly limitless. Pharma’s participation in end-to-end patient care through digital technologies can:

  • Solve key treatment selection challenges to get the right patients prescribed the right therapies at the right time.
  • Enable the capture and analysis of real-world data and real-world evidence to differentiate effective treatments and ensure the most appropriate therapy is used for each patient’s unique situation
  • Drive patient engagement with bespoke – even concierge-level – services that improve adherence, persistence, monitoring, complex therapy management, and ultimately, outcomes.

Seizing new opportunities

Some leading pharmacos have been investing heavily in digital technologies and are already reaping the benefits— from connected combination therapies tied to their traditional asset portfolios to standalone clinically-validated digital therapeutics. But most biopharma companies remain in an early phase of their digital journey while the window to drive significant competitive advantage closes.

A range of pharma leaders is critical to realising these new digital opportunities, including IT, regulatory, data, digital, and R&D heads. However, pharma’s commercial leaders are uniquely positioned to drive the strategic digital shift in patient care journeys. Bringing great drugs to the right markets and patients, leveraging the most effective channels to educate and market treatments, and navigating the many incentives of a complex healthcare ecosystem of partners and competitors: all these responsibilities fall squarely on the shoulders of biopharma’s commercial leaders. Digital tools present the very same challenges and even greater opportunities for improved patient outcomes.

Commercial leaders can steer their organisations toward effective digital transformation with the right areas of focus to deliver both topline objectives and clinical outcomes, by focusing on five key principles that we see in digitally innovative biopharma companies.

Recommendations for successful, commercial-led digital transformations in pharma:

1.Focus on winning

Start thinking now about how to drive clinical impact, knowing that these clinical objectives will translate to increased revenue over time.

Commercial leaders now have access to digital budgets for many of their assets. These budgets are often deployed as one-off digital marketing or omnichannel investments with limited conviction around ROI, aligned quantifiable metrics, and measurement of success.

Instead of spending across a range of assets, commercial leads should double down on one to three therapies where they can test and deliver a digital solution that brings tangible value to the patient. Then, they can scale the lessons across a broader drug portfolio.

We find that limited management bandwidth and incremental investments do not create the case for change in digital. Organisations that have invested with a major effort have learned a lot from the experience and are bringing those insights to their next digital initiatives.

2.Experiment first, then perfect

Don't let ‘the perfect’ be the enemy of ‘the good.’ You will not have a clean topline story early on in the process.

Success in leveraging digital for commercial goals requires a willingness to test topline opportunities as a commercial leader. It requires an openness to try new things, an appetite to experiment, and a willingness to take risks. You will not have an irrefutable ROI story for your digital agenda prior to beginning your digital journey. But you will have testable hypotheses, and a roadmap to double down on the initiatives that show early promise.

Commercial leaders must be eager to learn, for themselves and their organisations. Learning requires investment, both to build new digital technologies and capabilities and to partner to acquire them. Improved clinical outcomes, increased adherence, and growth in revenue from digital investments follow leading indicators like improved patient care and patient engagement.

We recently configured a disease management app for a biopharma company whose drug is delivered by an infusion pump that the patient self-administers at home. Together, we understood many of the early pain points in the patient journey and focused our solution specifically on those pain points. As we solved those challenges, patients became more engaged and adherent, and we were able to focus on patients’ next set of concerns and feedback, which drove even more value for the digital solution. This process of testing and delivering against early hypotheses for patient value, followed by validation, impact, and focus on the next set of patient value drivers, is the flywheel for pharma’s digital innovation.

3.Enable the ecosystem

Payers and providers are all looking for more outcomes data. Providers want to make better clinical decisions about treatments, while payers seek more comprehensive information on how and why reimbursements are being made. The more data each stakeholder has, the better informed and often the better reimbursed a differentiated treatment can be. Digital technology enables capturing these data, and the right tools allow for incorporating access and analysis of that data into the payers’ and providers’ workflow. Ecosystem partnerships are crucial to success.

4.Collaborate to bring the best of breed

Biopharma organisations can no longer count on the status quo – just selling drugs and treatments. To compete now, companies need to own a larger portion of the treatment journey and the overall patient care experience. Digital can help ensure that their drugs have the biggest clinical impact.

Commercial leaders should leverage the internal capabilities and centres of excellence that pharma companies are increasingly building. Data science teams at some biopharma companies are helping research and development, and commercial groups take advantage of data insights to drive clinical outcomes. On the IT side, leading biopharma companies are working on patient apps and clinician interfaces to aid in engagement and information sharing.

We worked with one top biopharma company that had built an impressive clinical decision support algorithm internally. The company had clinical validation for the tool but was not equipped to deploy it for physicians on its own. The leaders knew that infrastructure could take years and would require deep investment in engineering. Instead, the commercial leaders and data scientists reached out to BrightInsight to host the algorithm on our compliant platform. Through this partnership, we were able to quickly configure and deploy our CDS tool to physicians in less than six months.

5.Partner to deliver at speed

Unfortunately, many biopharma organisations have attempted to invest in enhanced digital technologies without significant outcomes. They have poured many millions or tens of millions of dollars into these efforts and ultimately have little to show for it.

Our recent research with HealthXL, a digital health community and advisory consultancy, shows that digital leaders, spend an average of five times more budget than expected to bring a software as a medical device (SaMD) solution to market, and launching takes three times longer than expected.

Those who want to move fast and learn from the experience will partner with experts in order to take advantage of their scale, speed, experience, and existing technologies.

There has never been a better time to improve patients’ lives with evolving technology. Commercial leaders must take advantage of their unique opportunity and mandate to lead digital initiatives that transform patient care and save lives.

About the author

David MatthewsDavid Matthews is the Chief Customer Officer at BrightInsight, bringing 15 years of experience in pharmaceuticals, medical technology, and medical research. Before joining BrightInsight, David was a Partner at Boston Consulting Group focused on life sciences, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices. Prior to BCG, he was a neuroscientist with 20+ publications and conference proceedings across machine learning, bioinformatics, brain imaging, and health economics, with awards from the NSF and NIH. He holds a PhD in Computational Neurobiology from the University of California San Diego and the Salk Institute, and a Bachelor’s in Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, and Neuroscience from Princeton University.

About BrightInsight


BrightInsight provides the leading global platform for biopharma and medtech regulated digital health solutions. When speed matters, we help companies accelerate time to market for regulated digital health offerings across therapeutic areas, including apps, healthcare provider interfaces, analytics dashboards, algorithms, medical devices, connected combination products, diagnostics and Software as a Medical Device (SaMD).

BrightInsight replaces the need for lengthy and complex ‘build from scratch’ implementations by offering configurable software solutions and a proven platform built under a Quality Management System to support global security, privacy and regulatory requirements. When building digital health products on the BrightInsight Platform, compliance is future-proofed as intended use changes scale across geographies.