What will digital success in the pharmaceutical industry look like 10 years from now? What are the right initiatives to capture the digital opportunity? How well will a giant pharmaceutical company implement changes in the digital landscape? One Chicago pharmaceutical company AbbVie, is currently in a unique position to lead the sluggish pharma industry’s transformation into the digital age.
AbbVie mission statement on its website states “Our life’s work is to improve lives.” However, to accomplish this mission, AbbVie must adapt to innovations in advanced analytics, cloud computing, mobile communications, and the Internet of Things. It’s estimated by 2020, there will 50 billion objects connected to the internet with a global population at 7.6 billion people. To improve these 7.6 billion lives AbbVie must develop the capability to connect with its patients for the duration of their lifetime, to include: healthy living, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, recovery and home care.
One way AbbVie is moving forward is by acknowledging that consumers are prioritizing “outcomes-based care” compared to the status-quo of blindly accepting the results of the clinical trials and their doctor’s recommendation. Per a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, “more than 70 percent of patients who are online in the United States use the Internet to find healthcare information, and more than 40 percent of people who diagnosed their condition through online research had it confirmed by a physician.” Due to the increasing transparency of information, patients are increasingly likely to be proactive of their diagnosis and challenge their doctor’s recommendations. Furthermore, AbbVie will have more pressure to validate premium pricing to of its drugs to keep customer loyalty. With sales of $22.8B in 2015, AbbVie must justify premium pricing to cover its $17.0B of expenditures and $29.2B in long-term debt to fuel further life-saving innovations (Capital IQ). Companies that fail to control the controversy of pharmaceutical pricing will be pressured to lower their prices, resulting in lower margins and less capital invested in long-term research and development.
AbbVie proactively addresses this issue via transparency on its website: its current drugs are listed with active ingredients along with drug’s benefits. AbbVie’s research and development process is displayed in full detail- to include an ‘open innovation program’ to help spur innovations from outside the agency. Finally, AbbVie lists the details of all current drugs in the pipeline in phases 1-3 of the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. This level of transparency helps convince critics of the life-saving implications of AbbVie’s breakthroughs in oncology, immunology, neuroscience, and virology. Moreover, AbbVie launched a digital custom manufacturing business to encourage entrepreneurs in biopharma R&D to use AbbVie’s facilities to deliver scale and capital-intensive resources to include lab equipment and raw materials. This is an aggressive hedge to counter the Big Pharma status quo of secrecy.
Furthermore, AbbVie’s competitors are going to have a tougher time leveraging the digital transformation. AbbVie is a four-year-old company and much more flexible than its giant competitors such as Gilead ($112B), Amgen ($109B), Abbott ($59B), Johnson & Johnson ($317B), Pfizer ($192B), Merck ($172B) and Novartis ($167B). These larger companies will be much slower to adapt to the cultural shift that digitization requires. For example, a 2014 DT Associates study of 14 pharmaceutical companies resulted in employees voicing concern that their companies are blocked from reaching digital excellence because they struggle to 1) lead a culture shift 2) set a mission and 3) gain support of key stakeholders (See below figure for survey results). Incumbent pharmaceutical companies must move quickly or else face the risk that innovative competitors steal a larger share of benefits and stronger customer loyalty.
Another key player in the pharma space is the Government, who has been moving into digital surprisingly quickly. The 2010 Health Data Initiative spearheaded by Chief Technology Officer of the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) made a huge push into transparency of health data. If the government wins the push into the digital age, they will control how the data is used and which data is made available to the public, which is a key advantage in controlling the argument of pricing and future innovation.
In conclusion, AbbVie is a young company which is leveraging digital innovation to personalize its products and services, engage patients and stakeholders, shape decisions of key stakeholders competing in a data-driven environment, as well as deliver its business commitments in a more immediate fashion.
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