Embracing pharma's digital transformation

Words by Davidek Herron

In his first regular column for GOLD, Roche’s Davidek Herron puts the spotlight on digital transformation in pharma and discusses how the industry can pursue operational excellence


As Global Head of Digital at Roche, it will come as no surprise that bringing medicines and healthcare support to patients in need is what drives me each day. To do this – and do it well – we must establish new ways to innovate and improve the way we work, while maintaining the mindset of getting treatments and diagnostic solutions to patients, faster.


The customer experience needs to be the best it can be, and digital transformation is a key enabler of this. It is already powering rapid, fundamental change in almost every aspect of our daily lives and healthcare is not exempt. This is why, at Roche, digital transformation is embedded in what we do and driven by our people, processes and technology. Our ultimate ambition is simple – for more people to have access to better healthcare – and one way we strive to achieve this is through innovative digital platforms that can accelerate drug development and transform insights into action.


We are already seeing how technological advances are driving large-scale transformations; many pharma companies are leveraging data and insights to completely flip the traditional ‘tell and sell’ sales model upside down. The conversation is moving away from “let me tell you about how X product is better than Y”, towards “how can we help you to help your patients?”.


A prime example of this comes from our Swedish team who developed the world’s first spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) smartphone app, which makes exercise more fun for children diagnosed with SMA. It’s a thoughtful example of how technology can be simply executed to create a significant and meaningful impact for children and their families.


This is just one of my favourite examples, but digital technologies have an influence across all business functions – from drug discovery, to manufacturing, to commercial. Advanced analytics, and the automation of complex decisions, can deliver a step change in the efficiency, speed, quality and responsiveness across all processes.


To this end, our team in the Middle East set out to search for digital and artificial intelligence technologies for improving breast cancer detection, which led us to a partnership with Microsoft. A solution was found through an AI engine that detects and characterises suspicious areas on mammograms with an accuracy of 96% – significantly reducing the margin of error that currently exists.


As long as there is a common goal within the industry, our patients will win

I could go on, but it’s important to acknowledge that digital transformation is not just about technology. It’s also about an adaptive change: vision setting, capability building, leadership. In an environment where everyone is enhancing their digital capabilities, the challenge is to not only keep up with the competition but to ensure operational excellence and be bold with our ambitions. For me, this is crucial. We need leaders who can set the vision, architect how to get there and coach teams throughout the journey, which is exactly what my colleagues and I are striving to achieve at Roche.


With digital transformation here to stay, we need to define what this means to healthcare and individual pharma companies, and how we can keep this true to our company DNA. I truly believe the key is to continue to become better versions of ourselves; to be clear what value we bring to healthcare systems and where we want to play moving forward. And it’s okay for pharma companies to approach digital transformation differently. As with sport, each company has a key role to play and, as long as there is a common goal within the industry, our patients will win.


For me, digital is becoming less of a trend. It is now a necessity, and how we leverage data and insights to drive value is where things get interesting. I’m in awe of how far we have come and how quickly things are moving but, more than that, I am excited about the digital future that lies ahead. After all, we’ve only just scratched the surface with what we can achieve. Digital transformation is helping us to do now, what patients need next.


This column will feature in GOLD 24 – subscribe now to read the full issue when it's published on 25 October.