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Talent Formula for life sciences

What will it take to get the people chemistry right in an outcome-based health system?

By Jeff Elton and Anne O’Riordan


Life sciences companies―from biotechs to pharma to biomedical device manufacturers―are being buffeted by seismic market shifts. New socioeconomic realities, health care reform legislation and accelerating scientific breakthroughs are building up to a perfect storm. In the eye of the storm? Talent and a workforce that’s ill-equipped to deal with changing business models.

Forward-thinking life sciences companies are shifting to new patient-centered business models, leaving the traditional volume-first approach behind. This move has tremendous implications, not only for patients but also for the current workforce and future talent: Life sciences companies need to design new roles and rethink their talent strategies, including the ways they recruit, train, motivate and retain the best teams.

The shift from volume to value

The historical model in life sciences has been based on selling products, where more was better—more products, more market share and then more profits. Value-based reimbursement―which is taking hold in Europe and the United States thanks to universal health care mandates―changes that model completely, to one that pays for outcomes.

Life sciences companies’ new mission is now aligned with the broader health care ecosystem’s mission: putting patient care outcomes at the center and driving value for the entire health care system. Industry leaders are pivoting toward a patient- and consumer-centric model, partnering with risk-bearing health care providers and payers to provide cost-effective and efficient digitally enabled services. Connected devices, sensors, services, supportive social engagement and increasingly “aware” solutions are becoming more prevalent—meaning life sciences employees and future talent need a new, digital-first skill set.

Accenture research projects that entirely new operating models (see graphic below) hold the potential to improve earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) by 42 percent through new digitally enabled, value-focused business models, independent of company size.1 But only companies that invest ahead of existing and emerging competitors will capture this potential.

What will it take for life sciences companies to successfully follow the new path to delivering patient value?


With the advent of home health monitors and wearables, companies have unprecedented access to patient data. Yet many life sciences companies do not yet have the digital infrastructure and—most important—the talent to use these data well.

As data-first tech companies enter the life sciences arena, the search for data-savvy talent will intensify as incumbents fight to remain competitive. McLaren—best known for its Formula 1 racing team and high-end cars—built its success in part on its advanced capabilities in streaming and analyzing real-time sensor data. Now the company is bringing this data-centric disruption capability to life sciences through a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline.2 The initial focus of the partnership is consumer health care, with a long-term goal to fund more clinical research. For instance, McLaren’s sensor and telemetry expertise has been adapted to monitor recovery in stroke victims and people suffering from severe arthritis, allowing clinicians to record when and to what degree patients are mobile.

Such partnerships and scenarios are increasingly commonplace and will likely disrupt life sciences companies’ talent strategy. How? Look no further than the real-world analytics mindset that is now key to finding the value hidden in the data. And it’s about much more than crunching numbers within controlled settings. As data collection moves from the lab to patients’ everyday lives, the skill set required to process, analyze and plan care also changes, as do the roles and functions within companies.

Some have already moved in this direction. Sanofi created the role of chief patient officer, and hired a clinician for the job. And Biogen has hired an executive vice president of technology and business solutions, reporting directly to the CEO, to lead what the company calls “efforts to leverage advanced analytics to inform the drug discovery process, unlock new insights from clinical data and improve patient care through tools such as wearable and ingestible devices.”3

Digitally savvy talent with experience in patient-care settings bring the disruptive influence necessary to turn brick-and-mortar-based operations into responsive—even anticipatory—scalable enterprises with vastly lower cost structures. No less is required to create positive, value-based patient outcomes.


While true transformation to a culture where talent focuses on patient outcomes requires myriad steps, some simple first moves are helpful, regardless of company size or location.

  1. Define the profiles of the new talent required. Life science companies often lack deep insights into how physicians and other health care professionals make treatment decisions, or an awareness of the work that patients and consumers must do to assure the effectiveness of the treatment, intervention or care protocol. As a greater focus is placed on the patient journey, companies will need to create a full view of the current standard of care and understand how health outcomes and economics come together to identify the ideal candidates. We see patient-focused skills coming mainly from clinicians, allied health professionals, health services companies, and data scientists, but also from consumer companies where the talent already has the strategic vantage point and practical experience to fully challenge current health care models.

  2. Find new recruiting channels outside the traditional areas. Talent from industries that have already made the digital transformation and have shifted their focus to the consumer (e.g., financial services, consumer electronics) may be a natural fit for some new roles. Individuals who understand gamification could help devise systems that encourage and reward patients along their health journeys. Others will bring digital “leverage” in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced digital robotics, allowing machines and humans to work together for greater efficiency and immediate responsiveness (see sidebar). Accessing this talent will require input from diverse sources, including venture capitalists, academic institutions, large health care provider systems and even health payers.

  3. Create the new performance metrics of outcomes and value. Quantify the key performance indicators embedded in the patient-centered approach that can be tied to your employees’ individual outcomes. For instance, are patients as mobile as they need to be? Is their blood pressure under control? Are they getting too tired? The new metrics should challenge legacy notions of volume and market share in favor of outcomes, value realized and value participation.


In an already changed industry, it will not just be operating models or controlled costs that emerge as the linchpin to sustained success. It will be something far less technical: talent. As sustaining consumer health, achieving patient-centric outcomes and driving greater value overall become the new endgame for life sciences companies, the qualifications and skills of the people making all this possible will be more important than ever.

Sidebar: Real results with artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) shows great promise in creating personalized vaccines and medicines, helping doctors make more accurate diagnoses the first time, and addressing a host of other challenges. In some cases, AI will replace jobs filled by humans. In others, it will do what humans have been unable to do thus far.

For instance, scientists from Insilico Medicine, Inc., located at the Emerging Technology Centers at Johns Hopkins University, have applied deep neural computing networks to predict a broad range of drugs and natural compounds for applications such as treating common and rare diseases, aging, regenerative medicine and increasing response rates in cancer immunotherapy.4

Because of machines’ ability to process and analyze vast amounts of real-world data, recognize patterns and learn from them, AI’s role in everything from genome research to cancer treatment continues to grow―and with it, a rising need for untraditional skills and multidisciplinary talent.

1. Elton, Jeff and O’Riordan, Anne. Healthcare Disrupted: Next Generation Business Models and Strategies. John Wiley & Sons, 2016.

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As a showcase for the most innovative thinking on high-performance business, Outlook focuses on six core themes: Redefining CompetitivenessDigital DisruptionGlobal Operating ModelOpen Innovation, Sustainability and Workforce of the Future. We feature original content devoted to these topics as well as a selection of unique insights offered by professionals throughout Accenture.​​​




Jeff Elton

Jeff Elton, PhD

is managing director in Accenture Strategy and global head of Accenture Predictive Health Intelligence and Accenture Intelligent Patient Solutions. He is based in Boston.

Anne O'Riordan

Anne O’Riordan

is senior managing director of Accenture’s Life Sciences industry group. She is based in Hong Kong.

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