Innovation: The DNA of life sciences

Q&A with Drew Ardini, Commercial IT Business Partner at Shire, on the key challenges facing the industry

How did you evolve from consulting to the pharmaceutical industry?
That’s a great question and to be honest, personally, it was time for me. After 10 years on the road and bouncing from project to project and client to client, I was ready for a change, more predictability in life and ready to specialize in a specific industry. Consulting helped shape me both personally and professionally, and I wouldn’t give those years back for anything.

When I was ready to go to industry, I thought about the industries I enjoyed working in and where the growth was. The H1N1 flu pandemic was emerging and I found a good opportunity working in the vaccines industry. The business of helping patients has been a fun challenge for me. I knew things were clicking when one of my first performance reviews included the phrase “Drew understands what we do.” It’s a line I reuse a lot with my own team. It’s a simple statement, but it says a lot, and something I look for in both the candidates we hire and the consultants that help us with projects.

Tell us about your role as Commercial IT Business Partner at Shire.
My role is to help Shire leverage technology in the best way possible to achieve our commercial goals. Lately, I’ve been working on the launch of Shire’s new business unit, focused on Ophthalmics. It’s been interesting to build a new business unit, therapeutic area, field force and brand from the ground up with the support of a great company like Shire.

I describe my team’s role as technology brokers. We may not always provide the product or service, but we will always work to find the best outcome in support of our brands. I think a big part of it is the vocabulary we use at work and how we describe problems. For example…marketing isn’t our customer, they are the marketing team; sales isn’t having a performance issue with their reporting tool: instead, “we” can’t get sales reports efficiently…the patient is always the customer and everyone at the company is in it together.

What inspires you most about working in this industry?
The easy answer here is the privilege to help our patients and bring therapies to market. But looking at it differently, I’ve always been inspired by innovation, and there are lots of opportunities in our industry for that and much value is placed on innovation. It’s in the DNA of any healthcare company to be innovative.

As digital continues to be a disruptor of the industry, how has Shire differentiated itself from other companies?
First of all, patients don’t go online, they live online. We’ve really put serious effort into looking at things differently and taking chances. It’s been great to have the support of our leadership to take risks on untested ideas and live the fail fast philosophy. Lots of times ideas don’t pan out, and that’s OK as long as you’re smart enough to realize it’s time to shift focus or abandon the project. Testing assumptions and pushing the limits promotes disruption, and that type of culture is contagious!

We are experiencing a new economic reality, market shifts and a digital revolution in healthcare. What do you see as the key challenges facing the industry?
In the US it will be interesting to see how the industry responds to the shifting political climate. Specifically focused around technology, we have so much data now but what we can actually do with it is somewhat limited. The balance of privacy versus potential breakthroughs will be an interesting area to watch as self-service medicine and truly integrated electronic health records become the standard. I can’t wait for the day that I don’t have to fill out a medical history every time I see a new doctor or they get a new EMR system.

What does the future hold in terms of patient services and improving patient engagement?
Not too long ago patient services was a niche area. Now, you almost can’t bring a therapy to market without patient services. In terms of the future, I expect the trend to continue with new innovative technology supporting patients, providers, payers and everyone else involved in healthcare. I hope the investments Shire is making in this space set us up to keep up with the new technology coming to the market. I’m not talking about keeping up with the competition—patient services will differentiate companies from their competitors.

What keeps you busy/are your interests outside of work?
My family, of course; having three young children and two working parents doesn’t leave much “Drew time,” but I still try and make it to a Boston sports event whenever I can (free Brady!). We spend a lot of time at the beach in Maine during the summer and I’m taking up cycling.