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Life Sciences outlook: Q&A with Tom Schwenger, Accenture Life Sciences, on digital innovation in life sciences

Tom Schwenger’s shares his thoughts on digital innovation in life sciences and what he thinks the future holds for the industry.

Tell us how and why you got into the Life Sciences industry
I’ve been with Accenture for 26 years, 22 of those in Life Sciences. I started out in Healthcare working with a retail pharmacy and watched the industry change through healthcare reform, affordability of medicine and aging baby boomers. At AstraMerck I was proud to work with the team that launched Prilosec, a drug for use as therapy for heartburn and other symptoms associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which went on to become one of the most highly recommended and bestselling medications in industry. From those early days to today –it continues to be an exciting and inspiring time to work in the life sciences industry with the amazing acceleration of progress, and even cures, in some of the most significant areas of unmet medical need, including Oncology, Alzheimer’s, Malaria, Heart Disease, HCV and others.

How is the industry evolving?
The biggest shift is definitely toward outcomes and value, where individual and collective patients’ health goals are met. We’re seeing life sciences companies change their focus from simply providing products, to offering services that address patient well-being throughout the entire patient journey. We’re seeing the types of therapies change, from traditional small molecule drugs to specialty medicines, tailored for unique disease and medical traits. We’re also starting to see significant breakthroughs in areas such as oncology, where there has been an explosion of therapies having a positive impact on patients who might otherwise have faced dire outcomes. Heart disease and Alzheimer’s are also experiencing exciting innovations. Right now, the industry is providing real hope for millions of people.

Life sciences companies that want to be leaders have to embrace the new rapid pace of change and adopt the mindset of digital transformers.

What is keeping our clients up at night?
In the current climate, everyone wants to be “number one”, and so our clients want to make sure they’re at or near market leadership in the areas in which they focus. They want to form the right partnerships and acquisitions to differentiate themselves and remain competitive. Collaborations are also springing up between payers, providers and biopharmaceutical companies—ultimately everyone wants the same thing, optimal patient outcomes. We’re hearing a consistent set of common themes from our clients, including strong science, patient outcomes and industry/cross industry collaborations, as well as a general recognition of the need for change in a world of increasing reimbursement demands, regulatory oversight, consumer expectations and substitution choices.

Is the Life Sciences industry slow to adopt digital technology?
There are two points to consider here. The first is the digitization of the enterprise. In my experience, life sciences firms have been aggressive in pursuing this, especially in areas including digital content management and use of cloud-based technologies. When it comes to the digitization of the customer experience, firms have been much slower to adopt digital technologies. However, despite the increasingly complex regulatory environment, we’re starting to see an uptick across our client base with more and more companies taking advantage of digital technologies to improve and personalize the customer experience. Life sciences companies that want to be leaders have to embrace the new rapid pace of change and adopt the mindset of digital transformers.

What can we expect in the near future?
We’ll see an increasing rate and pace of innovation. It’s an incredibly exciting time, with one new development being built on another, and digital is huge part of that. Look at Immuno-Oncology (I-O), for example. Immuno-oncology therapies offer a completely different way of treating cancer. Instead of a toxic chemical cocktail designed to kill cancer cells, these new therapies reprogram the body’s immune system, so that the body’s natural defenses can recognize and attack cancer cells. This presents a true breakthrough in cancer therapy, particularly for patients who previously had few treatment options available to them. With heart failure, we are watching the PCSK9 space very closely as new therapies enter the market to both great expectations of therapeutic benefit and great debate about affordability. As these types of therapies begin to become more mainstream, digital approaches to bring new products to market faster and ensure patient outcomes are met, will be critical to ensure affordability of these therapies by patients and society at large. Finally, the upcoming election in the United States has the potential to have a significant effect on pricing as well, bringing significant changes to how drug prices are established in this critical global market.