Part I: Interview with Francesca Wuttke on software as a therapeutic
In this three-part series of interviews, leaders in pharma and healthcare digital and marketing discuss the new tools, technologies, innovations, trends and opportunities that will shape – and transform – the life science industry and its relationship with partners and patients. In this interview we discuss the idea of software as a therapeutic. Despite the challenging conditions, leaders from the industry met, virtually this time, to learn and discuss the future of the industry at Eye for Pharma Philadelphia 2020—the event has since become part of Reuters Events Pharma.
In this interview, SciencePOD speaks with Francesca Wuttke, Chief Digital Officer at Almirall. This is the first part of a set that also includes interviews with Christina Kim, EVP Data Analytics, Omnicom Health Group and Haider Alleg, Global Head of Digital Excellence, Ferring.
“The idea of software as a therapeutic is already transforming mindsets within pharma.”
— Francesca Wuttke
What is Almirall’s digital strategy over the next 5 years?
I joined Almirall as chief digital officer last February with the goal to transform the entire enterprise across the entire organisation, and the idea of software as a therapeutic. So, everything from back-office process automation, to implementing improvements inefficiency in the manufacturing facilities through to R&D, where we’re looking at AI-enabled drug discovery platforms and in software-enabled clinical trial solutions, data, and advanced analytics. We’re looking to leverage and utilise the strength of data to drive clinical outcomes and drive a digital and data mindset across the organisation.
Early this year, we launched our accelerator called the Digital Garden. We had a call for innovation mid-fall and a panel of leading digital health venture capitalists chose what we’re calling our “First Harvest” of the Digital Garden, the first cohort, based in Barcelona. Part of the red line through everything we do is to create a cultural transformation within Almirall. To that end, we have an internal mentorship program called the Digital Academy, which matches our internal experts with the needs of the start-ups. Their objectives and by virtue of that, their bonus, are tied to the success of the start-up.
I’m hopeful that in 5 years’ time we won’t need a digital office specifically because our efforts will be so embedded across the organisation that each individual department and the business unit will be managing their activities in a more digital way without the siloed leadership of the specific digital office.
How do you think the entry of big tech giants into healthcare will affect pharma?
To date, they have been approaching it from a very tech point of view and things like regulatory approval have been relatively and shockingly new to them. What I’m starting to see is that these tech giants are looking to pharma for their recruitment. I think once they start gathering the pharma acumen, I think then they can be perceived as a real competitive threat.
I think [the tech giants’] expertise is quite different. Apple is more tech, and so they would likely go into Med tech and monitors but at a clinical grade version. Amazon is a supply chain giant, so why not integrate a better pharma supply chain, looking at it from their perspective. Probably the most disruptive, in my opinion, is Google. Something like two-thirds of all searches on Google is health-related. So, if they can tap into patient health and connect that to data they already have access to from a patient preference perspective, that can be incredibly powerful. These large tech companies are slowly changing the medical landscape towards software as a therapeutic.
What trends / industry changes do you think will have the biggest effect on pharma marketing and digital colleagues over the next decade?
Digital therapeutics, I strongly believe, is the fourth wave of medicine. You have small molecules, then biologics, then cell and gene therapy, and then finally digital therapeutics or DTx either standalone or in combination with a product. It’s a very specific definition in terms of what’s a digital therapeutic and what’s a digital solution or digital medicine or digital health or wellness.
The way I’m considering it is that of a product that has been clinically validated and that shows better outcomes with the use of the product than without, and could be prescribed by a physician and hopefully at some point reimbursed. The idea of software as a therapeutic is one that is already transforming the mindsets within pharma.
It’s early in the process, but what lessons have you learned from the Digital Garden project about how start-ups and larger organizations can collaborate successfully?
It is early days as we’re about 2 months in, but I have been really pleasantly surprised by the level of engagement of our internal collaborators and how dedicated they are to understanding not only different ways of working and different ways of thinking, but understanding the business needs of the start-up and applying their expertise to try to solve for some of them. This has led to the new idea of software as a therapeutic.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity