How Digital is Pharma?

Re-examining the ‘digital intensity’ of pharma



Digital transformation will impact pharma in many ways, not least through innovation in medical technology, customer experience for both patients and healthcare professionals, and platforms to facilitate and measure outcomes-based care. What is clear is that companies will need a deep understanding of the digital world and improved internal skills if they are to succeed.

To better understand how ready companies were for the digital tidal wave, a year ago, we looked at the digital intensity of pharma companies, and highlighted J&J’s strength and the slower response of others, such as AstraZeneca and Pfizer. To measure digital intensity, we looked at the number of employees who referred to ‘digital’ in their LinkedIn title.

In February, we repeated the analysis for a third year; the big news is that Bayer has joined J&J/Janssen at the top of the table, with 4.8 digital employees per thousand, an increase of 150% since 2015 when it went public with its digital transformation project.

Examples of Bayer’s external actions include a more relaxed/digitally native voice on social media and the grant4apps program that encourages external innovation, while, internally, it has run hackathons and worked to change its culture. It will be interesting to see how this momentum and focus changes while integrating with Monsanto.

J&J continues to invest in digital and remains ahead – but only just. Recent external actions included a sleep tracking and coaching system for babies, and investments in StartUp Health and an ADHD app in Japan. It has also added positions focused on digital health at its innovation labs.

Novartis’ growth has levelled off; it is likely bedding down a number of organizational changes and trying to prove the effectiveness of its current approach. It recently announced the launch of a connected inhaler with Propeller Health, which now has five partnerships with pharma companies. Also, the company has stated an interest in moving to outcomes-based payments, so it will be interesting to see how it uses digital in this space.

Eli Lilly continued its strong growth on our measure of digital intensity, and has made some external investments including a connected Epi Pen. Sanofi and GSK remained the middle of the pack; an interesting example is GSK’s partnership with 2Morrow, which allows patients to order nicotine patches free from an app, a model of patient convenience and a break with the doctor as gatekeeper that others could follow.

The digital divide between Roche and Genentech identified last year continued [1], with Roche growing by 29% and Genentech staying steady. Roche has invested in capabilities to improve clinical trial efficiency as well as its digital marketing and multichannel capabilities.

Pfizer also saw strong growth, moving it out of the bottom three. In addition to marketing capabilities, like Roche, it has invested in digital capabilities in clinical trials. Pfizer’s low position was taken by Abbvie, which has moved down the table from third two years ago due to a lack of significant changes on this measure.

Merck and AstraZeneca remain at the bottom. Merck grew 36% and has a number of investments, with the Merck Global Health Innovation Fund in workflow, behavioral change and chronic care support that could be support future moves. AZ was flat in numbers but launched AZHelps to support patients with information and access for its medicines and basic support for non-AZ medications.

We’d love to hear how you think the digital title reflects the true commitment of these companies and how it compares to the changes you’ve seen in the last 12 months.

Douglas Haggstrom is an Independent Consultant and Tina Boggiano is Principal Consultant, Life Sciences, at PA Consulting Group.



[1] Roche and Genentech had very different values on digital intensity 3.9 for Roche vs 0.5 for Genentech, a gap that insiders don’t see. Perhaps the closeness to San Francisco means that Genentech staff don’t like to use the word ‘digital’?


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