As we usher in 2018, I am inspired and humbled by the men and women that are our customers. Of our 60+ customers, most are developing and commercializing completely new therapies for unmet medical needs. In the 21st century, however, we have observed a shift in the structure and mindset within select biotech and pharma companies. We call this breed of company a Digital Biotech.
What is a #DigitalBiotech?
Digital biotechs are a unique breed of biotech or pharma company: they seek to develop novel therapies and are data-driven, agile, and collaborate externally. Note: being a Digital Biotech doesn't have anything to do with size, therapeutic modality, or age. Instead, it is about how their organizations operate. From our vantage point, here's what they look like.
Data has always been core to the operations of science. Digital biotechs take this to the next level. In these organizations, data is treated differently: i) data is centralized and provisioned for access to all, ii) data drives business-level decisions (e.g. programs) and scientific routes (e.g. lead selection), and iii) analytics are cross-functional (e.g. spanning research and development). Further, without tribal knowledge or legacy opinions, data reigns supreme, in program advancement to software tools purchased.
How it manifests:
- a well articulated data strategy
- programs progress or fail based on performance, not politics
- novel software tools (often cloud-based) are implemented to automate workflows
- data streams are centralized such that all parties have access to original data
- data scientists are employed to draw insights across disciplines
Digital biotechs move very quickly. Combining their speed of execution and the aforementioned focus on data, they become incredibly agile. As new data is obtained, methods, vendors, and programs can change in a matter of hours.
How it manifests:
- critical path experiments are performed first
- data is readily available for all to review
- program progress is tracked routinely
- a collection of candidates are whittled down to the lead compounds within weeks
- new indications can be pursued within months
Digital biotechs invest heavily in competitive advantage. For capabilities that are resource intensive or use specialized processes, they seek to collaborate with external parties. Contract Research Organizations (CROs), Contract Development & Manufacturing Organizations (CDMOs), and academic labs are enlisted in this process. Digital biotechs work hard to cultivate a distributed network of collaborators; the management and invocation of this network becomes a strategic advantage.
How it manifests:
- a large number of CRO/CDMO/academic collaborations
(as many as 3 collaborators for every internal scientist)
- invest heavily in communication infrastructure with external collaborators
- consistently evaluate new collaborators for different stages of the life cycle
- build close partnerships with select vendors that outperform their peers
Why are Digital Biotechs special?
Companies, independent of industry, are leveraging digital technologies in their day-to-day operations. However, in the context of the life sciences, digital biotechs are a special breed. As we work closely with these companies to drive their data strategy, we see that their data-centric mindset results in a unique culture and a significant competitive advantage. From our vantage point, some of the qualities include:
A politics-free environment
In some organizations, historical strife and cross-functional misalignment results in slower execution and a frustrating work environment. Digital biotechs set aside the political discord and are focused on using real data to drive critical decisions.
Optimized for speed
Digital biotechs - whether in a large pharma company or a VC-backed startup - are always conscious of time. Approaches that enable faster production of data or quicker decisions are prioritized. From purchasing to hiring, company direction to benefits - digital biotechs are able to move at a blistering pace thanks to prioritization and a centralized data strategy with data access at everyone's fingertips.
Magnets for talent
Organizations that are politics-free and optimized for speed often attract the best scientists. As more individuals look to the successes of their entrepreneurial peers in the tech world, great scientists are naturally attracted to entrepreneurial entities. Great scientists are empowered to do great science when provided with modern tools and the ability to make decisions quickly.
Digital biotechs are an exciting breed of company that is transforming the way medicines are discovered and brought to market. They challenge conventional approaches and use new technologies to build competitive advantage in data, agility, and collaboration. My opinion is that the next decade will see a continued proliferation of these companies which will spark heated battles for data-aware talent, the development of new software-based tools, and a mindset that is data-centric.
Check out the new podcast, Digital Biotech where we speak with industry leaders on the intersections of science, data and innovation. Here's our first episode with Kevin Bittorf of Trek Therapeutics.