How Digital Data can change the Pharma industry

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The pharma industry is undergoing its most difficult shift in a long time, as the inevitability of embracing digital data and engagement draws closer, and yet compliance and considerations of legislation remain as complex as ever.

But, as onefourzero’s data shows, digital data is showing that there is increased demand for pharmaceuticals and symptom-based products as disease awareness increases worldwide. And, where there is end patient demand, there is growth potential. Hence, investments in pharma companies and internal investments by pharma companies need to get on board with digital analytics if they are going to maximise value.


But what can digital data provide that clinic data or national health data can’t? Simply put: digital data can provide more timely access to end patient demand and can reach clinical decision makers more quickly and in a more engaging way, informing both R&D and maximising ROI from marketing.

The first step: embracing technology and Digital Transformation

Surprisingly, not all pharma companies are yet exploring the full potential of digital data. Many are still in the early stages of understanding this, let alone implementing, limiting activity to small digital initiatives. However, short tests don’t usually generate the substantial results needed to impress investors or budget holder, which can limit future investments for both research, development and marketing.

Just like other industries, pharma companies must accept digital not as simple combination of individual tools, but as a way to reinvent themselves and future-proof the business – in other words, a true digital transformation. An analytics-driven approach to operations and digital due diligence pre-investment brings the greatest value to portfolio development and performance improvement. Further, digital data can advise research and development investments and position marketing activity more effectively for management teams.

Simon Weatherall, Multichannel Digital Manager at Vifor Pharma UK, understands the challenges and opportunities the pharmaceutical industry currently faces:

There are obvious compliance challenges that marketing face within pharma companies, but that should not limit us to conceive of embracing new media and digital channels to market more efficiently and effectively and improving with the ultimate aim of gaining returns on investment”.

Digital data leading Research & Development

A report from Brookings reveals that, globally, most of the private sector spending on health R&D comes from pharmaceutical firms. In 2016, they devoted nearly $157 billion to investments related to health care research and development, which include drugs, vaccines and therapeutics in the developed and developing world. In a time when public investment is slowing, looks like the private sector can be the one responsible for future major discoveries in medicines and treatment.

In the UK, according to ABPI, pharma investment in research and development continues to rise, despite the uncertainty of Brexit. In 2017, the industry invested £370.9 million in R&D, compared to £338.1 million the year before – a 9.7% increase. The expectation is that the trend will continue – but it’s the return on R&D that interest investors.

Mike Thompson, Chief Executive for the ABPI, is optimistic: “£370 million spent on partnerships with leading healthcare experts and organisations on scientific discovery of life-enhancing medicines cements our place as a scientific hub which must be retained alongside continued cooperation on the regulation, trade and supply of medicines, after Brexit”.

British company GSK, for example, announced an interesting change in R&D spending last summer: their 2018-2020 plan will focus on data analytics and advanced technologies to support investments in immune system-related research. From genetic insights to patients’ lifestyle observation for personalised drugs and treatments – data can answers questions and guide investments.

It is interesting to note that even big global companies have just recently started to look at digital data to help them accelerate drug development, translate the market and guide investments. This scenario shows a big opportunity for mid-size companies that can usually be more agile and flexible. Access to digital data doesn’t demand huge spending, and the ROI is easily maximised.

To illustrate how digital data be used to help inform areas of product development investment, onefourzero compared information published from NHS to online data sources on anaemia in the UK.


NHS data shows that there has been an increase in the number of patients being diagnosed with the ailment in the past years. When we look at search demand and social conversations that mention terms related to anaemia, including symptoms and treatments, the trend corroborates the NHS data.

NHS reports are often used as guidance for investments – pharmaceutical companies can increase attention on specific diseases and treatments if there’s demand for it. However, the data is usually published over a year later. By using digital data as a predictive tool to NHS data, companies can discover trends in real time and redirect R&D investments. It doesn’t only guarantee more secure investments (for Equity and internal budgets), but also faster returns and a constant step ahead of the competition.

Online data also be more easily filtered into specifics such as demographics and geography, offering a comprehensive overview of each investment.

Mindful investors are reacting quickly to take advantage of disruptive technologies in all areas of healthcare, especially big data, in expectation to recover initial R&D investments. It just makes sense, therefore, that companies use digital capabilities to market and enhance sales.

Strategic advantage in Marketing

In addition to identifying and evaluating R&D opportunities, digital data also lends itself well to informing marketing strategies on local, national or global markets, and we believe that in time should be informing these strategies.

By listening to what professionals are discussing and what the industry is interested in, it is possible to produce tailored content for targeted outreach. Medical forums and web portals such as WebMD and Medscape provide interesting conversations on research, drug development, innovative treatments and more.

Some firms like Vifor Pharma UK, for example, are already aware of this opportunity. “The larger pharma behemoths are only just beginning to carve out significant digital budgets, which goes to show how behind the industry is in terms of use of digital data and channels”, says Weatherall.

“We are more agile and our management team more forward thinking. Hence, I have been brought on to ensure that we are making the most of all marketing channel opportunities – be they traditional or digital. Integrating traditional and digital data helps us understand patients and pharma audiences across all platforms, which means that we can execute an effective and industry-disruptive multi-channel approach”.

Whether your targets are clinicians or end consumers, an in-depth analysis of regional or national trends can guide strategic proposals. When it comes to engaging with the correct audience, data-driven content guarantees an important advantage in the competition.

In the first instance, digital data can help companies develop strategic marketing plans for high-impact turnarounds and ROI by understanding market & demand, tracking competitors, targeting and engaging with audiences, analysing client journey and more. As next steps, it can go as far as supporting the formulation of trial strategies, the development of segmented clients database, tracking the impact of new regulatory activities and setting pricing strategies.

In the long run, data can continually provide measures to monitor results and conduct further strategic improvements. The best part? With no need to rely on official data only, companies have the freedom to expand strategies and monitor outcomes while consistently positioning themselves ahead of the competition.



Fleur Hicks, onefourzero’s Managing Director, says:

What we have found is that there is a correlation between the data that can be gathered online and latterly published patient data. These live insights could be being used by pharma companies in a much more sophisticated way – to inform their R&D and, of course, for marketing and targeting. Why wait a year for data when it is there online, accessible and localised?

We have seen great advances in technology and science over time, and in order to leverage the full potential within the space pharmaceutical companies should increase investments in data analytics to lead global research and development and to leverage this to create market demand.

Investment in R&D becomes less risky if companies use data analysis to identify what patients and doctors need because the information provided generates more reliable trends than regular medical surveys. Ideally, a combination of both traditional and digital data should be used to answer all the questions. For distressed and underperforming businesses, digital data can help understand the competitor landscape and develop the appropriate strategy for high-impact turnarounds and ROI.

On a macro scale, there are further implications in using this methodology in territories and regions where data may not be as accessible, such as developing countries, which can drive growth in these areas.

Finally, digital data can help companies develop the most strategic marketing approach for each project because it reveals detailed information necessary for highly targeted budgets. Both national and regional trends can be predicted, allowing companies to evolve strategic plans into successful cases.

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