Daniel Gandor, Head of Takeda Digital Accelerator USA.
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Takeda’s Digital Advancements
Daniel Gandor, Head of Takeda Digital Accelerator USA, talks about the company’s efforts to assess new opportunities in the digital ecosystem.
PV: What is the goal of Takeda Digital Accelerator?
Gandor: Takeda is committed to the tireless pursuit of how to better serve our patients. We know that digital is playing a huge role in the ecosystem; the time is coming when it will disrupt healthcare and even pharmaceuticals. As a matter of fact, digital is disrupting almost every industry. The Takeda Digital Accelerator was created to help understand that world and understand Takeda’s opportunities and ultimately create better solutions to serve our patients worldwide. This is very much aligned with Takeda’s overarching vision for better health and a brighter future for patients worldwide.
Ultimately, we’re trying to create a holistic approach to digital and apply our learnings to all aspects of our business. Our products may not look the same two, three, or five years from now. The product may not be just a pill. It may be a pill with diagnostics, sensors, apps — who knows what. We realize that it’s not just about creating one-off, single solutions that only impact one area of the patient’s experience or the customer journey; it’s about solutions that look across the entire continuum of care.
PV: How do you choose the experiments?
Gandor: We use the terminology “experiment” because the idea is to have a minimum viable product or a first proof of concept. We’re funding the digital accelerator to have strong hypotheses to move forward. We want to move toward scaling projects that become part of business as usual and then do larger pilots across different regions. We are trying to do things that have never been done before within Takeda’s walls.
We’ve used a couple of interesting approaches. One that’s been really successful is open crowdsourcing. We’ve held pitch days, almost like Shark Tank review sessions, where teams pitch their experiment ideas. We are careful to make sure that we’re not funding things that have been done before at Takeda. We’re looking for ideas that are new to Takeda and hopefully new to the pharma industry or even new to the world, if possible. This is the barometer of the ideas we fund and move forward with.
PV: What happens after the experiments? What is the next step in the process?
Gandor: The goal is to fund and help administer that initial experiment. Then the scaling of the project is owned by the business unit or the various functional areas. The intent is to embed this experimentation approach and methodology across all aspects of our business. It’s also our mission to embed digital thinking and strategy into all aspects of our business. We want to make this thinking part of our DNA. The Digital Accelerator is simply here to help catalyze the process.
PV: What challenges has the accelerator faced in doing these experiments?
Gandor: With any type of new or unproven technology and unfamiliar partners there’s always unforeseen questions and concerns. One of the benefits of our experimentation process is that we are able to address challenges head-on and in doing so we act as a vetting process, which helps our colleagues. This experimentation method allows us to anticipate failures along the way to ensure success. As an example, if we think regulatory has a high chance of rejecting a new idea because of its novelty, we bring members of this group into the process, and we let them provide comments on the idea if it’s something we should fund or not. Having these discussions early on and by taking an iterative approach helps alleviate risk. We don’t have 100% of our experiments go as planned, but at the end of the day, even in those cases they provide important learnings and insights.
PV: What are the future plans for the accelerator?
Gandor: Like a start-up, we’re constantly evaluating our work and trying to meet business needs. The accelerator was created with the assumption that the service wouldn’t be needed for the long term. We’re still determining what that timeframe might be or if there are other roles that we might play or continue to do. (PV)
Takeda’s Digital Efforts
Takeda’s Digital Accelerator, created in 2015, acts as a digital incubator within the company. The company has funded more than 42 digital experiments on a global scale that fall in several categories: R&D-related (trial efficiency, acquiring new data points, better analysis), patient engagement (VR, treatment journey support), and customer (HCP and patient) engagement (better analysis, relationship marketing, new channels/tactics).
One experiment the accelerator has funded leverages virtual reality to create a deeper and immersive experience inside the gut to better understand the disease state of inflammatory bowel disease and help patients understand how Takeda’s IBD medicine works. The initiative included smartphones and Google’s Cardboard technology, which was made available to patients and prescribers. This combination created value by encouraging a better dialogue between patient and doctor.
Another experiment used a crowd-source, open-innovation approach to find new potential partners and new solutions for a major depressive disorder. The company sought ideas in several areas, including technologies that can help with the diagnosis of patients who may be suffering from depression; help patients gain access to an appropriate care provider; or improve adherence to a treatment plan. The winning entry was EllieGrid, a smart pillbox linked to an app, which improves adherence through automated text message prompts that remind patients to take their medication.
Another example is an effort to leverage IBM Watson technology to create an AI concierge to better serve appropriate content and materials and answers for medical reps to provide back to their HCP customers.
In R&D, Takeda has a collaboration with Koneska Health for wearables in clinical trials to enable remote collection of data and measures that were difficult to obtain.