Taking the long view on digital health data

Laying the infrastructure for digital biomarkers.


A leading pharmaceutical was looking at the year ahead and reflected on what’s next for digital health. Following 10 years of pilots and investments — and a handful of big tech partnerships — questions remained. The problem to be solved was bigger than a single partnership or app: How could the promise of digital help the company inform drug development, recruit for trials, improve patient health, connect with physicians, and create value for payors?


The emergence of low-cost sensors and proliferation of connected devices has generated a new class of data with the potential to transform life sciences. From clicking on an ad to checking social media to tracking our heart rate with a smartwatch — our data has the potential to identify, predict, or manage disease more effectively. And yet, very few pharmaceuticals are well-positioned to take advantage of non-traditional data in the same way they look at claims data or clinical trial data. Companies must lay the foundation for a new class of information by deciding who’s responsible for it, how it’s accessed, and how it powers innovation within the organization.


The company had convened a multi-disciplinary group to identify key pain points where technology could play a role. After conducting research and interviews, we identified an opportunity larger than a single app or a tech partnership. The bigger win was to lay the foundation for this organization’s ability to deal with a new class of information. Informed by conversations with tech partners, subject matter experts, and our in-house expertise, we produced an investment thesis, ownership structure, and first-year roadmap for an enterprise-wide digital biomarker initiative. The agile, quarter-by-quarter plan provided stage gates for building a common knowledge base, conducting rapid learning exercises and pilots, identifying partnership models for future engagements, and preparing for a public announcement. Small wins along the way would demonstrate value to the organization, contribute back to the knowledge base, and solidify commitment for longer-term investments.

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