The Digital-infused R&D Opportunity in Pharma

Executive Summary

Senior digital leaders at large pharmaceutical companies believe that digital innovation and new technologies will present their R&D departments with large value-creation opportunities. Done right, digital-infused R&D can add millions to a pharma firm’s annual revenues. Digital experts see the biggest opportunity for digital technology in the context of gathering clinical evidence, thereby increasing drug values and protecting the firm’s competitive position. However, not all organizations are ready to reap the benefits of digital-infused R&D; many report that they need to make structural changes to their operating model before they will be able to unlock any value.

Companies surveyed for this report: AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Bristol-­Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company

Digital Technology Creates New Opportunities for Pharma R&D

Senior digital leaders at large pharmaceutical firms are keeping a close watch on digital-infused R&D – the extensive use of digital technology in drug discovery and development – as the next big opportunity that technology is creating for their firms. While digital technology in clinical contexts isn’t new – CardioMEMS ran a trial five years ago where an implantable sensor wirelessly transmitted artery pressure information to a database – today’s symbiosis of big data, computing power, hardware, and connected platforms is making everyone, including pharma firms, sit up and pay attention. To better understand the industry’s view on the size of the overall opportunity, we surveyed senior digital leaders and subject-matter experts at ten large pharmaceutical firms.1 These firms comprise half of the top twenty pharma firms by revenue; each spent between €2.6 billion and €8.2 billion on R&D in 2015.2 Their conclusion? Digital innovation and technology in R&D will:

  • Create tens of millions of extra value annually… Eight of the ten digital leaders rate the size of the overall business opportunity from digital innovation and new technologies as “large” or “very large” (see Figure 1). This corresponds to tens of
    millions of dollars each year that will go to firms that monetize the opportunity (see Figure 2). But don’t raise your glass too early: to take full advantage, firms face several structural changes to their operating models (see Figure 3).
  • …but business objectives for digital are well-defined. Digital leaders see digital innovation and new technologies creating value in many aspects of the R&D business. Eight of the ten digital leaders believe that digital technology improves patient care or patient data collection (see Figure 4-1). Faster drug discovery and higher drug value are the other significant value creators. Looking at a firm’s commercial model, value creation on the revenue side is a more lucrative path than cutting operational R&D costs via digital innovation (see Figure 4-2).
  • …and innovating in clinical data and analytics. Zooming into specific R&D responsibilities, digital technology will primarily create value from opportunities in clinical data and analytics (see Figure 5). Advances in data collection, data types, and analytical processing power enable health-related outcome measurement or set digital biomarkers, which both drive drug value; as a result, senior digital leaders are watching mobile health monitoring, wearable, and big data enabling technologies closely (see Figure 6). While many therapy areas will benefit from digital-infused R&D, firms can capture the most value from digital innovation in cardiovascular (see Figure 7).


DT Associates fielded its Q4 2015 Digital-Infused R&D survey to ten senior digital leaders selected based on three criteria. Respondents had significant digital responsibility, budget, or oversight of current digital capability (e.g., VPs/heads of digital, digital directors, and digital leads); demonstrated interest in and familiarity with digital excellence as part of their role in a pharmaceutical organization; and direct or indirect ties to their firm’s R&D organization.

We fielded the survey from November 2015 to January 2016. Respondent incentives included a copy of a report containing the collected survey data prior to publication.

Our sample is not guaranteed to be representative of the population. Unless otherwise noted, data is intended for descriptive purposes. DT Associates fielded its survey using an online survey tool following a personal invitation by email.


Tim van Tongeren crc

Tim van Tongeren

Managing Partner

Tim has worked for more than fifteen years with commercial leaders to navigate their strategic and organizational transformations required to thrive on digital technology change. In his current role as Managing Partner, he leads DT’s Solutions and Consulting offerings to advise the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms on how to best achieve customer experience success through digital transformation.

Dennis van Rooij

Managing Partner

Dennis is a recognized expert on how pharmaceutical executives can take full advantage of new digital technologies to bolster their business objectives. He brings a strategic yet pragmatic perspective on digital transformation for the pharmaceutical industry…
Dennis van Rooij crc

Sign up to our latest insights

By checking this box, you agree to receive survey invitations and our latest insights.