Ipsen: Embarking on a rapid digital transformation in pharma
Illustration: Denis Carrier
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Ipsen: Embarking on a rapid digital transformation in pharma

Jessica Twentyman — January 2016

Malika Mir, chief information and digital officer at French pharmaceutical group Ipsen, outlines a fast-paced journey designed to fend off disruptive challengers and enhance patient experience.

When Malika Mir, chief information and digital officer at Ipsen, first presented her digital transformation vision to the executive committee of the €1.3 billion ($1.4bn) international pharmaceutical company back in 2014, she was gratified by the enthusiastic response it received. More importantly, she says, the committee fully appreciated that her technology organization needed to act quickly.

“They saw straight away how digital technologies could transform the way we do business,” she says. “But they were also aware how quickly Ipsen could be disrupted by other players in the market if the company didn’t move fast enough. They recognised that the opportunity wouldn’t stay open for long.”

If  2014 was a year of proposals and planning for Mir and her team, 2015 was a year of intense experimentation. And in 2016, the focus is on ‘industrialization,’ she says, as they begin to embed early successful pilots deep into the company’s business processes.

We have around two years now to jump into this model with both feet and become a leader, and not a follower,” she says.

“The critical question for us is how digital technologies can help Ipsen understand the patient experience better.”

A major factor in winning the management committee’s backing was the fact that Mir had carefully devised her digital strategy to align closely with Ipsen’s wider corporate mission of putting patients at the heart of everything it does. Around two-thirds of the company’s revenues come from specialty care products designed to treat diseases in the fields of oncology, endocrinology and neurology. The remaining third comes from primary care products, some potentially bought directly by patients from local pharmacies.

For us, the critical question is how digital technologies can help Ipsen understand the patient experience better and deliver improved care and outcomes,” she says. “We want to understand the patient journey and, at each stage of that journey, identify the types of digital solutions and services that might make that a bit smoother, or at least less difficult for them.”

With that in mind, Mir’s team has already developed an app for patients suffering from upper-limb spasticity, most commonly experienced after a stroke, but which can also result from spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries, multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy. Many such patients are treated using Ipsen’s botulinum toxin-based drug for this condition.

The app, Mir explains, provides patients with videos of arm exercises to perform while also collecting data on which exercises are performed by the patient and how frequently. The data is then fed back to a patient’s physician to guide doctor-patient conversations about treatment progress.
Industrializing digital

For patients involved in clinical trials of new drugs sponsored by Ipsen, meanwhile, the digital team has developed a smartphone app that provides the company with information that goes beyond regular medical testing of trial participants. “The idea here is not to limit ourselves to whether the drug works or not for a particular patient, but to understand the overall environment and lifestyle of the patient,” Mir explains.

So, throughout the day, the patient is prompted by simple pop-up messages that appear on their phone asking questions about their current physical and emotional state: How did you sleep? How was your appetite at lunchtime? Have you felt depressed at all today?

This app has already been used in a few, carefully selected clinical trials during 2015, but the 2016 process of industrialization of digital at Ipsen, says Mir, will see it applied across all trials.

     Malika Mir, CIO, Ipsen

As chief information and digital officer, Mir oversees both Ipsen’s IT and digital teams. Her background is in technology — before joining Ipsen, she was general manager of information systems for Europe at automotive manufacturer Nissan and earlier was the IT director at healthcare giant Baxter. Still, she’s taken the decision to run her IT and digital teams as separate units, largely to protect the latter from distractions of day-to-day operational IT. Another reason is that the digital team is made up of both technologists who have demonstrated the ability to “walk in the patient’s shoes” and business-side subject-matter experts including doctors, pharmacists and research scientists.

No digital decision is taken without the agreement of both the business and technology groups, she stresses. “When you’re supporting a business transformation through the use of technology, nothing can be achieved in isolation. You can’t have one side leading and the other holding back. It simply wouldn’t work.”
Betting on innovation

During the digital team’s year of experimentation in 2015, representatives on both sides were involved in a tour that Mir led of Silicon Valley, during which they got to hear from leading economists at Stanford and Berkeley universities on the future of the pharmaceutical industry and met with a wide range of established and start-up IT vendors already working with pharmaceutical companies. “The aim was to open their eyes to what’s possible now, to expand their horizons and ambitions,” she says.

Likewise, several members of the Ipsen digital team were on the ground at the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas in January, scouting out new ideas and technologies with potential benefits for Ipsen. “Such exposure has all been highly valuable in preparing the team to meet the challenges that 2016 will present,” says Mir.

“It’s really exciting. This is the year in which we’ll really start to transform the business, to put into practice what we’ve learned. Ipsen will embrace new ways of working, but most importantly, for the patient’s benefit. It’s unknown territory, but we're determined we’re going to succeed.”
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