2015 and the Instagram Generation: Richie Etwaru’s Top 5 Pharma Trends

Put your smart lenses in and take a sharp look at the next decade. 2015 is around the corner and technology scholar and entrepreneur Richie Etwaru says pharma has a lot to look forward to. Etwaru, currently Chief Digital Officer at Cegedim, holds international patents and has worked as CIO, CTO, COO and Head of Innovation.

His ebullient style makes him a favorite speaker at international science and tech events and a popular blogger for Huffington Post and LinkedIn.  “My friends complain that I’m always working,” he admits. “I am always working. And having fun at the same time.” We chose Richie Etwaru as our go-to person to pinpoint five leading Pharma trends for 2015 and beyond:

1. The Selfie Generation

With patients self-diagnosing via the internet, the increasing growth of cloud sharing and the democratization of information, Etwaru says we’re almost at a stage where the doctor becomes a patient’s “First second opinion.”  “It’s putting a lot of strain on the practice side of life sciences because doctors have to un-diagnose the patients before they can diagnose them.”

Economics is helping to drive this change. As patients start to carry more of the costs of their care, they’re moving to a more preventative mindset. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there’s pressure to look great all the time. “

Today’s teenagers care more about their health than any other generation. It’s a lot of vanity, but it means instead of waiting until we’re sick to fix ourselves, we’re going to fix ourselves more pro-actively.” As these health-conscious teenagers grow up, the industry will have to come up with new ways to remain viable. “Literally you have a smaller supply of sick people.”

One answer, as he sees it, is for health information to become an increasingly valuable product. He predicts that in the next decade, Pharma will be selling information to people so they can change their behavior. He calls this “the digital P&L of non-analog products and services” that Chief Digital Officers are tasked with defining and executing.

2. Bye Bye Blockbuster

“Think of it as being like a Broadway play,” Etwaru insists. “Yes, the blockbuster drug model is probably over. So, people ask what kind of drugs can we have? We talk about Specialty drugs. Look at it this way: not everybody sees a Broadway play. But, it has to be done right and it still has to be profitable.

What that means is, what is the size and scale of your commercial organization, if you’re having Broadway drugs and not blockbuster drugs?”

3. Psychology Over Chemistry

Etwaru confesses that he threw out his FitBit after a few months, but not before he was shocked to realize that his innocent-looking breakfast corn muffin totaled up a whopping 470 calories. In the future, gene-mapped patients will already understand what diseases they are predisposed to. In this scenario, treatment will be a lot more about psychology and information than about chemistry, over biology and molecules.

“Is there a marketplace ten years from now to present to mankind the type of information that will impact patients’ psychology and thinking and will change their behavior?” He says we should look to the virtual reality world of the gaming industry.

“Look at simulations – immersive 360 degree virtual reality experiences which are so extremely realistic. The Oculus Rift he says is a good example. “They deliver a realistic experience that changes the way you think and the way you feel.  How is this technology going to be implemented to solve some of our behavioral and mental diseases?”

4.Hiring from Outside

Data science that delivers insight will be crucial to bringing about the transformation Etwaru envisages. “I brought in a bunch of musicians to actually play with data in a visual manner, to map it and to associate it in ways that no one would think of, because musicians are really good at finding patterns. If you think about what Bloomberg does for financial services, we need a Bloomberg of life sciences. We need to find those compelling new comparisons that can be of value.”  This, he describes, is one of the fundamental outcomes his CDO role will drive in Pharma.

And not surprisingly (Etwaru himself has significant outside experience, in the finance and transportation industries), he believes Pharma needs to build on the trend of recruiting talent from other industries. Future leaders will be collaborators, sharers. “Pharma is still in a mindset of secrecy and I think that this will not withstand the test of time, because of the speed at which you have to change, so collaboration is something you have to embrace. You have to share, you have to be agile. You have to trust.”

5. East Coast Meets West

It’s not just Oracle, Verizon or Apple. 2015 and beyond means many more tech companies will move into life sciences. “It’s almost a gold rush,” Etwaru says. “There are signs that the folks in Silicon Valley are looking to engage with the folks on the east coast, in the New Jersey Pharma belt.”

Etwaru is skeptical about wearables – smart bracelets, anklets, socks, shoes and the like. “I own eighteen pairs of shoes, so it’s not like if I buy a smart pair they’re going to be all I’ll wear.” He thinks the future lies with Sense-ables – sensors that will be embedded in things we already have, or else Implant-ables, things that stick onto or into your body.

“I think telemedicine is going to be huge. And drones. We just saw a drone deliver a defibrillator to someone that was in a critical condition. The drone got there with the defibrillator faster than any ambulance could have gotten there. We’re going to better solve the distance between the patient and the provider and get to a point of remote medicine.”

3-D printing? “Oh, yeah. Definitely. We’re going to see more of this. Whether it’s a device that’ll fix your broken arm or replace a part in the human body, 3-D printing is going to impact in a big way, for example in reconstructive surgery.”

So the future looks great, then?

Etwaru’s bubbling optimism is compelling. But, even he admits there are challenges up ahead. “Transformation is a big buzzword right now. Everyone’s going into a transformation – it means building a long 3 to 5-year journey with massive investment in technology, in data, and in services. You test out some of your new business practices. You de-risk them. I don’t think in life sciences we understand transformation. I don’t see that in pharmaceuticals.” Managing change predictably and at scale requires a set of leadership competencies that we are clearly missing.

Having fun with your smart socks is one thing, but it’s quite another if your life were actually to depend on them. “In life sciences, we’re talking about real lives, we’re talking about saving someone’s life, we’re talking about death. You can’t try things as easily as you can in other industries. You can launch a new shoe in the luxury industry and you can trial it and if it’s ugly, no one dies because it’s an ugly shoe. However, in the life sciences industry it’s a much longer process. It’s a very complex and brittle type of transformation. You have to get it right the first time.”

What trends do you think will be important in 2015 and beyond? Let us know today.