Finding the right partner: Pharma and Digital Health

Digital health is all the buzz these days, but how do you know which digital health opportunity is the best one to pursue for your brand or organization? 

Pharma and digital health companies can both benefit from an effective and meaningful partnership. 

Pharma will benefit from working with a nimbler partner, with the talent and experience to build technology solutions quickly, allowing them to bring innovation into a larger, typically slower moving organization. Digital health companies often have access to more and better data on healthcare stakeholders, allowing pharma to gain deeper insights into their customers. 

Digital health companies who may lack the depth of experience in selling and marketing products to healthcare stakeholders, can benefit from pharma’s experience and established processes and infrastructure for getting a product to market.

Once you’ve identified that working with a digital health partner is an area of interest, finding and fostering the right partnership can be challenging. Based on our experience working with our life science clients to partner and execute digital health programs, here are a few considerations for a successful partnership:


As with any partnership, having aligned goals from the start is key. Goals can include, goals for your customers (patients, providers, payers), goals for your company, or goals specific to the program/partnership. It’s important to discuss all the potential goals you may have and ensure that both partners are aligned. 

 Having an aligned roadmap is less obvious, but we have seen many partnerships fail because their long-term objectives were not aligned. As a result, the partnership dissolved because they were moving in two different directions. Most digital health companies have limited resources and need to focus on their priorities. Ensure that their priorities are aligned with yours so that you are building towards a common future.


 Another important factor for a successful partnership is the cultural fit. How quickly does the partner want to move? How nimble and flexible are they with new ideas or changes in direction? Do their strengths and weaknesses complement your organizations? One of the most common dissatisfaction in a partnership is when the partner is expected to perform a task (e.g. user research, UX design) that may not be aligned to their strength, and as result, pharma is unhappy with the end product. Exploring each partner’s values and capabilities and ensuring alignment at the beginning of the relationship will help avoid conflicts down the road.


Although many brand teams and organizations within a life science company may dabble in innovation, innovation doesn’t stick unless there is investment in time and resource at the executive level. Not only from our experience, but from speaking with other pharma innovation leaders, the digital health initiatives that were most successful were the ones where leadership saw the value and was personally involved in ensuring that the partnership was a success. This included meeting regularly with the partner as well as supporting the development of innovation goals and capabilities at the organization level. Before spending too much time developing a partnership, it would be worth doing a business case and selling it in internally to ensure that you have the right support to successfully launch your innovation project with your digital health partner.

Finding the right partner is not always an easy task, but well worth the effort and investment long term. 

What other recommendations would you have for life science companies looking to find a digital health partner? From your experience, what are some key factors that made your partnerships a success? 

Q&A: What are Digital Pharma East presenters saying about industry changes?

The Digital Pharma Team had the pleasure of speaking several members of our Digital Pharma East faculty to highlight industry shifts in digital innovation and the life sciences. Hear from the experts directly on emerging technologies, challenges, AI, patient centricity and more.

Among our speakers, Brandi AscioneMarketing Innovation Consulting, and Larry Brooks from EVOLUTION ROADMelissa HalkyardVice President, Product Development and Marketing at PRECISION XTRACT, and Linda RuschauChief Client Offer at PATIENT POINT. through for the full post.

Digital Health Today Interview with Head of Neurology Patient Technology at UCB Biopharma

Check out an interview with our own Digital Health Consultant, Jason Prignoli, with James Musick, VP and Head of Neurology Patient Technology at UCB Biopharma, on Digital Health Today, a well-known podcast and resource for all things digital health. Three key takeaways from the interview:

  • Key barriers to consumer adoption of digital solutions include infrastructure, regulatory, and reimbursement challenges
  • If digital health companies want to work with Pharma, they should frame their value proposition in a language familiar to the industry while aligning to pharma’s strategic objectives
  • When considering digital health partnerships,  Pharma should not shy away from its roots of robust clinical evidence, similar assessment with corresponding rigor should be made around the evidence digital health companies have to support their products

Find the interview here.


Key Insights from the Digital Health for Pharma (DH4P) Conference

On April 30, I proudly kicked off the inaugural Digital Health for Pharma (DH4P) annual conference on behalf of Evolution Road.  In the early days of digital marketing I had the pleasure of chairing the ePharma Summit which was a great way for the life science industry to come together and learn, share and connect with one another.  With so many similarities between the evolution of digital marketing and the current and likely future path of digital health, we believed there was a need to create the first conference specifically focused on how life science companies can drive commercial value through digital health. 

The speaker faculty was unparalleled, particularly for a first year conference.  Many Pharmaceutical manufacturers attended including Pfizer, GSK, BMS, Celgene, Sanofi, Novo Nordisk, Bayer, UCB, Boehringer Ingelheim, Ferring, Lifescan, Novartis, BTG, Irwonwood, Abbvie, Roche, Adhera Therapeutics and others.  We also gained diverse perspectives from healthcare provider and payer organizations such as Humana, Highmark and Jefferson Health as well as from digital health companies such as Akili, Propeller, Click Therapeutics and PackHealth. 

We created the conference to support the dialogue about digital health value models for life sciences.  Here is an overview of the different types of value models that we shared at DH4P:

INVEST: Equity investments in digital health companies via corporate pharma venture or innovation funds, Acquisition (i.e., Roche’s acquisition of FlatIron), Joint Venture (i.e., Sanofi + Verily forming Onduo)

INCUBATE / ACCELERATE: Internal efforts to support digital health startups (i.e., JLABS, Novartis Biome, Bayer Grants4Apps) or support of digital health companies via external organizations (i.e., Matter + Novo, J&J + Plug & Play)

COMMERCIALIZE: Typically BD&L partnerships with digital health technology organizations that leverage the life science organization’s commercialization capabilities to help bring the digital health technology to market (i.e., Novartis/Sandoz + Pear reSET-O)

COLLABORATE: Life science collaboration with digital health companies to leverage their technologies in an effort to achieve brand and customer goals (i.e., Boehringer Ingelheim + Propeller Health)

CO-DEVELOP: Jointly developing a digital health solution, utilizing an existing platform/asset from a digital health company and the R&D capabilities from a life science organization; typically includes governmental regulatory approval (i.e., Otsuka + Proteus, Pear/Thrive + Novartis in Schizophrenia)

If you would like additional perspective on these value models or Evolution Road’s point of view on driving commercial impact for pharma with digital health or digital marketing, “ask an expert” below.


Key Takeaways from the Yale Digital Medicine Symposium

A couple of weeks ago in April, on a rainy spring Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the Yale Digital Health Symposium in New Haven, Connecticut. It was well-attended, graciously hosted, and unlike the gloomy weather outside, ended up turning into a lovely afternoon of networking and learning from some most innovative minds in digital health today.

Yale Symposium

Topics covered were diverse, from AI, cognition, and mental health to new disruptive concepts like “digital pharmacies.”

Some of the highlights include Dr. Walter de Brouwer, CEO of, all the way from Palo Alto, CA, who gave a discourse on the future of individualized medical data and the power of its potential applications. He called for a wide, yet safe, democratization of patient data, and explained how advanced-AI techniques could capture insights from this data and accelerate the development of new cures and research of obscure diseases.

Then Marc Appel, head of Orange Grove Bio, Jon Lanznar, VP of Client Services at Truveris, and David Light, CEO of Valisure delivered a panel about the current state of the pharmacy industry and the disruption caused by the host of new “digital pharmacies” gaining traction across the country. The acquisition of PillPack by Amazon, the launch of Capsure in NYC as well as the gigantic merger of CVS and Aetna were all discussed.  Between the strategic moves made by larger players, the regulation, and the disruption already happening, this will be a fascinating industry to follow in the near future.

Finally, a panel composed of Eddie Martucci, CEO of Akili Interactive, Lynn Hamilton, COO of Talkspace, Dr. John Whang, Head of Cardio & Metabolism at J&J, and Dr. Scooter Plowman, Medical Director at Proteus delivered a wonderful discussion about the future of digital medicine and therapeutics. Eddie is building a company that is developing video games that both measure and improve cognitive health. Lynn runs an organization that is redefining the way we seek and receive mental therapy. Dr. Whang was the lead on the partnership between J&J and Apple Health that resulted in the widely acknowledged, year-long study of AFib using the Apple Watch. Finally, Dr. Plowman serves as the medical advisor of a company that is at the forefront of developing a scalable, commercially useable “smart” pill.

Our main takeaway was that digital health and digital therapeutics have the potential to disrupt all aspects of the healthcare value chain and it will be important for pharma to understand and shape the digital landscape and implications for their brands and customers.  Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post around the value models pharma currently leverages to drive commercial impact through digital health.

Unfortunately, this does not cover all the wonderful speakers who generously shared their time, and knowledge, with the audience that afternoon. We would like to thank them, and everyone mentioned above as well, for the time they shared with us. And a big thanks to Dr. Greg Licholai at the Yale School of Management and his staff for hosting such a wonderful event. We will be looking forward to the next one.

Want to learn more about how pharma can play a role in digital health? Reach out to one of our digital health experts: Jason Prignoli, or leave us your contact below and we will schedule a discussion.