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All things Pharma

Digital partnerships in pharma and the NHS

Can pharma and the NHS equal the fast pace of change necessary to fully embrace technological innovation?

Over the last few years, slowly but surely, the pharmaceutical industry has been waking up to the changing world and engaging with technology providers.

Why is this? Technology is viewed by many as the enabler of change – change that could decrease the time for drug development;improve the early diagnosis of conditions; increase patient adherence; collect real world evidence to demonstrate outcomes and value; enable the delivery of healthcare solutions…and so on.

Many pharmaceutical companies have struggled with how to engage with this new technology and we have seen some different business models employed from creating innovation teams or incubators and others looking to find the right partner and collaboration.

Some examples of collaboration include Otsuka and Proteus, Novartis and Google, IBM Watson and Novo Nordisk, Sanofi and Verily, GSK and Propellor Health, Sanofi and Science 37, to name but a few.

The risk factor

There are some challenges when pharmaceutical companies and tech firms try to collaborate, as their ‘normal’ worlds are often poles apart. For instance – pharma is traditionally conservative, relatively slow moving and highly regulated; whereas technology firms are traditionally high risk, fast moving and often less regulated, so when the two are brought together, there is likely to be some tension.

Risk is an interesting dynamic in this equation. Recently, I presented an overview of digital health to the UK leadership team of a top five pharmaceutical company. Their general manager pointed out to his team that their company and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole would often risk £1bn+ in developing a new drug which may fail, yet seemed overly worried and cautious about investing £500k to £1m in a digital health technology. It is all a matter of mindset and a recognition that this was outside of their comfort zone.

Given the dynamics of the different industries, I think it is fair to say that a technology company is unlikely to want to become a pharmaceutical company, and vice versa, but there is a convergence and the lines will become blurred over time. As a result, we are seeing more collaboration, recognising that each party brings something valuable to the table.

NHS involvement

An interesting shift we have also seen in the last 12 months has been for the NHS to get far more involved, actively wanting to become more digital and making it a little bit easier for technology firms to test their products in the real world. This is because the NHS sees the potential benefits to patients and the decrease in costs that technology could enable. For example, the NHS has recently collaborated with several technology firms to deliver technology enabled services including Babylon, Oviva and Medopad.

In a recent interview with Forbes, Vas Narasimhan, Chief Executive Officer of Novartis AG, openly talks about the challenges of bringing technology into pharma, and whilst there is a lot of hype, a lot of potential, and a lot of conferences and events talking about artificial intelligence, data, digital etc in pharma, we must remember that this is an emerging landscape and it is still early days in terms of seeing some real tangible results. However, the fact that the pharmaceutical industry finally seems more serious about ‘going beyond the pill’ has to be a good thing for the industry and patients alike.

I fully expect that over the next few years we will start to see the positive results of collaborations between technology companies, the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry in delivering technology-enabled healthcare that has a real benefit on improving all of our lives, so watch this space.


Darren Spevick is Managing Partner of Eventum Partners and Chair EMIG Digital Health Group.

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Darren Spevick
Darren Spevick
Darren Spevick is Managing Partner of Eventum Partners and Chair EMIG Digital Health Group. Go to


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