The top 10 most digitally innovative pharma companies

Jan. 10, 2024
The 2023 CNS Summit Pharma Innovation Index evaluates pharma companies on three facets of innovation: tech advancement, trial optimization and innovative partnerships

From AI-driven diagnosis, the development of nonpharmacological interventions, and the creation of advanced algorithms to enhance medication adherence, 2023 signified a shift for the pharma manufacturing industry that was reflected in investments in research and development facilities.

Teaming up with IDEA Pharma, the 2023 CNS Summit Pharma Innovation Index evaluates pharma companies, using publicly available information, on three facets of innovation: tech advancement, trial optimization and innovative partnerships.

Here’s a recap of the 2023 rankings.  

1. AstraZeneca 

In 2023, AstraZeneca moved to first place, climbing significantly from its previous tenth place ranking. The company's ascent to the forefront was attributed, in part, to digital investments and initiatives in the clinical domain.  

One of its collaborations involved partnering with Illumina, using Illumina's AI-based tools to identify genetic variations linked to diseases. AstraZeneca's exploration of digital twin technology via Insilico Medicine and collaboration with the University of Sheffield to develop AI technology for drug discovery further exemplify its diverse strategy. 

In tandem with its digital initiatives, AstraZeneca made substantial investments in infrastructure, including an $877 million investment in an R&D center in Spain, generating 1,000 new jobs. The company also announced the establishment of the Africa Health Innovation Hub, aimed at utilizing technology to improve health care access across the continent for up to a billion people by 2025.  

2. Roche 

Roche secured the second position in the CNS Summit Innovation Index for 2023, maintaining its top-ranking performance from 2022. The company's sustained success was attributed to collaborations, particularly in the areas of remote patient monitoring and wearable technology.  

Notable partnerships included a multi-year alliance with Sysnav Healthcare for movement-tracking technology in patients with neuromuscular disorders and collaboration with Domo Health for a digital health solution predicting respiratory failure in spinal muscular atrophy patients. 

On a global scale, Roche inaugurated the Roche Accelerator building in Shanghai, targeting pharma-centric entrepreneurs with a focus on AI and digital solutions in diagnostics and personalized health care. 

3. Boehringer Ingelheim 

Last year, Boehringer Ingelheim solidified its position in the top 10 of the index, a consistent feat over the last four years, culminating in a third-place finish. With R&D investments reaching $5.5 billion, Boehringer fortified its pipeline, striking tech-centric deals such as an agreement with RetinAI to use AI tools in imaging data for geographic atrophy within the ophthalmic disease space. 

The pharma giant also entered a partnership with PhoreMost, utilizing its protein platform and unique technology to identify novel targets across Boehringer's pipeline. These endeavors complemented the $383 million spent on constructing a new biotech research facility in Germany. Boehringer also achieved an industry milestone by becoming the first pharma company to successfully automate Veeva CRM, a crucial software for engaging with external customers in a regulated and compliant manner.

Boehringer Ingelheim embraced tech integration in its pilot trial for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), monitoring patients remotely through wearable devices in collaboration with Strados Labs. This facilitated tracking of key symptoms, such as cough, from the comfort of patients' homes.

In clinical trial advancements, the company funded key studies evaluating the effectiveness of digital health technology, including a study on a digital app identifying stroke symptoms, showcasing its potential for more timely intervention and reduced long-term effects. Boehringer Ingelheim also sponsored a study comparing the efficacy of three novel digital health technologies versus usual care in managing congestive heart failure, marking an exploration of the impact of digital health on self-management in this condition.

4. Pfizer 

Pfizer maintains the fourth position in this year's ranking, consistent with its standing in the upper echelons of the index.  

This year marked the anticipated launch of Pfizer's 2020 collaboration with digital innovator Sidekick Health a comprehensive digital therapeutic solution designed to enhance outcomes for patients with atopic dermatitis (AD). Initially introduced in the EU and Japan, the tool utilizes Sidekick's digital platform and gamification principles to support AD patients and encourage better adherence. The recent acquisition by Pfizer Australia of ResApp, specializing in digital apps for respiratory disease diagnosis and management, suggests further advancements in remote patient monitoring solutions. 

In the clinical realm, Pfizer slightly eased off the accelerator, resulting in a slip in the index. However, the company announced an "extraordinary partnership" with Truveta, a system-led data platform. This collaboration provides Pfizer access to Truveta's extensive database, featuring over 50 million de-identified real-world patient journeys in almost real time. 

Alongside external collaborations, Pfizer pursued internal innovation through foundational organizational investments. This included the creation of a new team focusing on AI and machine learning and plans to expand its existing innovation hub, the Center for Digital Innovation, nearly doubling the number of employees. Pfizer also unveiled plans for a sterile injectables "virtual factory" to optimize the supply chain and invested in staff upskilling efforts to bolster manufacturing capabilities.

5. Astellas 

Astellas secured its debut in this year's top 10 through a series of collaborations, notably in oncology with Sony's life sciences arm. Together, the companies explore novel antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) for targeted anti-cancer drug delivery, with plans to potentially extend the partnership. Astellas partnered with Twist Bioscience for novel antibody discovery, leveraging Twist Bioscience's expertise in DNA synthesis technology across multiple therapy areas. 

In the competitive diabetes market, Astellas joined forces with Roche Diabetes Care Japan to commercialize Roche's glucose monitoring system alongside BlueStar, a digital health solution for diabetics. This newly formed team, including BlueStar's manufacturer Welldoc, will conduct clinical trials and launch the integrated remote patient monitoring system in Japan, incorporating an AI-based algorithm to support diabetes management and lifestyle adjustments. 

Astellas also made a substantial investment of almost $70 million to establish an innovative research center, or integrated biotechnology campus, in San Francisco. In its home market, Japan, Astellas collaborated with Mitsui Fudosan to build an innovation hub dedicated to tumor microenvironment research. This hub integrates machine learning technologies and research equipment to advance scientific of tumor microenvironment.  

6. Sanofi 

Sanofi, directed its efforts this year toward transforming clinical development by integrating machine learning and AI into its trial processes. This move secured the company fourth place in the clinical rank and sixth place overall.  

In the realm of oncology trials, Sanofi partnered with Flatiron Health, a pioneer in electronic oncology data capture, adopting Flatiron's electronic system to replace manual data entry. The objective is to streamline processes, enabling clinicians to dedicate more time to essential aspects of patient care. 

Sanofi continued its emphasis on AI, expanding on its 2021 multimillion-dollar collaboration with Owkin. The company heightened its commitment with a substantial $1.2 billion deal with Atomwise, a leader in AI-driven drug discovery.  

Additionally, Sanofi entered into a three-year partnership with TrialSpark, focusing on optimizing clinical trials. This initiative, coupled with other strategic collaborations, aims to accelerate and make drug development more cost-effective.

7. Eli Lilly 

In response to heightened competition in the insulin market, Eli Lilly has introduced its diabetes management platform, Tempo. The platform, seven years in development, consists of a digital app for insulin tracking, Tempo Pen for delivery, and the FDA-approved Tempo Smart Button transmitting dose-related data.

Designed to compete with rivals Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, Tempo integrates with various monitoring platforms, including Dexcom and popular health tracker apps. Eli Lilly's foray into tech collaborations included an investment with XtalPi, securing AI tools and robotics expertise for compound discovery and delivery design in an undisclosed therapy area. 

Eli Lilly's entrance into the insulin market with Tempo aims to provide a comprehensive solution for diabetes management. Additionally, the company's collaboration with XtalPi reflects a broader strategy to leverage external expertise for novel compound discovery, contributing to Eli Lilly's diverse portfolio beyond its diabetes-focused endeavors.

8. Bayer 

Bayer experienced a decline in its ranking, moving from the second spot to the eighth position this year. Despite the drop, the company maintained a position in the top ten, largely attributed to its digital initiatives in the clinical optimization space.  

A notable accomplishment came from Bayer and its subsidiary, BlueRock Therapeutics, in Parkinson's disease, when they revealed its phase I trial for the stem cell therapy, bemdaneprocel, yielded encouraging early results.

BlueRock also collaborated with Rune Labs and Emerald to address the challenge of accurately capturing day-to-day experiences of Parkinson's patients, conducting a global trial using Apple Watch wearables for real-time movement tracking and comprehensive symptom monitoring. 

In line with integrating technology into its disease-focused initiatives, Bayer partnered with health-tech company Huma to develop an online Bayer Aspirin Heart Risk Assessment tool for identifying individuals at long-term risk of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, Bayer strengthened its gene therapy portfolio through collaboration with Acuitas Therapeutics, specializing in liquid nanoparticle delivery systems. This technology will support Bayer's protein replacement and gene editing programs. 

9. Gilead 

Gilead re-entered the top ten this year, securing the ninth position, driven primarily by its investment in clinical research.

Gilead's work in the clinical trial space was highlighted through the CARAMA program. This initiative facilitated remote monitoring by specialized nurses via phone for patients undergoing CAR T-cell therapy post-hospital discharge. The program demonstrated enhanced early detection of complications, contributing to efficient use of medical resources and time. Additionally, regular check-ins provided patients with peace of mind, positively impacting their overall well-being. 

Gilead's engagement with technology extended to its HIV program, incorporating ingestible sensors for patients on antiretrovirals. The trial revealed that the sensor, connected to patients' mobile devices and offering regular reminders, effectively improved treatment adherence and heightened overall patient satisfaction.  

10. BMS 

Bristol Myers Squibb finished this year's top ten with efforts across multiple ventures in its disease franchises and business sectors. Like many drugmakers, BMS collaborated with AI experts to leverage the technology for pipeline expansion.

The company also extended its agreement with PathAI to aid in diagnosis, potential patient segmentation, and de-risking in notoriously complex oncology spaces. Meanwhile, it secured a multiyear deal with Viz.ai to deploy its software for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy detection and patient triage. 

BMS also took steps to expand its global cell therapy manufacturing footprint. This included establishing a new facility in Devens, Massachusetts, USA, and announcing the takeover of the former Novartis plant to develop CAR T-cell therapies in-house an effort to bolster its supply chain and manufacturing network overall. 

About the Author

Andrea Corona | Senior Editor