Is personalising medicine at scale the next revolution in healthcare?

In our previous perspective, Personalisation at Scale, we looked at personalising products in the consumer business and retail space. This week, we are exploring what personalisation means for the pharmaceutical industry. In our annual research report, Barometer on Change 2018/19, we surveyed hundreds of business leaders and discovered the themes of ‘courage, agility and talent’ that are driving the debate on transformation across all sectors. As we look at the Pharmaceutical industry, all these themes apply to the emergence of personalisation disrupting the status quo.

An industry shaped by growing customer expectations and bio-tech disruption 

Across the globe and a range of products and services, rapid digitisation and the subsequent personalisation of products and services has driven customers to raise their expectations. Personalisation is all about tailoring an offer to an individual based on their specific needs and preferences and is taking place across the consumer landscape; from targeted advertisements on social media to customisable smart phones or grocery store experiences, customers are acclimatising to a world where they demand services to be tailored to them. Drawing parallels to the pharmaceutical industry, as a concept, personalised medicine is not new. In fact clinicians have always done this, but we are now starting to embed personalised medicine into mainstream healthcare1. We see trends like customers (patients, physicians, and payers) scrutinising the value of a new-to-market medicine, like a recently FDA approved gene therapy by Novartis for spinal muscular atrophy2; patients seeking clinically and economically superior therapies that address their specific needs; and, we even see, more informed patients seeking improved healthcare outcomes with treatment personalised to their specific condition, physiology or genetic makeup (also known as “precision medicine” )3

Aside from rising customer expectations, the industry status quo is being further challenged by the rise of bio-tech start-ups focusing on the benefits that biopharmaceutical treatment and treatment personalisation offers. These companies often employ far more technological innovation, digital media and leverage insight from big data to drive their drug development pipeline and customer offering than traditional big pharma. As Steve Mason, Multichannel & Marketing Cloud Expert at Salesforce, once quoted, “Pharma is below the global average of digital maturity, even though the technology exists to create the best possible customer experience.”. The question is whether we will see the pharmaceutical industry embrace this evolving landscape?

Delivering the next step in personalised pharmaceuticals and patient care

In partnership with diagnostics companies, the pharmaceutical industry is driving towards personalised medicines by tailoring and matching their drugs and services to the patient and their specific requirements. In addition medical devices companies continue to pioneer innovative, digital and personalised patient monitoring solutions. In 2018, the personalised medicine coalition classified 42% of new molecular entities (NME – new drugs, agents or thereapeutic biologics) as personalised medicines4. Providing a pathway for the pharmaceutical industry to meet growing customer demand, we see two main options; advancement in genomic science allowing for the pinpointing of specific mutations and illnesses associated with them alongside the growing understanding of their respective molecular pathways; coupled with the digital landscape evolving and rapidly transforming the broader healthcare landscape.

The challenge for the pharmaceuticals industry is to catch up to this new patient-centric world through harnessing technological innovation, digital technology and big data to drive insight and develop a deeper understanding of treatment for individuals, capturing and leveraging high-quality and granular patient data to drive pharmaceutical innovation. 

So, what can pharmaceuticals do to apply personalisation, in order to improve patient healthcare?

1. Understand what customers seek to gain from personalisation

With every person, disease and drug mechanism unique in so many ways, pharmaceutical companies have the potential to take personalisation to the next level. This requires understanding the value of personalisation to the customer. An ecosystem that constantly monitors a patient's condition and provides feedback using advanced data analytics to the patient and other stakeholders can be developed5. This ecosystem can improve health outcomes by using data to enhance a patient’s clinical and lifestyle needs. There are many innovative technologies available at present which will support this – for example Welldoc6 has launched BlueStart, the first FDA approved mobile app for managing type 2 diabetes. Using data about patients, as they go about their daily lives, will allow real-time alerts to be issued to medical professionals when there is a need for intervention and will allow pharmaceutical companies to take personalisation to the next level. 

2. Align the vast array of opportunities to an established vision and strategy

Gathering insights from your customer and acting on them to inform your strategy is key. Pharmaceutical companies are developing a deeper understanding of treatment for individuals as digital engagement technologies open up the exchange of information and facilitates recruitment of trials. As we progress through the digital revolution and capture higher-quality data on an expanding patient pool, it’s crucial to agree the priorities for response, vision for success and the values to be adhered to. With smaller patient populations in rarer diseases, pharmaceutical companies need to make use of big data’s ability to analyse what is possible in medical research and patient care. They will also need to leverage new engagement technologies to enable a more nimble feedback loop to R&D and to branch out early in the process. Closer collaboration between authorities involved will raise awareness thereby demonstrating the value of personalised medicine, so that regulators and policymakers respond by incentivising innovation7.

3. Ensure the foundations are in place to deliver at scale

High quality data on an expanding patient pool will form the foundation of personalisation. However, the real challenge for pharmaceutical companies is to ensure implementable scalability of their approach to personalisation, for example such as when a medical professional wants to prescribe the treatments that match the patient’s individual pathology. An example of this is CAR T cells being engineered using a patient’s immune cells to treat their cance8r. In order to achieve this, pharmaceutical companies need to move away from large batch produced products in manufacturing sites far away from the patient, to small runs of complex medicines tailored to the specific requirements of the patient and distributed via channels, like local health centres that can deliver the treatment approach. This will require a more patient-centric approach with enhancements to the current distribution channel and value chain rather than the ‘push’ model that has been typically followed to date. 

Building for the future

The pharmaceutical industry is at a pivotal moment in healthcare history. A combination of information, knowledge, technology, data science and regulatory change is revolutionising personlisation for patients9. The challenge for pharmaceutical companies is to catch up and adapt to this technology-enabled patient-centric world by understanding their customers personalisation needs and ensuring the organisation is working towards a shared vision by developing a more fluid distribution channel. Turning this strategy into action will support the effective delivery of personalisation that will significantly improve patient health. 

For more information on how to achieve profitable personalisation at scale please contact Katariina Kronholm on or +44 7472414949

1. Improving Outcomes Through Personalised Medicine - 
3.  Precision Medicine Initiative - “an approach to disease treatment or prevention that takes into account the individual variability of genes, environment and lifestyle factors”.
4. Personalised Medicine FDA - 
5. The Road to Digital Success in Pharma - 
6. BlueStar Now Available -   
7. European Alliance for Personalised Medicine- 
8. CAR T- Cells - 
9. Roche – This is Personal Healthcare - 

Media Enquiries
For more information please email


Prathieban is an experienced Manager with a focus on technology delivery.

Prathieban Sathanathan Manager