Pharma is on the Hunt for Platform Professionals

New talent sought to realize data ecosystem strategies

This month, Flagship Pioneering posted a position for Head of Discovery Platform.  Flagship Pioneering is a life sciences company located in East Cambridge across the Charles River from Massachusetts General Hospital and a few minutes’ walk from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.   

The company is currently searching for a candidate who can create and lead an multi-omics discovery platform for large-scale next-generation sequencing. The ideal candidate is expected to have a strong background in molecular and protein biology with experience managing and innovating around cell/molecular biology assays centered on the application of next-generation sequencing and cutting-edge proteomics technologies to therapeutic discovery from primary human tissues.  The person who secures the position will take on the following responsibilities:

  • Design, develop and evaluate large scale next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based studies to discover and evaluate therapeutic targets from primary human tissues

  • Create a best-in-class Discovery Platform team that innovates and brings ideas to fruition

  • Drive innovation surrounding NGS and proteomics-based omics technologies

  • Lead efforts to adopt and advance ancillary technology across the platform as well as automation

  • Generate high quality datasets for machine learning & therapeutic discovery from various disease tissues and experimental settings

  • Provide leadership and overall management of technical teams

Flagship Pioneering is far from the only company in the life sciences and pharmaceutical field looking for specialized talent that combines a deep knowledge of life sciences and data with an understanding of how platforms can be successfully launched and operated.  In the table below, I list ten such roles that are now under active search.   

Let’s look at another example of a platform professional role posted by Abbott Laboratories. Abbott is a large medical device and health care company based just outside of Chicago. A newly posted role for Senior Product Manager, Digital Platforms will support the Abbott Diabetes Care unit, which is responsible for software-based products and services that expand and enhance the capabilities of the FreeStyle Libre platform continuous glucose monitoring solution. The role has the following core responsibilities:

Define and advance the digital product strategy and roadmap

Identify and prioritize unmet user needs, and translate them into product requirements

Collaborate with product designers to define the total user experience

Plan and execute formative design research and usability testing

Collaborate with software engineering to implement and test new features and/or products

Train internal stakeholders on new features and/or products

Collaborate with product marketing to produce promotional and/or educational content

Provide on-market product support to Global Commercial Operations

Although not mentioned in the job post, this position appears to be aimed at supporting Abbott’s engagement with companies like Supersapiens, which is creating an ecosystem targeting endurance athletes, such as triathletes, cyclists, runners, CrossFit athletes, and soccer players. Abbott has developed extensive experience in treating diabetes by developing over-the-counter products that monitor glucose levels. Supersapient has been focused on developing an app that gives athletes the ability to monitor glucose levels in real-time, which is a key variable for athletic performance. Last fall, the two companies announced that they are joining forces.1

The market potential for applying insights learned from monitoring glucose levels to treat diabetes is large. The total available market to serve endurance athletes in the US and Europe is estimated to be $7 billion assuming a $140/month subscription, which the subscription rate Supersapiens charges for its monitoring app and supplying the Abbott Libre Sense Sport Glucose Biosensor.2 

Why Now?

The talent searches underway at Flagship Pioneering and Abbott Laboratories illustrate two forces impacting healthcare companies. One is the growing cost and time involved in modern drug discovery. It now takes, on average, 10-12 years to bring a new compound to market at an average cost of over $2 billion.3 Meanwhile, the returns on investment in innovation have declined to 1.9 percent in 2018 down from 10.1 percent in 2010. As a consequence, it has become increasingly imperative for drug makers to improve the speed and cost-effectiveness of drug discovery. The pressure to escape these declining returns has generated strong interest in more open platform-based innovation models that can produce better and faster analytic-based insight.4

At the same time, the ability to leverage digital apps and sensors in real-time is opening up new opportunities. Executive teams recognize that new revenue streams can be created if healthcare companies shift to more open platform business models that support combining data sets and capabilities in ways that grow ecosystem and harness network effects.5 They also understand that decision making can be improved by pooling data to train machine-learning algorithms and analytics-based insights. Many have launched initiatives to identify these opportunities and test use cases. Finally, most recognize that there are opportunities to tap platform strategies that create a more personalized, convenient and trusted experiences for customers and patients.6

The New Talent Trifecta

The challenges and opportunities confronting pharma and other healthcare companies will not be addressed only through the application of new technologies and business models. Fresh talent is needed. It is not one set of competencies but rather a combination made up of three core parts:

A. Life sciences and medicine. In many cases the requirements are steep. For example, Senior Director: Single Cell Genomics Platform Leader posted by Celsius Therapeutics requires a PhD (or equivalent degree or years of experience) with ~10 years of experience including leadership in single cell genomics (SCG). The position posted for Scientific Director, Rare Disease Cures Accelerator - Data and Analytics Platform by the Critical Path Institute, calls for a PhD (or equivalent doctoral degree) in a biological science, with experience in rare diseases. Even the less senior roles favor healthcare experience and training.

B. IT, Data and Analytics. The roles also often set a high bar on knowledge and experience related to advanced data analytics. For instance, the role posted by Danaher Digital the accelerator within the larger Danaher Corporation for a Digital Product Manager, Data Platforms, has extensive data and analytic requirements. The position requires “5+ years of experience in cloud-based (AWS or Azure) software applications/services, preferably AWS/Azure IoT related services with deep knowledge of IoT and Data & Analytics components and services experience using SDLC (software development lifecycle) practices and frameworks and backlog management tools (e.g. JIRA/Confluence/etc.).”

C. Platform and Ecosystems Management. At the same time, these roles require the ability to assess and analyze customers’ digital ecosystems, environments and workflows, the ability to develop platform roadmaps, and if not the ability to build, at least understand and deliver data management, data processing, data pipelines & ingestion, and data governance. Take Philips, which has been at work building the Philips HealthSuite Platform for several years. The position Philips has posted for Platforms and Solutions Architect Research requires: “A MSc in computer science and minimal 5 years working experience in the area of AI and big data. Strong architectural knowledge and proven experience on digital platforms, cloud solutions, big data platforms and complex IT Infrastructures including data security; and, proven experience in support, administration and extension of local compute, network and backup infrastructure.”

Hiring Challenges

The challenge pharma and other health-related companies is finding talent that satisfies all legs of the new trifecta. Finding great talent that has all three is a challenging task, especially considering the third capability. There are very few individuals who have the life science training, the computer science, advanced data analytic capability AND deep experience in platform strategy and ecosystem management.

This placement challenge also sets up a risk. Since there is a much greater talent pool to draw from around capability A (life sciences and medicine), and increasingly B (IT, data and analytics), the hunt for new hires could settle on these capabilities and not C (platform and ecosystems management), which is much scarcer in healthcare. This can leave companies short of their transformation goals if they do build a strong bench of platform professionals.

To avoid replicating the talent capabilities they already have, companies will need to develop clear strategies to ensure they deepen the platform side of the talent trifecta. This can be achieved by hiring in platform professionals from outside the healthcare industry and supporting their transition. It can also be done by providing their talent bench with targeted platform training. Most likely, both strategies will be required.

Leave a comment

For a more in depth look at preparing the next generation of platform leaders see: