Healthcare Opens Up to Innovation and Says 'Ah'

Historically in pharma, whatever an organization is working on next is kept close to the vest. With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to read a list of 10 top healthcare innovation teams, compiled for MM&M by Sara Holoubek for our April Game Changers supplement.

The list defies healthcare's tendency for secrecy in that, while many of these teams are known, structure and history details are not necessarily a matter of public knowledge. They are now.

Read the list: What 10 innovation teams look like

One team Holoubek came across is new, Merck's Center for Observational and Real-World Evidence (CORE), which focuses on “articulating the value” of Merck medicines and vaccines by using novel data sources and methods.

CORE's structure marks a return to a centralized innovation model for Merck and — as it turns out — for others.

While letting us peek behind CORE's curtain, she also observed several commonalities among the 10 directors she interviewed. The biggest trends are:

From ideating to innovating: Having spent enough time talking about structure and different ways of organizing, these teams are finally ready to innovate in earnest. Pfizer's Wendy Mayer, VP of worldwide innovation, is forthcoming about the fact that she inherited a team in which "more was spent on organization design than on demonstrating what innovation could do.”

Back to centralization: Many companies start with an innovation team that's centralized before realizing it's too disconnected from the business unit to be meaningful. “But what I'm hearing today is that organizations have gone back to a centralized team,” explains Holoubek, “and what's different is they recognize they do need to be dialed into the business unit and business needs.”

This inflection point is one we'll reflect on during MM&M's Transforming Healthcare conference, on May 5.

Invest in design thinking: Vidya Raman-Tangella, head of the United Healthcare Innovation Center of Excellence, talks about hiring design researchers and thinkers. UHC's 30 full-time members are experienced human-centered design professionals.

True commitment: Each of the teams on our list is staffed quite well — 40 to 50 people in the case of Boston Children's Hospital, “a few hundred and growing” for Alphabet's Verily.

Multiple directors noted that while it's “sexy” to have the innovator label as part of your job title, “leaders need to recognize that successful innovation is not always sexy or fun — it takes hard work,” notes Jill Balderson, VP, healthcare innovation at Planned Parenthood.

Women rise up: Healthcare has a lot of women, but as you go up the ranks men tend to dominate. Innovation is where women are rising up to the C-suite: Seven of the ten directors on our list are women.

Areas where women are breaking through pharma's glass ceiling, and where there's room for improvement, will be up for discussion at the inaugural MM&M Hall of Femme event, slated for June 9 in New York City.

Marc Iskowitz is editor in chief of MM&M.