“Why are so many of biopharma’s new wave of digital chiefs coming from outside the industry — can’t we grow our own?”

It’s a question I’ve heard lately from the “digerati,” those on brand teams and agencies who over the years pushed for much-needed consensus and clarity around how pharma can market products responsibly using digital channels.

I posed this question to Sara Holoubek, whose chief digital officer profiles in this installment of Game Changers include three who were hired from other industries: beauty, management consulting, and tech.

“If I were to summarize the interviews,” she told me, “I would say that for the first time, we are seeing the industry as a whole think about digital and its potential in a very meaningful way.”

Indeed, today’s chief digital officers have a remit that goes beyond marketing to include R&D, supply chain, and manufacturing, she pointed out, and that requires skills both in digital transformation and managing people and a budget of millions or even billions. “It’s really hard to get both,” which is why companies are going the external route.

That said, two of the chief digital officers cut their teeth in previous pharma roles, and Holoubek pointed out the very first biopharma digital chief, hired by Takeda, was a “pharma native.” And at press time, Sanofi had appointed Ameet Nathwani as chief digital officer, in addition to his current role of EVP, chief medical officer. He has 20 years of pharma experience.

What might it take for pharma to turn the next generation of digital rock stars into chief digital officers? Don’t overlook the need for big company management experience to go along with digital expertise.

Marc Iskowitz, executive editor, MM&M