1. The Who

Asked about the need for continuous innovation at their organizations, leaders from GE HealthCare, Moderna and GoodRx state the obvious: The moment you stop innovating is the moment you cede competitive ground — and stop serving the myriad patients who would benefit from next-gen products and treatments.

“Innovation is critical, both for my company and for the healthcare industry as a whole,” stresses Eigil Samset, GM of cardiology solutions at GE HealthCare. “Almost everything we do is focused on constantly innovating and moving the boundaries of what’s possible.” At GE HealthCare, he adds, innovation is all about creating better clinical outcomes for patients. Samset also notes the importance of helping foster better financial and operational outcomes for the company’s primary customers, healthcare providers.

Doug Hirsch, who cofounded GoodRx and served as co-CEO for about 13 years before becoming the company’s chief mission officer, agrees. “One of the joys of being a healthcare technology company is that we can respond very quickly to consumer needs,” he explains. “We start with the patient and work to translate the complexity of healthcare into something that a consumer feels they can be educated by, and then take actions to improve their health.”

When asked who leads the innovation charge at GoodRx, Hirsch responds, “My hope is that innovation comes from everywhere.” To that point, he stresses that he believes he can learn from people at all levels of the company.

“I deeply value those first few weeks when someone starts at GoodRx. They’ll ask, ‘But why do we do it this way?’ and they’re usually right! Those comments are fodder for improvement,” he says.

Moderna chief information officer Brad Miller similarly reports that “everyone” leads the innovation charge at his company.

“From day one, our team members are empowered to be progressive in how they solve problems,” He feels that the breakthrough innovation of Moderna’s technology platform has made it a leader in mRNA drug discovery and manufacturing. Perhaps you’ve heard about the company’s COVID-19 vaccine?

For his part, Samset believes that cross-disciplinary teamwork is more essential in the current health-tech era than it was in decades past.

“Innovation stems from different sources, and it’s the interplay of all those sources where the magic happens,” he explains. “When you put engineers, informatics people and imaging people together with clinicians, innovative juice is going to be released.”

2. The Where

Nearly every pharma and healthcare innovation leader is idea-agnostic: Good ones can come from up and down the organization. In fact, Hirsch says that every interaction he has is an opportunity for improvement and innovation.

“When I think about innovation, I think first and foremost: Just be a consumer,” he explains. “Whenever I go to a doctor, I look around the waiting room and the examination room to see what kind of messaging I’m getting.”

Prior experience, both inside and outside healthcare, can foster an innovation-first mindset. Before Parminder Bhatia became chief AI officer for science and technology at GE HealthCare, he spent six years with Amazon, where he spearheaded a range of AI-enabled health initiatives.

“Here, 90% of our roadmap is defined from customer scenarios and use cases — understanding challenges and doubling down from that perspective,” he says. “What we do may be targeted at reducing scan times or helping with administrative tasks or increasing diagnostic confidence.”

To a person, leaders interviewed for this feature believe that innovation is what differentiates a company from the competition. Samset contends that thinking about it holistically is key.

“We’re not just looking at subtle, product-specific modalities; we’re looking at the patient care pathway from beginning to end,” he notes. “Our vision is to integrate the data that has been generated and create insights along that whole pathway.” He believes this approach allows his group to innovate at the pace the market demands.

Bhatia says his AI team’s broad timeline differentiates it from similar groups at other companies. “A lot of the technology coming out of GE HealthCare now is the result of five to 10 years of research. We’re working to solve problems not just for today, but for the next five years on the horizon.”

Miller contends that having been a data-first company from the start makes Moderna’s approach to innovation slightly unusual. “It enables us to pivot quickly and ride the wave of innovation in the tech industry,” he explains. “We have a modern tech stack built with modern principles that’s all on the cloud, giving us near infinite computing power and scale of storage.”

3. The How

Which isn’t to say that any of this is easy. Hirsch reports that a sizable challenge facing GoodRx is the difficulty of changing consumer healthcare behavior.

“People say, ‘I have an insurance card, I’ll just go to the pharmacy and pay whatever price they ask.’ But just having insurance isn’t enough anymore,” he says. “Even with insurance, you could pay thousands of dollars. That’s why we need to empower consumers.”

That’s why GoodRx attempts to mine ideas from unexpected sources. For one timely product, Hirsch was inspired by “sneaker drops” in which avid sneaker fans seek out rare brands and models. Back in 2020, when consumers were desperately trying to locate COVID-19 vaccines, the company launched a vaccine finder. “It was a simple, definitive guide that told you where you could find them, which one to get and what they do. We turned it around and launched in about three weeks,” he says.

Bhatia is a big fan of collaborating closely with a broad range of partners. He points to just-announced work his group did alongside Mass General Brigham on a program dubbed Missed Care Opportunities.

“We built a model that has 96% accuracy in predicting when a patient is going to miss a doctor’s visit or come late,” he explains. “This streamlines administrative operations and provides more flexibility so that practices can accommodate urgent and walk-in patients.”

Miller and his Moderna colleagues place a premium on listening. “Our sales and marketing teams listen to our customers and regularly elevate ideas,” he notes. “Of course, our employees act as our very own incubator for ideas, consistently challenging convention and coming up with new ways of doing things.”

Innovation can also extend to changes in a company’s operating philosophy. When asked about his group’s plans for the years ahead, Samset says it could rethink its practice of selling only to healthcare professionals. “For example, we have a partnership with AliveCor, which has developed a portable ECG for use in the home,” he notes.

GoodRx is also looking to expand its slate. “We’ve realized that getting someone a discount at the pharmacy counter is just one step. Now we’re looking farther upstream and downstream and filling in products along that suite,” Hirsch reports. By way of example, he points to the company’s Medicine Cabinet app, designed to track the drugs an individual takes and issue reminders about timing and refills.

Noting that GE HealthCare is a leader in FDA-approved AI-enabled apps — with 45 and counting — Bhatia says the company is thinking big. “Our vision is to solve problems with two or three disease states — say, with Alzheimer’s, oncology and cardiology,” he says. “As soon as a new drug gets approved, we’re able to build that entire pipeline and give our customers a more cohesive experience. Pairing the right data with the right diagnosis benefits patients by personalizing their care — and it also benefits the healthcare system, because identifying the precise treatment sooner lowers costs.”

4. The What’s Next

When asked about Moderna’s pipeline, Miller has plenty to report. In Q4 2023, the company expects to provide data on its next-generation COVID-19 and flu combination, he reports. Within five years, Moderna plans to launch “as many as 15 new products addressing high unmet needs, to bring some 50 new candidates into clinical trials and to continue expanding the field of mRNA into new applications.”

It should come as no surprise that AI’s role in industry innovation efforts is rapidly expanding. “In the last few years, we’ve seen firsthand how AI can accelerate development programs, automate key systems and drive collaboration to achieve life-saving outcomes,” Miller continues.

By way of example, he points to Moderna’s investment in AI, which helped speed the development of its COVID-19 vaccine “when every day counted.” He adds that AI supports the company’s pipeline of mRNA medicines, which includes both vaccines and therapeutics.

Samset similarly notes that AI will continue to play a bigger role in all facets of healthcare. “When it’s used to automate workflows, it saves time that would have been spent performing tedious tasks. And in the future, AI might be able to predict the risk of future disease progression,” he says.

Indeed, Bhatia believes that AI and related technologies will continue to more quickly and effectively solve customer challenges, as well as drive operational and clinical efficiencies. “Basically, we work backward from the customer needs and try to align from that perspective. That’s where the innovation comes in,” he says.