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Hubertus von Baumbach (right) and
Michael Schmelmer

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“Digital is a tool, not
an end in itself”

Hubertus von Baumbach (CEO) and Michael Schmelmer (CFO) are working together with many employees to advance the company’s digital transformation. In this interview, they expand on how they intend to employ new technical possibilities. Their goal is to achieve real added value in the development of medicines, in production and, above all, for patients, physicians and employees.

Mr v. Baumbach, Mr Schmelmer: digital health is the buzzword which currently has the whole industry talking. Setting aside this buzzword, what concrete added value do the new digital technologies actually deliver?

HUBERTUS v. BAUMBACH (HvB) For us, digitalisation is the generic term for new technologies for employing data – that’s to say, capturing, processing and analysing – and the automated steering of processes. Digitalisation offers us diverse opportunities to improve, in part even fundamentally transform, not only the innovation process, but the complete value chain. Innovations have guaranteed our success and independence over the past 130 years. Today, we still firmly believe in the importance of the power to innovate to the company’s future. We must and will repeatedly question and challenge the existing and the proven. We make corresponding resources available and thereby bear the consequent, entrepreneurial risk. That enables us to turn our vision into reality. We want to create value through innovation.
 

What does that mean in concrete terms?

This means that we want to develop new therapeutic approaches that will bring measurable and tangible improvements to patients’ lives. We have in particular set our target to develop human pharmaceuticals that are novel and first in their medicinal class. At the same time, we want to create added value for healthcare systems. In doing so, we should not simply reduce the term “value” to “price” or immediate “costs”. Otherwise, we will lose sight of the overall efficiency of the systems. Most of all, we would then neglect the needs of patients.
 

MICHAEL SCHMELMER (MS) The key challenge for us is to enable Boehringer Ingelheim to seize these opportunities rapidly and efficiently. Digital technologies are transforming processes and business models in almost every area of the company – in some areas these are disruptive transformations, while in others they are more evolutionary.

International Prix Galien for JARDIANCE®

On 28 November 2018, Boehringer Ingelheim's diabetes medication JARDIANCE® (empagliflozin) was awarded with the 2018 International Prix Galien as “Best Pharmaceutical Product”.

The prize is the most prestigious award in the field of pharmaceutical innovation and recognises outstanding efforts and achievements of pharmaceutical research and development.

JARDIANCE® is the first antidiabetic that helps to lower cardiovascular death among patients with type 2 diabetes, in addition to its positive effects on blood sugar, body weight and blood pressure.

Can you provide an example?

MS Take the development of medicines, where we have been quite successful in the past. Recently, our diabetes medicine jardiance® received the prestigious International Prix Galien as “Best Pharmaceutical Product”. We are increasingly using digital technologies to push our boundaries and shorten our development cycles. For example, artificial intelligence helps us to register and evaluate patient data in studies faster. We are simply getting better at what we are already doing today – but these are changes which are somewhat evolutionary in nature. On the other hand, in the areas of production and cooperation with physicians and patients, the changes under way are disruptive. Completely new business models are becoming possible here – and digital platforms are opening up entirely new forms of interaction.
 

Which of these technologies do you expect to provide the greatest added value?

HvB Artificial intelligence is certainly one of the areas of technology which open up to us particularly promising new opportunities in many areas of our company. The volume of data is growing very fast. AI will in future allow us to reliably structure and analyse this data in a relatively short space of time. Today, this would hardly be possible even with unlimited human resources. But for all our enthusiasm for individual technological innovations, there is no overlooking the fact that digital is a tool rather than an end in itself. New technology is helping us to transform the company. Appropriate use of these tools will play an even more decisive role in our success, both now and in the future, in order for us to stay true to our entrepreneurial goal and to create new therapeutic options for people and animals.

MS Internal pilot projects and change programmes such as our digital laboratory BI X or our BI CUBE in Ingelheim are certainly also playing an important role. We are developing new, digital processes and products and experimenting with agile work methods there. We thus aim to provide a sense of momentum for our employees’ everyday work and for the organisation as a whole.

Does the process of digital transformation also pose such a major challenge because change is unfolding at such a rapid pace? In many areas, there is a considerable fear of disruptors from other industries.

HvB Digitalisation brings acceleration and completely new technological approaches. We experience this in all areas of our lives. As a company, we want to take advantage of these opportunities in order to continue to compete successfully. Being prepared for continual change has always been our guiding principle. We regard change as the motor of the future and would also like to make our contribution to reshape the new, digital healthcare sector. This can, for instance, mean that patients with diseases of the central nervous system will receive the right diagnosis more quickly, thanks to the analysis of specific speech patterns, and the appropriate medicine will then also be available for them.
In epidemiology, digital technology enables us to assess the efficacy, safety and utilisation of our products in close to real time. One of our current studies in patients who suffer from the rare lung disease scleroderma will be concluded in less than six months – compared to five or more years using the traditional registry-based approach. If successful, the medicine will be available to patients more than four years earlier.

MS We are not afraid of disruptors – in fact, we see ourselves as a disruptor for our industry, in the positive sense. So we are absolutely open to external, innovative partners who inspire us and who help us to realise our ideas for better human and animal health. We are cooperating with start-ups, researchers and developers, and integrating physicians and patients in our process of innovation – digital platforms provide fantastic new opportunities. All of that helps us to achieve an even better understanding of our patients’ needs and to provide them with targeted offerings.
 

So Boehringer Ingelheim is ready for the age of digital health?

HvB More than ready. We are already in the process of shaping that future, with all of the opportunities and challenges which it will entail. Ultimately, digital health is an attempt to link health sciences even closer to each other. On the way, things could also gladly move somewhat faster.

“Ultimately, digital health is an attempt to link health sciences even closer to each other.”

Hubertus von Baumbach,
Chairman of the Board of Managing Directors