Digital Visionary: Andre Heeg, Sandoz

January 7, 2019

Andre Heeg, Sandor's new Head of Digital, tells Pharm Exec about his digital vision for the company.

Novartis’s digital transformation very much extends to the activities of its generic pharmaceuticals and biosimilars division, Sandoz. Sandoz recruited its own “outside expert”, Andre Heeg, as Head of Digital in July 2018. An experienced startup executive, business & sales manager, and strategist, Heeg brings expertise in software and hardware product portfolios and offerings, as well a passion for the potential of technology and digital processes in healthcare. Here, he tells Pharm Exec about his digital vision for Sandoz.

PharmExec: What is your background and what attracted you to Sandoz?

Andre Heeg: I have an atypical background: I was a doctor (MD) and dentist (DDS) by training, then management consultant and startup entrepreneur, before finding my way into data and digital. The impact and potential of digital advancement in healthcare became increasingly obvious to me. Being responsible for the digital transformation at Sandoz gives me the great opportunity to deliver better access and care to hundreds of millions of patients in new and more customer-friendly ways.

Can you outline how Sandoz is transforming its data activities and how this links with Novartis?

Our data strategies are closely aligned. At the core we aim to standardize the collection and connection, and to make data useful, taking the friction out of data. Pharma companies are collecting loads of data, but not often using these data sets in the most optimal way. We know we can improve both our internal processes as well as services we offer to customers and patients with the help of data. At Sandoz, we will focus on automation and predictive decision making enabled by data.

What are the responsibilities of the Head of Digital?

It’s fairly broad on the outset. We prioritize our efforts around three pillars: how we operate and conduct business internally, how we interact and engage with customers, and how we innovate for the future. Underlying enablers are a solid data strategy and driving a cultural change. We know that technological change will actually be the smaller part of a digital transformation. The by-far larger part is a change of mindset and the way we work together and drive projects. As Head of Digital, it’s my responsibility to create an environment to enable this.

What kind of initiatives are moving this work forward?

We are exploring partnerships with younger companies or startups, academia, and think tanks in order to get exposure to new ideas and learn. Recently, we entered a partnership with unternehmerTUM and their applied AI team, which is a think tank associated with the Technical University of Munich, to advance our thinking and work in applying artificial intelligence to solve business challenges.

We aspire to become a leader in digital medicine because we know the impact on people around the world with access to these therapies. We’re convinced that digital therapies will be the future of healthcare and a new modality to improve care for patients. We are looking to join forces with pioneers in this field in order to drive forward the development, approval, and commercialization of digital therapies. The partnership we entered with Pear Therapeutics and the joint work we are doing to treat substance use disorder (addiction) is a great first step into this direction.

What challenges (and advantages) do you face?

Challenges are always opportunities. Given the field is fairly new to Sandoz, we have to do some foundational work in order to create a baseline. Currently, data is not as readily accessible and useable as it can be. The opportunity we have now is to define the most optimal way for us to do so and move in that direction. Our advantage is that there is no shortage of data and ideas of how to use it.

What kind of milestones are you expecting to reach in the near future?

Digital transformation takes time; this is a multi-year journey. My ultimate goal is to make my role obsolete; just as there are no Head of Fax Machines or Head of Computers anymore. We want to deliver a constant flow of smaller and larger success stories. We want to pilot and then scale when we have established a proof of concept. Given our global presence, we have many opportunities for both testing and then scaling. In terms of milestones we need to build a solid infrastructure (team, structure) while we are developing pilot projects in parallel. As a first milestone, we have already developed and implemented a tool that enables us to make much smarter bidding decision in tenders of generics enabled by artificial intelligence.