Pharmaceuticals & Biotech

A new era for digital health and medicine: A conversation with Ahmed Albaiti

July 14, 2021 | Q&A | 5-minute read

A new era for digital health and medicine: A conversation with Ahmed Albaiti

Digital health is maturing and accelerating like never before, with a wide range of solutions gaining mainstream acceptance. The pharmaceutical sector has been slower to embrace digital, however, due to hurdles in both markets and capabilities. The opportunity is certainly clear, but pharma companies must navigate unique product complexities, regulatory uncertainties and barriers to scaling solutions. Those companies are looking for partners with end-to-end capabilities in tech, data, compliance and relevant domains who can help them innovate quickly and confidently.


That’s part of why ZS recently acquired Medullan, a 16-year-old firm based in Massachusetts. Medullan brings both expertise and solutions that expand and strengthen what ZS delivers.


I sat down with Ahmed Albaiti, who joined us as a principal in our Digital and Connected Health practice after 16 years serving as Medullan’s CEO, to talk about how our businesses came together to achieve a unique shared vision for the future of commercialized digital health solutions and decentralized trials.


Pete Masloski: One of the things that first attracted us to Medullan was the deep digital health and medicine product expertise your organization has. Talk to me about how you’ve seen this market develop over the years.


Ahmed Albaiti: Well, of course digital has been a story of disruption across industries for many years now, well before Medullan was founded in 2005. For example, think of the seismic shift that reshaped the entertainment media industry—from Blockbuster to HBO to Netflix to the so-called “streaming wars” that include giants like Disney+. It didn’t take long for the disruptors to become the incumbents and for the blue-chip content companies to adopt new business models.


Of course, healthcare is much more complicated than movies. But this much holds true: Becoming a digital business can come with a lot of risk and a lot of reward. There are many victims on that road, and plenty of heroes. That high-risk, high-reward equation has been challenging for the culture of healthcare and pharmaceutical companies because their businesses are especially sensitive to risk. Lives are at stake in this industry.


Digital health and digital medicine are just now coming of age as true businesses. We’re seeing a paradigm shift, especially in the wake of the pandemic, where everyone in the industry is recognizing that all medicine of the future will have a digital component. In the not-too-distant future, brand-new companies will be built as biodigital—where every aspect of the business is patient-first and digital-first, right down to the therapy pipeline. The question for our clients is not whether they will move forward in digital health or digital medicine, but how—and how fast.


PM: Navigating those complexities requires expertise and tight integration of strategy with product evolution. That’s why we feel like the combination of what our organizations bring to the table is so powerful: We’re now covering the full spectrum of needs. 


At ZS, we have made it our business to understand the complexity and global context of biopharmaceutical and medtech companies. We have a behavioral science team. We have strong analytics, machine learning and data science teams. And we turn that knowledge into smart strategies.


Medullan has been focused on solution design and development. You also have research, quality, regulatory and compliance capabilities that are critical in decentralized trials.


AA: There’s also the combination of the assets that we can leverage for clients. We have a platform for virtual care as well as novel data that we feel is largely untapped. ZS has its deep data analytics capabilities, which will allow us to turn those data assets into something our clients can leverage for good. That is a head start of at least a decade in terms of accumulated assets and expertise. 


If a pharmaceutical company has risks around data, well, we have a data platform. If that company has risks around regulatory requirements, we have regulatory pathway frameworks. If it has risks around investment and reimbursement uncertainty, we have real-world experience with market adoption and value-based program execution. The list goes on.


PM: That’s key. When we started our Digital and Connected Health practice, we were focused on helping our clients with digital health strategy and insights, but it was always our vision to bring in more of a complete capability. Fortunately, this move with Medullan was a natural fit. We’ve worked side by side on a number of projects and have seen Medullan’s hand in some of the earliest successes in digital health.


AA: Yes, one of the aspects that made us so confident about joining forces is that we’d seen how ZS goes about its work. We knew your mission. We had worked together on some projects. So, we knew the quality of your people and commitment to impact in healthcare.


PM: We could say the same. And the combined value is so badly needed in the market today. As we were moving toward this transaction, we did some interviews with clients where we essentially said, "We now have this digital health technology platform and capability," and that caught their attention immediately. Our new combination of capabilities will help clients overcome complexity and rapidly seize the promise of digital.


AA: I think it is particularly telling that any pharmaceutical company that Medullan has worked with—within a few years, that company has revised and pivoted on its digital health commitment. That's a great indication of how we’re helping these companies realize a whole new way to affect the lives of patients. They are putting their significant assets and human capital to work in completely new ways.


By combining with ZS, we’re now going to be able to have that impact for more organizations and usher in a new era for digital health and medicine.


Visit our digital health page to see how ZS and Medullan can help accelerate your digital health strategy.

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