Amgen uses algorithms to venture into digital healthcare

Suzanne Blaug, senior vice president of global marketing and commercial development, says she's working with CIO Diana McKenzie to set up a digital healthcare organization that can help physicians better predict how patients will respond to therapies, and to help patients stay on the therapies prescribed to them

How is technology changing Amgen as a business? Traditionally, during an appointment, the doctor would hand-write a patient's condition and medications in a medical record, and when that patient returned two months later, the doctor would pull out the record and read it. With patient information becoming digitized, we have an opportunity not only to reduce reliance on manual records but also to help physicians and patients get more accurate information about their diseases.

Suzanne Blaug

Suzanne Blaug.

How are these new insights changing healthcare? For the last year, I have been working with our CIO, Diana McKenzie, to set up a digital healthcare organization to help physicians better predict how patients will respond to therapies, and to help patients stay on the therapies prescribed to them.

We have partnered with Stanford University on a program that uses complex algorithms to allow physicians to identify patients who are at very high risk of a rare cardiovascular disease. The program allows physicians to identify and engage people affected by familial hypercholesterolemia, an inherited condition that leads to high levels of cholesterol and premature cardiovascular disease. Without these algorithms, the process of patient identification would take huge amounts of data and a great deal of time.

As another example, when I joined Amgen about three years ago, someone in Diana's IT organization had developed an extremely sophisticated algorithm that would enable physicians to predict what would happen to a patient given Treatment A versus Treatment B. We put this IT person together with someone in our commercial business, and they built a team to develop the new product, which will be launched soon.

How are you driving adoption of the digital health organization? We faced some resistance at first, because like most biopharmaceutical companies, our innovation has always focused on our product, and less so on helping patients manage their conditions or stay on treatment. We find that by running five or six pilots at a time, we can determine whether our digital health initiatives have traction in the marketplace, and we can demonstrate to the organization that the best of these initiatives have real value.

When I first came to Amgen, I set up a group dedicated to improving the experience of our customers, whether they are patients or physicians. The people in this group are experts at making others comfortable with digital technologies. For example, they came up with a tool that allows doctors to use text messaging to remind patients to stay on their therapy. While a simple texting program does not tap the potential of digital health, it does help bring our physicians closer to the digital world.

What are you excited about in the world of technology? Years ago, I was working in a small country where I was able to meet with customers myself. I remember thinking, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could transmit all this customer information to the head office in real time? Real-time access to customer information--on a global scale--would generate very valuable insights for us." I believe we're on the brink of finding tools that allow us to get real-time customer insights from all over the world.

This story, "Amgen uses algorithms to venture into digital healthcare" was originally published by CIO.