Blog August 26, 2019

The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer in Pharma Companies

Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is the latest title to become a standard within the pharmaceutical company C-suite, with Takeda, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Merck, Sanofi and others all making such appointments in recent years. As we’ve written before, this addition to the pharma senior management team reflects the growing importance of digital to pharma, which encompasses a wide variety of initiatives: applications of artificial intelligence/machine learning across the drug discovery and development process; digital measurement tools for collecting a wide variety of data in real time; drugs that incorporate digital read-outs and wholly digital therapeutics; as well as a range of apps for patients and physicians to be used with traditional drugs. 


Sanofi CDO Ameet Nathwani, M.D.
Sanofi CDO Ameet Nathwani, M.D.

The CDO’s role varies somewhat from company to company. However, many are charged with effecting digital transformation across the entire pharma value chain, from enacting supply chain efficiencies to improving research and development, as well as implementing initiatives to increase consumer engagement. In an effort to provide a different perspective to the industry, many CDOs have been recruited from outside pharma, bringing backgrounds from tech, beauty, retail and apparel. They are being tasked with using technology and data in a meaningful way to improve how business and patient care are done today, and to prepare their companies for the healthcare environment and needs of tomorrow.


For example, Sanofi plans to digitize every aspect of its business. This includes internal efficiencies in the supply chain, and applications of machine learning and data analytics in drug research and clinical development. But patient-focused initiatives, including digitally enhanced drugs and new digital offerings to go along with traditional therapeutics, are of particular interest. Hence, the company’s recently appointed CDO, Ameet Nathwani, M.D., also holds the title of Chief Medical Officer. In this combined role, a company spokesperson said he is tasked with transforming how the company works, as well as reinventing the types of products Sanofi might offer to its customers around the world.