3 Steps to Resilience Through Innovation: a CEO Lens

3 Steps to Resilience Through Innovation - Ivey Business Journal

Biopharmaceutical companies have always sought to combine advanced scientific insights with cutting-edge technologies. Today, however, those technologies—which include the cloud, AI, augmented reality, Web3, and advanced automation—are accelerating innovation and fueling faster growth. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna, for example, is closing in on a vaccine that can be personalized to treat an individual’s unique type of cancer. According to analysts at Brookline Capital Markets, the treatment could generate sales of almost US$10 billion in 2030.

The biopharmaceutical sector’s innovation- and growth-focused activities are having a surprising side effect—they’re building organizational resilience at a time of persisting inflation, looming economic downturn, and scarcity of the right skills and talent.

This, of course, offers critically relevant lessons for all other industries.

The idea of building resilience may most often be associated with “playing defense” with cost-cutting and efficiency moves. But today, it can and should also stem from new and more rapid ways of leveraging invention and innovation driven by purpose. To understand how, we recommend taking a closer look at what Accenture calls the “New Science” of some biopharma companies.


New Science combines the best of what biopharmas know on the scientific front with the best of what technology can offer to target disease areas where no treatments or cures currently exist. By deploying innovative approaches such as mRNA, CRISPR, genome sequencing, immunotherapies, and monoclonal antibodies, New Science aims to tackle some of the world’s biggest health scares—think cancer, Crohn’s disease, HIV, and muscular dystrophy—by identifying solutions that can’t be found through any other means.

Biopharma companies have long adeptly applied new technologies and novel approaches to scientific insights to create breakthrough solutions. That’s not news. What’s different now is the scale of computational power available with cloud and edge computing, along with AI-enabled tools and process automation that can exponentially accelerate the speed and efficiency with which new drugs and treatments are discovered.

“New Science aims to tackle some of the world’s biggest health scares—think cancer, Crohn’s disease, HIV, and muscular dystrophy—by identifying solutions that couldn’t be found through any other means.”

What’s also new is the ability to better understand certain diseases that were previously thought undruggable and to design better treatments for them. For a highly regulated industry, this means compressing the time significantly from discovery to clinical trial to commercial launch, while also reducing costly project attrition and bringing superior medicines to market.

According to Accenture’s research, the three significant benefits of New Science include:

Improving the chances of creating viable offerings. This approach has shown a 21 per cent higher probability of technical and regulatory success (PTRS) than more traditional approaches for all assets in clinical development between 2018 and 2022.

Reducing the cost of innovation. Improvements in PTRS translate into a cost reduction of US$300 million related to the discovery and development of every successful drug.

Driving revenue growth. New Science is expected to drive 78 per cent of the industry’s revenue growth in the next five years.

All of these benefits bolster a company’s ability to continue pursuing its goals by shifting gears quickly in turbulent times, a key characteristic of resilience.

Consider Moderna’s experience with New Science. Amid a global lockdown at the peak of the pandemic, the company used the Messenger RNA (mRNA) approach to launch a COVID-19 vaccine. Using process automation, AI algorithms, and other technologies, the company developed vaccines that use mRNA—the information molecule that instructs cells to make specific proteins—to create tiny pieces of targeted proteins that strengthen the body’s immune system. This took 10 months, while the conventional process would have taken 10 years.

On top of unprecedented speed, the efficacy was also astonishing. Receiving the vaccine reduced a patient’s chance of infection by 95 per cent¬—well beyond the conventional 60 per cent. To date, the vaccine has been administered to more than 200 million people in the United States alone. Moderna clocked US$18.4 billion in sales in 2022 and is now validating mRNA drugs in two additional verticals beyond their already validated base in infectious diseases—cancer and rare diseases.


Scientific novelty, technology convergence, and unmet patient needs are the guiding principles of New Science. But transferring these basics to other industries isn’t easy. It requires shifting a company’s very essence toward innovation with purpose.

Here are three practical steps to make that happen:

Reorient the portfolio: Business leaders must be willing to pursue new products and services, new markets, and even new ecosystems to address unmet needs. They must prioritize innovation KPIs, as opposed to traditional performance KPIs. For instance, California-based biopharma Amgen has been focused on innovation in the past decade—building enabler capabilities of New Science. Its “Biologics NExT” discovery capabilities include -omics and multi-specific therapies that enable scientific advancement, provide a better understanding of diseases that are presently poorly understood, and come up with new ways of targeting them. One such discovery is Lumakras, a targeted cancer-fighting drug. Almost two-thirds of Amgen’s non-oncology portfolio is genetically validated, which could be a precursor for a higher success rate in clinical trials. Amgen’s focus on innovation is helping it transition away from the eroding sales of older, exclusivity-expired products toward more enduring sales generated by products from New Science. Amgen reported revenues of US$6.1 billion for the first quarter of 2023, largely unchanged from a year ago despite market volatility.

Flip the budget: Along with portfolio shifts, senior executives also need to free up capital to invest in innovation activities, such as streamlining software development cycles with AI and building capabilities to deploy emerging technologies. Companies don’t necessarily need to increase their spending. Instead, like biopharmas that spend more of their budget for information and communication technologies on innovation than maintenance, companies can shift the balance in their own allocations to strengthen the digital spine of their processes. Doing this will enable the adoption of the cloud, AI, augmented reality, and automation, which make innovation increasingly cost-effective, as the business learns how to pilot and scale projects in months rather than years. Moderna leveraged its digital core (comprising cloud, data, AI along with interoperable platforms and applications) to speed up its COVID-19 vaccine delivery—moving from sequence selection to first dosing in just 63 days. At the preclinical stage, a big challenge for the biotech company was producing enough small-scale mRNA to run the experiments. Thus, it relied on digital systems and process automation, along with robotic and AI algorithms. The result is that from manually producing maybe 30 mRNAs in a month, Moderna could produce 1,000 in the same time—all with better quality and without significantly more resources. Moderna’s digital core helped it not only launch the vaccine at the peak of the pandemic but also keep production at pace with demand.

Create dynamic teams: Finally, applying the principles of New Science requires forming new kinds of teams—human teams and “human + machine” teams. To create an environment where bold, new, viable ideas can form, experts in vastly different areas must learn how to explain what they know thoroughly. This takes trust and a willingness to shed assumptions and perceived limits in favour of imagination. It also takes tech to accelerate the process of bringing the right people into the right groups. Take cancer research as an example. Today, the primary researcher in the lab might lead a team comprising a radiation oncologist, a disease-specific biologist, an evolutionary ecologist, a biophysicist, and a geo-biologist, among other experts. They could be working in different countries, using advanced technology side by side in their shared scientific discovery. Darmstadt, Germany-based Merck KGaA uses an AI model to match capabilities with needs across the 60,000-person organization. As CEO Belén Garijo noted at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, such human + machine teams have not meant fewer jobs at Merck KGaA, but different jobs.

Some companies outside of biopharma are beginning to adopt a New Science approach too, with promising results. Berlitz’s work in language and culture training offers an example. Businesses in this field are typically expensive to run and difficult to scale because of the near-truism that one can’t learn language without human instruction. Berlitz found a novel way to create digital experiences that replicate classroom experiences. It partnered with Hour One, an AI company specializing in the development of virtual humans for use in video communications. Hour One produces lifelike, photoreal characters, with natural facial expressions and gestures, and perfectly synced speech—something that Berlitz believes is critical for language acquisition. The result? Instead of a camera crew filming instructors inside a studio, Berlitz now creates immersive language and culture video course content using Hour One’s automated AI in a scalable, consistent, and cost-effective way. The company’s new offering is serving customers in more than 70 countries.

Today’s businesses are navigating an extraordinarily complex, dynamic, and unpredictable marketplace. As a result, CEOs must work to deliver near-term performance, while also building long-term strength and resilience. Achieving this dual imperative requires rejecting the status quo, seeking new ways of operating, and developing unconventional and unprecedented new products and services. And as leaders from other industries seek to develop innovation-led arrows in their business quivers, they should learn from how the biopharma sector is leveraging New Science to grow, thrive, and build resilience in these disruptive times.

About the Author

Arjun Bedi is Senior Managing Director and Chairman of Accenture’s Strategic (Diamond) Client Leadership Council, a member of Accenture’s Global Management Committee, and founding co-chair,….Read Arjun Bedi's full bio

About the Author

Fred Hassan is the former CEO of three global pharmaceutical companies and is now a board member of four publicly traded healthcare companies. Contact: fred.hassan@caretgroup.com.

About the Author

Selen Karaca-Griffin is the Global Life Sciences Research Lead at Accenture. Contact: selen.karaca-griffin@accenture.com.

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