Pioneering change in pharma by cultivating first followers


January 3, 2024

Innovating in pharma—first adoption resistance vs. FOMO

In the pharmaceutical industry, innovation is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there's a constant drive for progress and innovation that often leads to a fear of not being the leader that adopts a new world-changing technology (aka FOMO). On the other hand, there is an inherent caution in adopting new methods, especially in the highly regulated arena of clinical development and especially in leading global pharmaceutical companies.

This dichotomy presents a unique challenge for tech companies aiming to introduce groundbreaking innovations into well-established processes used by pharmaceutical organizations. The question arises: how can an outsider tech company persuade the pharmaceutical industry to embrace change when they are typically not first adopters?

Finding a rare first adopter in pharma

The key to unlocking this conundrum lies in identifying and collaborating with a special kind of individual within these organizations. These individuals are innovators by nature who are not content with suboptimal status quo processes and will act as unwavering internal champions to drive adoption.

According to the technology adoption curve, they are rare—often likened to unicorns or purple squirrels in their rarity and value—but their impact can be transformative. Finding them isn’t easy. It takes persistence to tell a visionary story about how the innovative product you are bringing to market will disrupt the industry. Eventually, these rare, innovative people will “raise their hand” and want to be the first adopters to buy the product; when they do, that’s where the magic happens.

From there, companies like Unlearn can build deep and impactful relationships with these early adopter “unicorns” to unequivocally demonstrate that the product delivers on its value. In our experience, these innovators in pharma go on to drive cross-organizational adoption of the product in their companies and help drive industry-wide change by telling their friends about it in peer companies.

First follower uptake

The concept of “first follower” is not mine. I originally learned about it from a friend who sent me this YouTube video.  Nonetheless, the concept of first-follower behavior in pharma certainly applies. Pharma companies typically don’t want to be first adopters, but they also have FOMO. This means that a company like Unlearn needs to get a first adopter and then a first follower for mass industry-wide uptake to ensue. When a leading global pharmaceutical company successfully implements an innovative product, it sets a precedent. Other industry players often follow suit, driven by FOMO and perceiving the first adopter as a signal of reduced risk.

This domino effect is crucial in altering industry-wide practices.

The initial adoption acts as a proof of concept, assuaging the fears and reservations of other potential adopters. As the innovation delivers the value as promised, there is immense pressure to adopt the innovation across the industry, causing others to buy in. Once the innovative product is adopted across the industry, the world is never the same because the old status quo becomes obsolete.

First adopter ⇒ first follower ⇒ industry-wide uptake ⇒ old status quo into the dustbin

Unlearn's experience driving lasting change in pharma

Transforming an industry that has been reliant on decades-old processes is no small feat. It requires persistence, a deep understanding of the industry's pain points, and the ability to present a compelling case for an innovative product. But to be clear—pulling this off is so much more than just selling a product. It requires instilling a vision of what could be achieved with this innovation—painting a picture of a more efficient, effective, and progressive future:

“Imagine a world where Roche, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, AbbVie, Pfizer, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, BMS, GSK etc. use AI-generated digital twins of trial participants to de-risk all go/no-go decisions in early stage clinical development so they only invest in drugs likely to be effective and run smaller, faster pivotal randomized controlled trials to get these drugs to market more quickly.

How many more patients’ lives could be saved?  How much cheaper could medicine be?”

Unlearn's journey to fundamentally change pharmaceutical clinical development using AI-generated digital twins of trial participants offers valuable insights. Our approach underscores the significance of finding those internal mavericks who are inherently innovative. The individuals become the catalysts for change, challenging entrenched processes and advocating for novel solutions. By closely working with these change-makers, Unlearn is cementing change within these organizations.

In 2024, you will hear more about our groundbreaking work with leading global pharma companies and how we are helping them get drugs to patients faster.

The obvious next question is—will you be a first follower or wait for industry-wide uptake?

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