“Our digital pipeline is only growing”
BRASS, a software advancing patient safety and developed fully in-house, has been sold to a market leader in safety and life science software. This is proof of Boehringer Ingelheim’s ability to develop digital solutions that are in great demand – and provide real benefit for patients.
It was a big bang, a novelty in Boehringer Ingelheim’s corporate history. In April 2022, the company finalized the deal to sell in-house developed software to ArisGlobal, the market leader in drug safety solutions. A pharma company creating and selling software – does that make sense?
“Absolutely,” says Markus Schümmelfeder, Head of IT at Boehringer Ingelheim. “Digital solutions can have an enormous impact for patients. They are a core pillar for us to transform patients’ lives. Making our innovations available for our competitors means more people can benefit.” BRASS is a milestone for patients, as well as for Boehringer Ingelheim, says Schümmelfeder. The interest of other companies shows that "we can do digital product developments quite well" and that "our innovations are very well received".
Offering the safest therapy option for patients
To find out more about this innovative technology, formally known as BRASS and, when commercialized, will be called LifeSphere Clarity, one needs to talk to Isabel Kloer, Lead Risk Management Physician and Product Owner, as well as an early member of the project team. She speaks quickly but chooses her words carefully, as she wants everyone to understand the added value of this solution, about which she herself is so passionate. “Long story short,” she says, “it helps us to recognize patterns in patient safety data in order to offer the safest therapy option for patients.” How? By combining data from different sources and consolidating them with the help of automation and artificial intelligence. The software then reveals possible reasons why things happened and allows modeling the possible impact of different influences. “It provides insights which are otherwise challenging or impossible to find. Thus it is a major milestone to advance pharmacovigilance and patient safety – not just for us but industry-wide.”
It was in 2017 that the Patient Safety and Pharmacovigilance (PSPV) team first started to develop a concept for a digital platform that would allow approaching patient safety data from a different angle, and what would be needed to make the sheer infinity of data more efficient and structured. It didn't take long to reach out to BI X, Boehringer Ingelheim’s digital lab, to join forces. Through several sprints, the idea of BRASS took shape.
"BI X is very good at scouting the market and deciding: Let's go into an initiative or not," says Clemens Utschig-Utschig, Head of IT Technology Strategy. This includes researching whether there are already similar innovations available that you can saddle onto, or whether the niche is already occupied. “We are strictly value-driven,” says Utschig-Utschig.
Digital innovations are costly to develop, and can only be engaged in if they meet at least one of the following three criteria:
- Process Acceleration. Will existing products and processes be improved so that they have real added value for the company and our patients?
- Direct Revenue. Can the product be commercialized and marketed directly – through a sale or through license fees?
- Indirect Revenue. Does the digital solution create awareness and foster health care, thus indirectly promoting our therapy offers?
If the answer to any one of these questions is yes, BI X, IT and the Product Owner from the Business work on a pilot. After the pilot phase, IT typically takes over. It can scale projects and roll them out to a global market.
Digital solutions have become indispensable
The interaction works, says Markus Schümmelfelder without hesitation. "Compared to our competitors, we are well positioned." We play at the front. At the same time, the following applies: "We want to become faster and implement even more ideas and projects." In any case, the appetite from the business is there; numerous suggestions and ideas are pitched. "It is clear to everyone that digital solutions have become indispensable." It is almost superfluous to say BRASS is only one of many digital solutions out of Boehringer Ingelheim’s pipeline.
In China, for example, the company wants to offer stroke patients a digital rehabilitation solution before the end of this year. "In many countries, resources offered for rehabilitation are not comparable to those in Germany or the US," says Utschig-Utschig. A high proportion of stroke patients in China, for instance, do not receive rehabilitation after suffering a stroke. A digital treatment platform will soon enable patients and their caregivers to gain access to speech therapy, physiotherapy and cognitive therapy. "The demand is enormous. We think we can really make a difference here." If the launch in China is successful, an introduction of the app in other countries could follow soon.
“Our pipeline is only growing,” says Schümmelfeder. He is confident that BRASS won’t be the last digital innovation developed by Boehringer Ingelheim to be made available for a larger audience.
In the meantime, the BRASS project team is working on two ends. Internally, the productive use of this validated software in a field with a high degree of regulatory scrutiny – patient safety - is ongoing; the first use cases have been completed with promising results. In parallel, the software developer Boehringer Ingelheim and the software acquirer ArisGlobal are in close collaboration to hand over technology and expertise, making sure the idea behind BRASS and the roadmap for further developments toward its ultimate vision will soon be accessible for many more organizations tasked with evaluating best options for safe use of medicines.