Innovation and collaboration in the new age of consumer healthcare: A Q&A with GSK

The healthcare industry is undergoing a major shift. As consumers increasingly take control of their own health and wellness, they drive market demand more directly. Devices, apps, and services are being created and tailored to meet their needs, enabling consumers to actively engage in health and wellness decision-making. And the relatively recent entrance of players like CVS and Amazon into the healthcare delivery space is a further signal of a growing consumer-driven self-care market.

To dig a little deeper beneath the surface of how industry players are adapting to this shift, we caught up with experts on the inside at GSK Consumer Healthcare, a Rock Health partner. Ian Marks, R&D Vice President of Innovation for GSK Consumer Healthcare—responsible for driving science-based innovation to improve the consumer experience—and Robert Sarrazin, Vice President of Global External Innovation and Direct Investments, GSK Consumer Healthcare—a specialist in healthcare innovation partnerships with 20 years’ experience in private equity and venture capital—sat down with us to share their thoughts.

GSK Consumer Healthcare’s Ian Marks (left) and Robert Sarrazin (right).

We’re seeing the shift to self-care—a shift that you have supported in many ways at GSK— gain momentum. What’s behind it, and how is GSK empowering patients to be more in control of their health?

IM: Historically, GSK has played a role in consumers’ lives by providing simple, direct treatment for their health issues. If you have a migraine, you can treat it with Excedrin. If you have sensitive teeth, you can use Sensodyne toothpaste. But now, self-care is more than the products consumers use; it’s a mindset in which the consumer, faced with increasing costs, wants more choices that enable them to make healthcare decisions for themselves and their families.

We are fortunate to be living in an age of unprecedented data and can support individuals along their entire health journey by offering complementary solutions that monitor, diagnose, and follow-up, thus giving them insight into—and control over—their own health. Methods that GSK is developing to monitor for specific health conditions will be able to tell consumers directly how their body is performing. At the same time, with sufficient study and analysis, we may be able to diagnose conditions such as impending migraine or the onset of the flu. By understanding their specific health issues, we can recommend personalized treatments to consumers. GSK is creating data-driven innovative digital healthcare solutions, putting power and choice in consumers’ hands, achieving our mission of self-care transformation.

How has GSK’s approach to innovation evolved over time?

RS: GSK has always believed the best way to drive innovation is to build efforts from consumer need first. Our belief remains the same, but consumers’ needs and expectations have changed. Their access to information has grown, from how they learn about their health to how they access healthcare through new digital channels. We work closely with consumers to understand the new challenges they face and have shifted to an integrated approach to identify solutions for them.

We do this through internal and external scientific discovery. We recognize our blind spots and partner with external organizations who have expertise in those areas. These partnerships are key to creating the best experience and outcomes for our consumers. We currently source 11% of our innovations, both digital and non-digital, externally, and seek to shift more than 50% of our product portfolio toward this collaborative approach. Working alongside the entrepreneurial community enhances our existing product lines, particularly in pain relief, respiratory care, oral care, digestive health, and skin care.

Our partnership with Rock Health is a key engagement that allows us to better understand the digital health landscape. Additionally, GSK recently sponsored the MassChallenge’s HealthTech program in Boston for the first time and we’ve renewed for the next program. We have also started accelerator efforts in China and India with Arm Accelerator and Healthstart, respectively.

We hear a lot about artificial intelligence’s potential in healthcare. How big of a role do you see AI playing in where self-care is headed?

IM: To give you a sense of our stance on the impact of artificial intelligence, currently, one quarter of the projects in our pipeline are AI-based. We’ve assembled a team focused solely on data science at GSK, reconfiguring our approach to consider the holistic impacts more fully.

New digital tools that leverage AI as a means of predicting or diagnosing future health events offer a huge opportunity to transform the future of self-care. And, as sensors and devices used to collect data become less visible and more durable, they become integrated with consumers’ lifestyles. These tools allow providers to focus more of their time on developing a patient relationship while the technology and algorithms assist with diagnosing. We’re working toward the groundbreaking ability to inform a consumer before the onset of a specific health event.

Speaking of innovation, what are some of the opportunities for outside innovators to work with GSK?

RS: We spend a lot of time understanding key trends, consumer insights, and competitive activity to strategically identify our “where to play” innovation areas. As a leader in consumer healthcare, we have an expansive list of focus areas. However, these focus areas are constantly evolving as we uncover new opportunities for impact. Whether opportunities are aligned with our categories, focused on digital and devices, or represent a new go-to-market approach to launch products, we’re open to identifying great strategic partners that will work with us to deliver breakthrough products and services to the consumer. The key for success is ensuring that we keep the consumer need at the heart of all our innovation.

IM: We’ve been speaking with startups developing next generation devices—some of which are regulated medical products complementary to the products we already offer—such as our partnership with Neurometrix on their transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device for the treatment of chronic pain. Similarly, we’ve had conversations with digital therapeutic startups looking at new ways to treat addiction and pain with behavioral and physical therapy. These approaches would drastically change how we’re delivering care to consumers.

What advice would you give to startups and entrepreneurs who are considering partnering with you?

RS: I cannot stress enough the importance of engaging with us at any stage of development. At GSK, we adopt a portfolio approach and have opportunities that range from very early stage to ones that are market ready with a projected launch date of less than six months. Early engagement with us is so critical to success as it enables us to collaborate and design mutually beneficial opportunities. Additionally, we have a lot of experience and are always willing to share those learnings to maximize your scientific and commercial success. For example, if you have some early stage thinking on a possible technology, we would love the ability to collaborate on the clinical trial design to ensure that we can support commercially viable claims. The partnership possibilities with GSK are endless, as we adopt a very flexible and adaptive approach that is customized to the needs of our strategic partners.

Given your experience at GSK, what do you see as the biggest areas for potential impact within digitizing consumer healthcare?

IM: The biggest impact for what we do lies in helping transform the way individuals diagnose, treat, and prevent health issues along their care journey. This includes at-home diagnostics, digital wellness devices, and fully integrated pharmacist and physician care. From an overall solutions perspective, enabling access to more non-medicinal options, like virtual reality or behavioral therapy, will minimize side effects and shorten patient recovery.

One of the most exciting effects we’re seeing is that the ability to digitize existing gold-standard treatments is starting to break down barriers to access. The necessity of a face-to-face interaction with a healthcare professional is starting to make way for telemedicine, accessible practically anywhere. We’ve begun to incorporate telemedicine into some of the products we’re designing right now. Digitization is also promising because, in some cases, the need for provider oversight is no longer required; smartphone apps have the necessary intelligence to monitor, observe, and notify the provider if needed.

Ultimately, the digitization of our world is breaking down barriers to information, availability, and access to care. Casting a wider net for innovation partners is yielding increased capability for us and a path to market for innovators. In the end, we really believe it’s the consumer who benefits with increased choice and access, leading to better health and wellness. Those are the components that make up and drive self-care and allow the consumer to more actively take the helm in their healthcare journey—and why we’re so excited about the work that we do.

At Rock Health, we’re honored to work with leading enterprise organizations across healthcare and beyond. Learn more about becoming a Rock Health partner.