Barbara Ülen is the Innovation & Business Excellence (IBEX) Lead for the Balkan Cluster at AstraZeneca. She holds a Master of Science in Communication and Business. She started her career as a PR expert, but quickly moved to the world of digital marketing in the pharmaceutical industry, where she spent more than a decade creating digital ecosystems and building effective teams in digital marketing, operations and marketing technologies. In her current role, she leads a team of diverse professionals in sales-force effectiveness, IT, digital, analytics and capabilities across different markets in the Balkans.
She strives for positive change in the organization through technology, is passionate about digital, data and omnichannel, believes in sustainability, equality, and is excited to hear your ideas for innovative solutions for patients.
- What is the role of digitalization in the process of “innovation creation” and how does that affect the healthcare sector? How do you utilize digitalization for innovations in AstraZeneca?
Digitalization is a booster for innovations and in our industry the tide has turned in favor of invention in pharmaceuticals in the age of AI. Digital tools allow us to collect, analyze and harness vast amounts of data at unprecedented speed. At AstraZeneca, we’re transforming the future of healthcare by harnessing the power of science – for people, society and the planet. Our goal is to push the boundaries of science to deliver life-changing medicines, and digital technologies are a key enabler of these goals. We are again #1 inventive pharmaceutical company in the world for 2023, as measured by Idea Pharma’s Invention/Innovation Index. For us, especially in our global R&D departments, it’s all about maximizing the potential of artificial intelligence. We are proud to have one of the highest investments in AI-powered drug discovery in the industry. We are using digitalization to make the processes faster, more efficient, and precise AI algorithms help us sift through mountains of data to identify potential drug candidates, significantly reducing development time. Ultimately, this leads to more patient lives being saved or improved. As for our Balkan Cluster, we are focusing more on digital transformation in marketing and sales, increasing digital engagement in our go-to-market strategy, fine-tuning omnichannel campaigns and ensuring that our personalized communications reach the right person at the right time with the right content. This is the responsibility of the Innovation and Business Excellence department, which is carefully assembled team of professionals in Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria with a wide range of expertise from sales force effectiveness, capability building, omnichannel marketing and IT to data insights and analytics. This diverse mix is the core that is driving our digital transformation.
- What are the potential benefits of precision medicine to better/prolong people’s lives and well-being? What’s the role of digitalization in this process?
At AstraZeneca, we embarked on the journey of applying a precision medicine approach to our drug discovery more than 10 years ago. We began by identifying and testing specific biomarkers that could guide the development of candidate drug molecules, starting with oncology. This commitment to precision medicine has now expanded to 90% of our portfolio. We are leveraging the insights and successes gained in oncology and extending them to address complex chronic diseases such as asthma or heart failure. As we venture into new therapeutic areas, we are also opening up new areas of science and technology. Artificial intelligence plays a crucial role in this. For example, we can now evaluate up to one million biomarker models in early-phase of clinical trials — an endeavor that would be impossible to achieve with human effort alone. We are also developing digital apps to optimize the patient experience when they participate in diagnostic testing as part of our clinical trials. In the Balkans we are constantly having initiatives related to the topic. E.g., earlier this year we supported a hackathon on the topic Personalized Medicine in collaboration with Health Lab in Serbia. It has been amazing to see how start-up community, students and academia were gathering for three days in technology center, working with mentor from universities and industry on finding synergy between personalized medicine, technology, and patient-centered innovation.
- What is the role of ecosystems and cross-industry collaboration in providing access to innovative/breakthrough medications and treatments to patients?
In my opinion this is the right way for making innovation accessible to all who need it. Patient experience and outcomes are a shared responsibility. That’s why at AstraZeneca we have these amazing innovation hubs spread around the world – about 20 in number. This is where patients, health professionals, governments, scientists, tech enthusiasts, and pharmaceutical leaders come together. And the goal is to boost a culture of research and growth that puts patients at the centre and improves their experience. At AstraZeneca Balkans we’re actively involved in fruitful partnerships with universities, digital hubs, health hubs, start-up communities and established biotech companies. This thriving ecosystem facilitates collaboration and brings together players from different sectors and regions, opening up a range of new opportunities to drive patient-centred innovation. Our Balkan initiatives include a range of programmes — POCs, Health Hacks, Ideation Sessions, Open Days and Internship Programmes — all aimed at co-developing solutions that meet patients’ needs. Together with our partners, we collaborate to create integrated health systems that improve the patient journey. From prevention and awareness to diagnosis, treatment, post-treatment care, and wellness. In Bulgaria e.g., we’re running successful projects in this direction with you too (Digital Health and Innovation Cluster). Our commitment also extends to supporting young researchers and promising scale-ups from the Balkans, who we encourage to participate in our AstraZeneca global open innovation programmes, such as CoSolve, PostDoc programmes and Innovation Hub mentorships. We’re actively looking for innovative minds to advance science together.