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Fostering Creativity and Insights in the Pharma Ecosystem
Episode

Tai Chung, the Director of Partnerships for ZS Medullan

Fostering Creativity and Insights in the Pharma Ecosystem

The pharma space has a very prescribed linear process and this is to reduce errors and avoid uncertainties and deviations. With the advent of digital therapeutics, there’s a need to do things differently, be open to ideas, and take analogs from different verticals. 

In this episode, we have the privilege to host Tai Chung, the Director of Partnerships for ZS Medullan. Tai talks about the challenges of getting pharma manufacturers on communicating the value of digital strategies and the importance of being creative, agile, and having a curiosity-driven mindset when it comes to going digital.  We also covered some of the topics and takeaways from his recent webinar like data sharing,  trends in the pharma value chain, and some solutions foreign markets can innovate along with the key trends. 

There’s so much change going on in the pharma space and a lot of challenging new paradigm shifts for the industry and manufacturers, but Tai and his team have a solid understanding of the problem and different solutions to solve it for their customers. Don’t miss this insightful interview with Tai Chung!

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Fostering Creativity and Insights in the Pharma Ecosystem

About Renwei (Tai) Chung

Renwei is passionate about consulting for and partnering with companies that are diving deep in the clinical trial, decentralized and hybrid clinical trial (DCTs), companion app, digital health, digital medicine, digital therapeutics (DTx), sensor, software as a medical device (SaMD), and wearable spaces. Prior to his current role, he served as a senior strategic advisor on a healthcare strategy and transformation team in Durham, NC — where he bridged different expert stakeholder perspectives to arrive at pragmatic partnership, product, and policy solutions; on a legal team for an orthotic and prosthetic (O&P) manufacturer in Austin, TX. 

Renwei currently serves as a Legal & Diversity Columnist for abovethelaw.com, Executive Board Member for the Pipeline to Practice Foundation, and Asian American Advisory Council member for Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. In a past life, he served as a branch manager, financial advisor, account executive, and principal at Edward Jones, Merrill Lynch, Fidelity Investments, and LPL Financial, respectively. Renwei received his JD from SMU Dedman School of Law, MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and BA from Michigan State University.

Fostering Creativity and Insights in the Pharma Ecosystem with Tai Chung, the Director of Partnerships for ZS Medullan: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

Fostering Creativity and Insights in the Pharma Ecosystem with Tai Chung, the Director of Partnerships for ZS Medullan: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
Hey, everyone! This is Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney, your host for the Outcomes Rocket Pharma podcast. In the Pharma podcast, we dive into all the nuances of the pharmaceutical value chain. We highlight and speak with leaders and the entities that comprise the Pharma value chain – health plans, PBMs, manufacturers, wholesalers, pharmacies, and innovative pharma tech companies, discussing their current trends and the opportunities in the value chain that they see today. My goal is to give you the listener, the opportunity to hear from the individuals that are shaping the pharmaceutical value chain. And with that, I’m very excited to welcome Tai Chung to the podcast today.

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
Tai is currently Director of Partnerships and Deputy General Counsel at the Medullan, which was recently acquired by ZS Associates. Tai is passionate about consulting for and partnering with companies that are diving deep in clinical trials, decentralized and hybrid clinical trials, companion apps, digital health and digital medicine, digital therapeutics, sensors, software as a medical device, and wearable spaces. You can see that there’s quite a bit of expertise that he brings. Prior to his current role at Medullan, he served as a Senior Strategic Advisor on the Health Care Strategy and Transformation Team at Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina, where he bridged different experts stakeholders to drive a pragmatic partnership, product, and policy solutions. Prior to that, he was on the legal team for an orthotic and prosthetic (O&P) manufacturer. He currently serves as a Legal and Diversity columnist for AbovetheLaw.com. He’s an executive board member for the Pipeline to Practice Foundation, an Asian-American Advisory Council member for Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. He received his JD from SMU Dedman School of Law, an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and a B.A. from Michigan State University. So welcome Tai to the show. Great to have you.

Tai Chung:
Thanks. First of all, thank you for having me. I’m elated to connect today.

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
Yeah, absolutely. And to kick things off, I’d love it if you just tell me about yourself. What attracted you to health care and what specifically drew you to the pharmaceutical value chain?

Tai Chung:
Sure. So, first of all, I’m currently the Director of Partnerships for ZS Medullan, which just announced its alliance acquisition of Medullan a few weeks ago. So it’s a really exciting time for us. Healthcare has always been pretty front and center in my life. I grew up in a food desert. Social determinants of health issues abound in the area. I grew up in metro Detroit about eight and a half-mile, and healthcare was always an issue that impacted the people closest to me. Medication adherence has always been an issue that has hit close to home as my mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her late 20s, early 30s, and I know the consequences of improper dosing or lack of opportunities to prescribe plans. So it’s something that I’ve always thought about. But I became acutely aware of it in 2014 when my father was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away a few months later after his first chemotherapy treatment. And then the last couple of months, I really got to see up close inefficiencies and the gaps in our health care system. What specifically drew me to the pharmaceutical value chain is a lot of the work we were doing at Blue Cross North Carolina on value-based care and alternative payment models, whether it was CKB, SRD, or diabetes, or cardiometabolic, MSK, tobacco cessation, whatever it was, RX is always a critical component for how we wanted to aim at the quadruple aim of health care. So that’s what really drew me into the pharmaceutical value chain. And now at Medullan, a lot of what we focus on is the digitization of the pharma business, whether it’s the companion app, combination products, software as a medical device, or even patient support programs, as well as decentralized clinical trials.

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
There’s a lot of innovation going on in that space, a lot of exciting new products and services being offered. The one thing I’d love to hear is just about your day-to-day. What do you enjoy most about your duties and what do you think that your company doing does outstanding or perhaps a bit different than its competitors?

Tai Chung:
Yeah, that’s a good question. I really enjoy the pollination and the cross-pollination I’m able to conduct and carry out on a daily basis, whether it’s different buying centers, subject matter experts are key stakeholders. It’s really neat connecting disparate parties and learning from the various viewpoints on the value chain or ecosystem, untangling the Gordian knot of market access or commercialization, especially when it comes to these new transformational digital initiatives in health care and pharma, has been a profoundly unique experience. It’s been great introducing different strategic concepts, frameworks, processes, and scaffolding for the digitization of that steadfast, traditional, regimented culture. In terms of what I really like about where I’m at now, I guess if you look at HubSpot CTO Dharmesh Shah’s quote, culture the product we built and your people are its customers. And he says think about and treat your culture like you would a new product. Obsess over it. Put the same amount of effort and focus into creating happy employees, and that would create happy customers. And the best part is meaningful work. And the second-best is an amazing experience. And I really align with that quote. I read often because I think at our firm, which has been rooted in digital for 16 years now, where we had to really focus on payors and providers and now we’re focused on pharma and the life sciences, when digital or decentralized approaches form the foundation of everything you build, I believe it really gives you a leg up when you’re talking to different sponsors, to different clients, about anything, whether it’s value-based care, digital health, decentralized trials, clinical evidence generation or reimbursement. I think it really takes hold and forms the route of creating the necessary scaffolding you need to succeed in this new world we’re facing. At the end of the day, I want to be surrounded by individuals who don’t just fit the culture, but further it. And I think I’ve done a good job of really having the opportunity and joining high-performing teams who are all rowing, rowing their boat to the same north star.

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
That makes a lot of sense. I mean, the culture is so key inside a company. One thing I’m curious, from your perspective, Medullan has been building digital solutions for sounds like 16 years and has transitioned or has been focused on the pharmaceutical value chain specifically pharmaceutical manufacturers. What are some of the challenges of getting pharma manufacturers on board or communicating the value of digital strategies?

Tai Chung:
Yeah, I like to think about a quote that Mark Twain famously said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” And I think when it comes to pharma or anyone who’s been in business and the pharma value chain for quite some time, they have a very prescribed linear process. Their main aim is to reduce risk, is to reduce errors, is to avoid uncertainty or deviations. And I think when you think about digital when you’re thinking beyond the pill initiatives, you have to iterate, you have to be agile. You can’t just solve for reducing errors or uncertainty. You have to solve for driving new insights. And Gary Klein’s book, Seeing What Others Don’t, organizations often suppress insights because of forces locked deep inside their DNA. You know, understandably, they value predictability. They recoil from surprises and they crave perfection or the absence of errors. A lot of time, energy, and resources are dedicated to executing and tinkering with the plan that’s laid out the workhorses, the schedules. It’s not allocated to developing insight. And we’re thinking about a new omnichannel, high-tech,high-touch approach. You have to have a team dedicated to delivering in a different form or fashion. It’s an order of magnitude difference when you’re taking a risk-based approach to a companion app or combination product, something that’s inclusive of whatever you’re delivering chemically, but supplementing it by going after the iron triangle or really going understanding the patient journey or doing the research. And, you know, obviously, jobs are easier by being captured by the lure of predictability. But that insights are the opposite of predictable. They’re disruptive. They come without warning. They take forms that are unexpected. And you can really open yourself up to unimagined opportunities if you get into the wild. If you are exploring with that playful, curiosity-driven mindset. If you’re iterating. If you’re launching proofs of concepts, launching pilots, coming up with that minimum viable product, having faster cycle times when it comes to launching, and understanding there will be failure along the way and every pilot proof of concept isn’t going to be like that. But understanding, what are you trying to support and taking a risk-based approach to that?

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
I love it. I love it. I imagine that’s a huge culture shift within pharmaceutical manufacturers. Many of them are highly innovative but have been innovating along with developing new molecules or assets specifically. And now they’re being challenged to think about how do we provide services that wrap around those assets to really, as you put it, kind of go beyond the bill?

Tai Chung:
Yeah, yeah. My colleague Pete Mccloskey, had a recent interview with — Eli Lilly and Melinda Decker about digital health. And they talk about the historic processes that they know how to get drugs to market. They know the risks and problems they face. They know how to launch and do a big reveal all at once for a blockbuster drug. But that digital health is a more iterative process. You have to get comfortable with that MBP, putting something out there that’s not optimal necessarily, but the intention is to learn from it, to learn from the customers. Make adjustments and stay agile, iterate and improve. It’s an ongoing process. You’re really doing something different. And so it’s going to be harder to handle. The competition can come from anywhere. It’s moving quickly. And so you have to align the right people in the room. With traditional farm competition. Very specific, but with digital therapeutics, the competition could come from anywhere. And it’s all oftentimes an integrated ecosystem that you’re playing in and that you have to partner to really understand the patient journey or to really improve the longitudinal journey of a patient going through the health care system or going through their own chronic condition.

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
Yeah, so that makes a lot of sense. So, Tai, I was doing some research on you, kind of in preparation to have you on the show, and I saw that you recently hosted a webinar focused on pharma. Maybe for the audience, you could just kind of give a brief overview of what you covered and what were some of the key takeaways.

Tai Chung:
Yeah, yeah. The webinar had about 50 plus pharma participants that were mainly focused on market access and commercialization for beyond the pill initiatives. It was kind of a three-legged stool of focus. One was Value-Based Care. The second was digital therapeutics. And the third was data collecting new novel endpoints, garnering new data insights, becoming a high-tech and high-touch type organization. But it was rooted in that reimbursement when you’re thinking about beyond the pill initiative. Right now digital therapeutics, the regulations behind reimbursement, there’s no national scale for reimbursement. Right now you’re trying to set your digital therapeutic into a prescription reimbursement channel or a traditional medical benefit channel like durable medical equipment. And so one other way to gain reverse is Value-Based Care or an alternative payment model. And what that takes is understanding the six Ps – stakeholders and the value chain, patients, payors, providers, plan sponsors, policymakers, and pharma. And when I refer to pharma I say digital builders, because oftentimes when I find the most appetite or the most amount to learn about value-based care for alternative payment models in the pharma value chain is when it comes to digital therapeutics, I don’t find it as much on the molecule side, although I have seen it, I’ve read about it, I get excited about it. I just haven’t seen too many deals done thus far. And so when you’re thinking about the quadrupling of health care, better outcomes, lower costs, improve patient experience, improve the clinical experience as well, how can you solve for improving those four aims? By leveraging data and making sure that not only are you adding value to the market, but you’re also capturing some of that value. And what’s really neat about digital therapeutics, inherently, it’s a data play. For the first time, a lot of these pharma sponsors are going to get original primary source data directly from the patient. In the B2B2C model, you’re getting access to that data in real-time. You can run the data in real-time. You don’t have to run. You don’t have to wait for claims to run out. We’re going to analyze the data. You can see what’s happening in real-time and understand it and drive analysis from that and iterate based on that. And so I think between data, digital therapeutics, and that alternative payment model, there’s going to be a much, much larger market than what currently exists. And when I think when people think about digital health, it’s oftentimes just the consumer channel, how to find a provider, how to schedule appointments by telehealth. But we’re in the early innings and there’s so much more that can be done to drive that medication adherence or to improve the patient experience when they’re dealing with your brand, your product, your solution.

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
I mean, we’re kind of in early innings, as you put it, where pharma is just capturing the data. And collecting it through these new channels, these new digital solutions. And then I anticipate that similar to what we’ve seen in other areas of the health care space, there’s going to be a whole another kind of industry or sector as focused on sharing that data and making sure that the data that pharma collects is similar to or at least passed to the health plans for reimbursement depending on that day and then also providing it back to the patient as well. Do you feel that you’re starting to see some solutions for that data sharing a piece within the pharma value chain yet, or is that still kind of TBD and will be developed?

Tai Chung:
That’s a good question. I think I have lots of war stories about data-sharing agreements, to be sure. I love what some of the trade groups are doing, whether it’s DIME or a therapeutic alliance or health exile, and then talking about data agreements and then wanting to create a uniform contract template for the sharing of data in the proof of concept or pilot type programs or in value-based care arrangement. I think that’s super exciting because to your point right now, when we think about data, we’re just using it to describe what had happened. I think when you think about the real-time horizon of how we can best leverage data, it’s going to go from the description, descriptive to predict. So it’s going to be able to predict when someone is going to drop out of a trial or someone is going to miss their prescription or not at here or failed their dose. So it’s going to help you predict have those insights. But then the third time when you think about data, is this going to actually be prescriptive? It’s going to say, oh, your chest hurts. You should do that. Know obviously AIML is all going to turbocharge that a bit, but there’s always going to be an ACP helping to make those decisions or it’s going to assist. But it’s kind of like driving a car. You can have that assistive technology to parallel park. You’re going to have a lot more of that that can be garnered from the data. And that’s why I don’t even think we’ve tapped five percent of what we can do with data. And that’s why I always make sure when people are thinking digital therapeutics, they’re thinking of it as a data play because, at the end of the day, that’s going to be the most valuable part of this new digital revolution. And a lot of people say data self is like oil is the new goal, but it’s really the curation of data that’s the primary driver of value to the market of health care.

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
You’re getting me excited over here. I mean, there’s just so much opportunity, it sounds like, for the pharmaceutical value chain to really adjust and provide more solutions for patients to get better care and to drive outcomes. I guess for you, when we scale out a little bit, not just thinking about the kind of pharmaceutical manufacturers, but even more holistically, the value chain, the supply, and the demand side. What are some of the most interesting aspects or trends that you’re seeing in the pharma value chain today?

Tai Chung:
Yeah, yeah. So the trends have been captivating, especially over the last, I would say, twenty-four months. The activity we’re seeing, the amount of investment we’re seeing, the number of different leaders of different fields joining health care, joining pharma, focused on that B2B2C model, focused on the collection of data to get that feedback loop for it to drive innovation and iteration. I just read the other day the top four most valuable digital health benefits for employers are apps for finding a provider, portable electronic records, telemedicine, and wearables for condition tracking. And that wearables for condition tracking, if you just remove wearables or sensors and you just think about condition tracking, I think we haven’t even I think, we have so much more to go on that I think the maturation in that space is so young. When we think about novel endpoints, when we think about that prescribing, that predicting ability or capabilities that data can bring. I’m very excited about that trend. I’m excited about, I’m fired up about transparency and regulation to the pharma value chain. Former associate Justice Brandeis said sunlight is the best disinfectant. I think when it comes to the value chain or PBM or these contracts, the flow of data reimbursement or rebates, it’s a business model. It’s a Draconian infrastructure, a lot can be improved. I think about the medallions for taxis or any kind of monopoly type practices that once the market can see, once there’s transparency and it’s clear and you can come up with a win-win solution, one plus one equals five type solutions for all stakeholders in the value chain. So removing that asymmetry of knowledge and you’re really here’s the data. Both sides can see it. How can we best leverage the data to improve the system? Because this system is fundamentally broken as we know it right now. And we’re seeing things in regulation, whether it’s kickbacks that are safe harbors, point of sale chargebacks. We’re seeing new regulations on the horizon that will fundamentally change reimbursement every day for pharma, for payers, for providers, for the pharmacists, legislation that’s aiming to make the pharmacy whole. I think we’ve needed that for a long time, but also you can finally give value or remuneration to the patient not having to worry about this regulation that would deter someone from incentivizing the patient to do the right thing. And when you can incentivize the patient to do the right thing, you can leverage that psychology, behavioral science, behavioral economic principles. So I think that is another trend I really love. It’s nudging. It’s helping the patient along the journey made the right decision. And when they make the right decision, they can benefit from that. I think everyone wins when you’re able to do that when you’re able to improve the system on that fundamental level of the human condition and. And third, when we think about that reimbursement, that remuneration for value, I’m excited about the alternative payment models like value-based care. I think we’ve taken little depth in the shallow end of the pool. I think I’ve seen organizations I’ve been in conversations with them that are ready to dive deeper. They just want that first use case, that first area, that first partner that they can jump into I think Q3 to Q4. And then when you can have a national prescribed, scalable way to reimburse for these beyond the pill initiatives for digital therapeutics, and you’re not trying to cram them into an RX Channel or a durable medical Equipment channel, you’re giving them their own method of reimbursement. I think that’s Going to help versus this programmatic coverage payer by payer negotiation. I don’t think that’s scalable or that’s super healthy for the system as a whole.

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
You’re kind of touching on some of these key trends and you discussed some of the solutions and how foreign manufacturers can really capture or innovate, capture, value, or innovate along these key trends. But just to synthesize it and wrap it up for the audience. How do you think that these innovative pharma manufacturers can position themselves to take advantage of these larger macro trends within the industry?

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
That’s a good question, and that’s why I often think about the clash of cultures of consumerism or the start-ups going into the pharma value chain versus this historic molecular mindset, the chemical-based compound that you’re building. And you have to get it right every single time. You have to reduce the errors, you have to strive for perfection. When we’re thinking about the digitization of this innovative pharma or they’re looking to supplement their current programs or solutions, you have to start with the pilots and beyond the pilots for proof of concept. The speed to market. You have to quicken your cycle times. You have to iterate, you have to get the proof points and you have to partner through failure. So you have to be willing to fail to learn to have that MBP. And that’s something that can’t necessarily be done in other channels of their business lines. But when you’re thinking about the innovative digital pharma builders, I would hope that they’re coming to market. They’re not waiting for that big reveal. They’re putting things out there and they’re getting into the wild to understand it. But I would also hope the most innovative companies are communicating with the FDA. Whether it is putting devices in a breakthrough device program or the STEPS program, the safer technology program for medical devices, working with the FDA Center of Excellence or the FDA collaborative community. I’ve been in a lot of conversations where there’s a lot of activity happening and we’re just starting that journey with the FDA. I think joining a group like DIME, the Digital Medicine Society or Digital Therapeutics Alliance, or Health Extel, building out that network and getting, you know, getting in the room with people who are also attracted to the same type of problem, motivated to really improve the system. I think that’s when that kind of pollination and cross-pollination will turbocharge what’s already happening and digital health. And we know through the pandemic over the last 12 months, it evolves at 5x 10x speed that we were seeing prior to the pandemic. And finances never fail to take advantage of a good recession or a great recession or a crisis. We faced a crisis. We’re nearing the end of this crisis hopefully fingers crossed with the vaccines. What have you done over the past 12 months that has really proved you are serious about innovating, about transforming the system? What teams have you put together? What different processes, framework systems, scaffolding have you started to build to ensure you could be agile in this space, to make sure you’re fostering innovation required for the faster cyclical times to move quicker?

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
I love it. I love it, Tai. I mean, there’s so much change going on and a lot of challenging new paradigm shifts for the industry and manufacturers, and sounds like Medullan and I guess ZS Associates, maybe ZS associates knew what they were doing when they purchased you guys. But it sounds like you really have a solid understanding of this problem and different ways to solve it for your key customers, specifically the manufacturers. Maybe to wrap things up, if you give us a closing thought and the best place where listeners can connect and collaborate with you.

Tai Chung:
Yeah, I would say obviously I’m coming from the outside. Some of my points maybe a little naive. You know, it’s not what you don’t know that what you’re thinking now may end up hurting you. So it’s about being open to ideas, taking analogs from different verticals or different industries. Having that exploratory, playful, curiosity-driven mentality focusing on not just fitting into the culture you’re in, but furthering the culture that you’re a part of. That’s what gets me excited about the industry, there are so many new and different viewpoints that are at the table in these meetings I’m at. And again, the more diverse opinions, diverse voices, viewpoints that you can bring around the table, get into the room, tackle a challenge, I find that’s one of the most innovative programs are designed, developed and executed. I would leave the audience with that. Always be learning and with don’t be afraid to take the step into your digital transformation. And I can be reached on LinkedIn.

Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney:
Awesome. Well, Tai, thank you for coming in today, and joining the show. It is an absolute pleasure speaking with you and hopefully we’ll get to chat again soon.

Tai Chung:
Thank you. Really appreciate it.

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Things You’ll Learn

  • RX is always a critical component for aiming at the quadruple aim of health care.
  • Think about and treat your culture like you would a new product line.  Put the same amount of effort and focus into creating happy employees, and that would create happy customers.
  • The best part is meaningful work. And the second-best is amazing peers.
  • When you think about digital when you’re thinking beyond the pill initiatives, you have to iterate, you have to be agile. You can’t just solve for reducing errors or uncertainty. You have to solve for driving new insights.
  • Leverage data and make sure you add value to the market. 
  • It’s really the curation of data that’s the primary driver of value to the market of health care.
  • Be willing to fail to learn.
  • Be open to ideas. Take analogs from different verticals and industries. 
  • The more diverse opinions, voices, and viewpoints you can bring around the table and tackle a challenge, the more innovative a program. 
  • Always be learning and don’t be afraid to take the step into your digital transformation

 

Resources:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renweichung/

Email: renwei@footnote4.com

Twitter: @fnfourWebsites: https://medullan.com/https://abovethelaw.com/