For more than sixty years, Purdue Pharma, a privately held pharmaceutical company founded by physicians, has made it a goal to look toward the future of the pharmaceutical industry: whether it’s through pioneering research in pain or recent strategy to actively broaden its product portfolio into other therapeutic areas. And while many companies have stumbled and struggled to adapt to the tech boom, Purdue Pharma has taken it in stride. Much of Purdue Pharma’s success in riding the tech wave can be attributed to Larry Pickett, the company’s head of IT. Pickett came to Purdue Pharma more than nineteen years ago after working with Merck, Glaxo, and various other healthcare companies, and he can be credited with helping revamp and rebuild the IT department.
Realizing the growing importance of technology in daily life, Purdue Pharma’s CEO Mark Timney invited IT to join the team in crafting a new corporate strategy. So far, it seems to be working out—the company is currently working on a project to use the Apple Watch and ResearchKit to improve patient health.
When Pickett first joined the team, Purdue Pharma was undergoing rapid expansion, growing from a $250 million company to a multibillion dollar one. Although the company had a very tech-savvy board, one of Pickett’s first tasks was to build a team that he felt could put foundational IT elements in place, such as introducing new technology and developing new standards and processes.
“It was really a turnaround situation that needed to be rebuilt from the ground up,” Pickett says.
In the intervening years, Pickett has focused on ensuring that Purdue Pharma was an early adopter of standardization and virtualization, preventing the company from getting lost in the tech boom. Today, Pickett says his team’s goals are to improve customer and patient engagement using mobility and analytics technology. Pickett wants to develop products that are as easy to use as Apple products, as easy to search with as Google, and as intuitive and frictionless as buying products on Amazon.
The fast pace of technological development also makes it essential to be choosy about which new technology to invest in. Pickett says he and his team look a few years into the future and watch thought and industry leaders to see what trends might benefit Purdue Pharma. “You can’t just jump on every new technology that comes out,” he says. “We have to constantly assess new technology and map the technology to where it can match business benefit.”
The holy grail of working in pharma IT, however, would be working on projects and technology that directly support improving patient care, according to Pickett. That’s one reason why he’s so excited about Purdue Pharma’s Apple Watch and ResearchKit project, which will look at pain measures and monitor patient engagement. This data could generate deeper insights when integrated with other patient data sources such as electronic health records and claims data. A pilot program is expected for next year.
Pickett is also interested in working across the healthcare landscape to integrate data between physicians, health insurance companies, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and integrated delivery networks. Pickett says that insights gained from the application of data science and advanced analytics are potentially game-changing for understanding and improving patient health and outcomes.
“The bar is really being raised on IT to contribute to business strategy and results in a way that we haven’t before,” Pickett says.
Pickett advises anyone interested in pursuing IT to immerse themselves in technology and seek broad experience in different aspects of the field early on in their careers. Although this might seem counterintuitive to a very specialized industry, Pickett credits his early days dabbling in different aspects of technology and in different disciplines in pharma for equipping him with skills that would benefit him later in his career.
In fact, Pickett’s first taste of what an IT career might be like came from working at a small publishing house after earning his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. During his time there, the CEO had Pickett go department to department and streamline the company’s business process. Working in the different departments and seeing the opportunity to automate using technology piqued Pickett’s interest in IT.
“What I really enjoy about IT is that the technology constantly changes, it impacts every area of the business, and you’re never bored with it,” Pickett says.
When he’s looking for a new team member at Purdue Pharma, Pickett says he looks for the perfect mix of experience, team orientation, and hunger to learn about new technology. However, after a career of moving across state lines from big to small companies, Pickett advises flexibility and dedication, and above all: “Set very aggressive career goals, and then be willing to change and move to achieve those goals.”