CNS Summit Innovation Index 2022 - Examining innovation in pharma

Written by IDEA Pharma in collaboration with The CNS Summit — 2022-11-21.

About the CNS Summit Innovation Index


If necessity is the mother of invention, it is also a forebearer of innovation. The two concepts, while intertwined, do not amount to the same thing. Defined as ‘return on invention’, innovation is a lasting force, a foundation for future growth, rather than, say, the simple discovery of a new asset or the creation of a new technology. Invention is a spark. Innovation is the light which illuminates possibility—and provides the ability to leverage invention in a way that pays a tangible return. It is the veritable lifeblood of the biopharmaceutical industry. And, increasingly, it is derived from the realm of the digital, driven by an industry-wide necessity for change and adaptation that was only accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic—whether in clinical trial design strategies or the development of digital therapeutics, as evidenced by the 31 biopharma companies which made the 2022 CNS Summit Innovation Index, the 6th running of the list. 

To rank at the top of the 2022 Index, compiled as part of the longest-ever study of biopharma innovation, companies had to log major achievements across three distinct, if interconnected, criteria. This has shifted in recent years, toward elevating companies engaged in AI, machine learning, and improved manufacturing and logistics and includes the following: 

- Innovation in clinical development that can foster sustained, long-term growth through the use of new technologies and clinical trial optimization, including remote patient monitoring and digitally-streamlined clinical trials; 

- Commercial partnerships and operations, such as investing in next-generation infrastructure to optimize and realize manufacturing aspirations; 

- Investment in digital therapeutics and other research into the most promising technologies, bolstered by partnerships with academic institutes and using incubators and competitions to discover new avenues for growth at the earliest stages. 

This year’s top 10 companies maintained striking consistency with last year’s leaders, though some changes are noted; American biotech giant Amgen fell off, as did Switzerland-based Novartis, while Bayer joined the top ranks at a strong number two position and Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, respectively, rang in at number eight and nine overall. The other drug makers in the top 10 of the 2021 Innovation Index remained the same, although their orders shuffled to a degree, and there were two ties (one between Eli Lilly and Merck KGaA at the fifth spot, and another between UK drug giant AstraZeneca and Japan’s Takeda to round out the top 10—so technically, there are 11 companies in the 2022 top 10 rankings).

Roche, a mainstay of the innovation list, catapulted to the top spot in large part through the scope of its commercial mHealth investments and high-tech infrastructure (including a partnership with Microsoft and several foundational efforts in AI/deep learning and consolidated digital health ecosystems), as well as its considerable forays into using remote patient monitoring technologies and use of wearable sensors. 

Bayer’s top ranking in the clinical technology development category and the number three spot in the research field through its intensive incubator approach and artificial intelligence and deep learning research earned the company the number two rung on the list. And Pfizer, last year’s list-topper, continued to thrive, further growing digital innovation foundations which were set years before the COVID pandemic and ultimately allowed it to thoroughly capitalize on its mRNA-based vaccine, which became the world’s best-selling drug.

But the top-ranking firms were ones which were able to traverse multiple avenues of innovation, setting up the resources that can be harnessed for better, and more efficient, drug making in the years to come—for innovation, at its root, pays a long-lasting dividend in the life sciences. 

Company performance, Top 10:​

Full Details of the Rankings

1 Roche

From home-based oncology trials, to a research collaboration with Microsoft to leverage AI and cloud technology in order to improve patient health outcomes in the Middle East beginning with a pilot program in Egypt, Roche earned top billing on the 2022 Innovation Index with a multi-pronged foray into the digital realm. One of its marquee investments in AI and deep learning this past year came in collaboration with its Genentech subsidiary—an up to $12 billion mega-effort with AI-based screening firm Recursion in order to use the latter’s namesake Recursion Operating System (OS) with the goal of advancing therapies in 40 different clinical programs across neuroscience and oncology through tech-enabled target and drug discovery. 

The Swiss drug giant also announced a new, open source, consolidated digital ecosystem called cobas infinity edge at the beginning of 2022. This is a cloud-based platform that can integrate point of care data gleaned from wearable devices which can be used in the clinic in order to reduce costs and administrative burdens on providers. “With cobas infinity edge, we are introducing the infrastructure for a digital ecosystem in point of care. We have combined our ability to connect health data safely, securely, and compliantly… where professionals can use Roche or third-party digital health solutions,” said Roche Diagnostics CEO Thomas Schinecker when announcing the new solution.

That announcement came just months after the company launched its Digital Pathology Open Environment, an open resource to allow software developers to “easily integrate their image analysis tools for tumour tissue with Roche’s uPath enterprise software, an application for pathologist workflow,” according to Roche. By melding the open source with access to its own proprietary technologies, Roche’s digital investments over the past year could help break down data silos to streamline care across multiple indications—and explains why it took the number one spot on this year’s Index.

2 Bayer

The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the way many biopharmaceutical companies do business. In the earliest days of the global outbreak, the transformation was born of sheer necessity—clinical trials would have to be paused in order to accommodate overflowing hospitals, and address the needs of high-risk trial participants, for instance, forcing life sciences companies to be more creative. 

But those in-the-moment adjustments have led to a long-term trajectory change. Trials done at home are now the wave of the future, and it’s one Bayer rode to a number two spot on this year’s Innovation Index. One of the key contributors to Bayer’s overall strong position—including its top score in the clinical optimization category—was a validation study called the DeTAP published in fall 2021 showing that a decentralized clinical trial (DCT) for cardiovascular (CV) disease medical intervention in atrial fibrillation could be effectively deployed, high powered, retain its participants, and recruit rapidly.

“These findings could be informative for virtualizing large pivotal clinical trials at scale,” wrote the study’s authors in the European Heart Journal. The trial itself involved the use of a downloadable app for participants, wearable blood pressure sensors for data collection, and trial follow up conducted via telehealth.

Bayer had one of the most well-rounded foundations for its ranking this year, including with remote patient monitoring (RPM) efforts, supply chain investments, use of incubators and competitions in indications ranging from cardiovascular health to women’s diseases, and use of digital therapeutics. It also built on traditional fields where AI and deep learning have long been leveraged, including through its collaboration with Subtle Medical to use its SubtleGAD AI algorithm for enhancing image quality in MRI exams that require use of a contrast.

3 Pfizer

Last year’s list-topper, Pfizer, had a strikingly successful 2021 and set all-time highs in revenues and earnings. That was largely driven by the smashing success of its COVID vaccine Comirnaty, which raked in $36.8 billion of Pfizer’s $81.3 billion in 2021 revenues, nearly doubling the company’s sales from the previous year. (An interesting note: If Pfizer’s vaccine were a company unto itself, it would rank in the top 100 Fortune 500 companies thanks to its massive revenues.) Mainstays such as Eliquis and Ibrance contributed to the cash haul, as did Pfizer’s marquee Prevnar vaccine franchise. 

One of the reasons Pfizer was able to reap that success in the mRNA jab space was its investments in remote patient monitoring capabilities to fuel adjustable, real-world clinical trials as the coronavirus mutated. Several of the manufacturing and supply chain investments Pfizer made and built up during the pandemic and its ensuing global shutdowns helped keep it near the top of the pack this year, too—and fundamentally changed its operations across disease spaces.

For instance, the Pfizer Global Supply-Digital Operations Center (DOC) project was established as a centralized hub for all supply chain and manufacturing operations, allowing operations teams to glean insights from collected performance data. That led to a very real return, allowing Pfizer to, in some cases, cut cycle times by 10% in certain manufacturing areas. “This solution has transformed how manufacturing colleagues collaborate and make decisions, providing tools to enable them to predict an issue before it happens and adjust in real time,” said Lidia Fonseca, executive vice president and chief digital and technology officer at Pfizer, of the project in an interview with the digital publication CIO last year. The company also deployed digital engagement measures to streamline its sales force, and filed 72 different digitalization patents for clinical trial operations between December 2021 and February 2022 alone.

4 Boehringer Ingelheim

Among larger pharma companies, Boehringer Ingelheim is in the top tier when it comes to R&D investments. It announced in its 2021 annual report that its R&D spend had ballooned 11.7% that year to 4.1 billion EUR, which amounts to 20% of its net sales on the year.

From a digital perspective, that includes becoming a founding member of QUTAC, a conglomerate of 10 leading German companies across the chemicals, pharmaceuticals, insurance, and automotive spaces seeking to leverage quantum computing in their respective industries. In Boehringer Ingelheim’s case, the quantum technology would be used for R&D—and while the technology is still in its infancy and will take several years to build out in order to leverage at industrial scale, it’s the kind of forward-thinking investment that could pay massive dividends down the line. For instance, quantum computers could accurately simulate and compare much larger molecular structures, according to Boehringer Ingelheim, improving research in early and preclinical stages in order to set up greater successes later on in the drug development process.

Indeed, Boehringer Ingelheim’s commercial digital investments cross an impressive spectrum. At its fourth cell culture facility, a new $700 million EUR behemoth in Vienna which opened up last fall, the company has pulled out all the stops on the latest technologies to optimize development to assist in internal asset manufacturing as well as contract manufacturing. That includes new efforts in virtual reality, automation, digital twins approaches, and AI. To assist the 500 facility staff members, Boehringer Ingelheim is eliminating the need for any kind of paperwork to go fully digital in its workflow, and deploying smart glasses and VR for training purposes and quality control.

5 (Tie) Eli Lilly

Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly has staked out ambitious plans for its neurodegenerative disease franchise—and particularly in Alzheimer’s disease. And it is increasingly using the power of digital technology to fuel its efforts. 

Consider: As part of its clinical trial approach for donanemab, an in-development asset for slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s in high-risk cognitive and functional decline patients, it teamed up with Banner Alzheimer’s Institute to support trial enrollment. The collaboration will help split up participant groups between those with a certain kind of gene called APOE4 by using the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry's GeneMatch program and Banner’s long standing expertise in the space to facilitate virtual solutions for Alzheimer’s trial screenings.

In addition, Eli Lilly struck a partnership that could be valued up to $670 million, depending on milestone achievements, to use drug discovery specialist Genesis’ AI platform to identify drug candidates across a number of undisclosed therapeutic spaces. In ex-US markets, the drug maker also landed a marquee strategic collaboration with Chinese internet giant Tencent which spans tumors, immunological diseases, pain, and neurodegenerative diseases to help engage with patients, promote treatment adherence, provide educational resources, and facilitate doctor-patient conversations to improve disease management.

5 (Tie) Merck KGaA

Germany’s Merck KGaA jumped up four spots in this year’s Index in large part due to an exemplary (and top) score on the research front. From establishing an innovation lab in partnership with Amazon Web Services and generic drug giant Teva (alongside AstraZeneca and Pfizer), to fueling therapeutic discovery and development using AI and cloud technology, to constructing a charter for a code of digital ethics, the firm has dedicated itself to building the keystones which can foster towering growth. 

One of its most intriguing initiatives comes via a partnership with Quris to test AI in drug discovery. It centers on use of the Quris BioAI drug safety platform, which uses human tissues on a chip as part of both in vitro and ex vitro safety prediction, leveraging nano-sensing and machine learning to sniff out which drug candidates will work safely in humans.

In other science fiction-like projects, Merck KGaA is also building up its efforts in bioelectronic devices to stimulate the brain. “Bioelectronic devices show great promise in helping to improve therapeutic outcomes and efficiency for patients with chronic inflammatory diseases,” the company says.

7 Johnson & Johnson

Last year’s number two spot holder on the Innovation Index fell a few rungs this year—but its investments in the robotics space and a number of AI collaborations, in particular, kept Johnson & Johnson in the top third in 2022.

The VELYS Robotic-Assisted Solution, which Johnson & Johnson introduced in Australia last year, was a unique addition to the company’s powerhouse arsenal in the robotic surgery space. While use of robotic surgery techniques has grown significantly over the past decade, such procedures do tend to be associated with some operational drawbacks, especially since surgeons and supporting medical staff must be trained in their use. The VELYS solution, which is meant for use in knee arthroplasty procedures, mounts onto an operating table and allows for surgical pre-planning that can more easily be implemented into the operating room workflow.

Johnson & Johnson also launched a partnership with Microsoft at the beginning of 2022 under its medical devices unit that will see the software giant become Johnson & Johnson’s digital surgery cloud and internet of things (IoT) device connectivity partner.

8 Novo Nordisk

Leveraging innovation for sustained growth often begins with foundational organizational investments. To that end, Novo Nordisk established an entire new unit earlier this year dedicated to using artificial intelligence and other digital tools for drug research. This new unit is meant to support Novo Nordisk’s digital ambitions, which it views as a key avenue for future success, and the company has said the unit will employ several hundreds of people. In another pioneering move for the company, Novo Nordisk partnered with Middle Eastern health tech firm GluCare.Health in the UAE to launch its first global value-based reimbursement model (and the first in the region generally). The diabetes and obesity-focused partnership is being launched in a pilot program of 150 patients in order to identify digital biomarkers through continuous data monitoring, combined with the use of existing therapeutics.  

9 Sanofi

France’s Sanofi is traditionally known as a drug maker that excels in the vaccines and infectious disease space, and for its longstanding diabetes portfolio. But its ambitions for the future lay in a broader range of therapeutic spaces ranging from degenerative diseases to oncology to immunology, as well as precision medicines at large—and its digital investments in the past year are proof positive of that ambition. At the end of 2021, the company expanded a collaboration with digital biomarker-focused firm Koneksa for CNS disease clinical trials—specifically for trials of tolebrutinib, which Sanofi hopes can be an effective treatment for several different kinds of multiple sclerosis. It also poured $180 million into a collaboration with AI specialist Owkin for four cancer types as Sanofi seeks to reclaim a leadership stake in the oncology field.

10 (Tie) AstraZeneca

The UK’s largest pharma company rounded out this year’s top 10 on the Innovation Index (in a tie with Takeda) through investments in a broad range of digital commercial, clinical, and research initiatives—and by capitalizing on previous investments. AstraZeneca’s 2019 drug discovery partnership with BenevolentAI allowed it to identify a new, novel target in pulmonary fibrosis treatment for its lung disease portfolio. AstraZeneca has also set out to architect a “smart supply chain” in massive international markets like India, through which it is looking at new data platforms that can parse and clean up data for use by on-the-ground R&D technicians, including with advanced robotics, high-throughput screening, and AI-driven technology. The company also unveiled its new The Discover Centre in Cambridge (DISC) facility in, well, Cambridge, which will support some 2,200 scientists and AstraZeneca’s efforts to develop gene-editing and cell therapies with the help of advanced robotics and AI tech.

10 (Tie) Takeda

Takeda, Japan’s largest biopharmaceutical company, has been on the innovation march for a while at this point. From 2016, when it began an effort in earnest to strike new deals with companies in the U.S., to its mammoth $62 billion takeover of rare disease specialist Shire in 2018, the drugmaker has staked out a clear ambition to compete against more household names. The same holds true for Takeda’s digital ambitions and explains its place, yet again, in the top 10 of the CNS Innovation Index. For instance, this past year the company expanded its foray into gene therapy (a natural evolution of its rare disease portfolio) through an expanded partnership with protein design firm Evozyne to fuel experimental treatments across at least four indications. In the kind of future-driven investment that sometimes flies under the radar, Takeda also partnered with OutSystems to revamp how it outsources its compound synthesis needs externally, and streamline its internal processes for more efficient drug development.

CNS Summit Innovation Index Methodology

The metrics are calculated using publicly available information, examining initiatives and investments that commence or are ongoing between June 2021 to June 2022. The data is used to rank companies by three facets of innovation:

  • Technology advancement

  • Trial optimization

  • Innovative partnerships


The innovativeness of efforts cannot be measured directly, therefore IDEA Pharma deploys surrogate measures to determine potential impact and breadth of each initiative.

Categories used to rank top 30 pharma include (non-exclusive list):

Commercial digitization

  • Patient experience

  • Expanding commercial reach

  • Applying digital innovation for organizational improvement

  • Mobile health

  • Sensor and wearables and other devices

  • Social media / patient services

Innovation and digitization in clinical development

  • Patient recruitment / retention

  • Remote patient monitoring

  • Data and analytics

  • Logistic and coordination 

  • Trial design

Research and application of digital solutions

  • Forward looking collaboration with academic and incubation hubs

  • Web platforms / software

  • AI, machine learning and digitally-enabled research 

  • Innovative start-ups

  • Innovative industry 

Each of the above are collated for each company and weighted to produce the CNS Summit Innovation Index.

IDEA Pharma

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