Key Themes From Biogen and Sanofi’s Successful R&D Digital Transformations


The biopharmaceutical industry has been squarely in the public eye as organizations across the globe forge a path towards preventative care and novel treatments. Particularly in light of the rapid pace of innovation spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, these companies are focused on accelerating production of high value therapeutics across the board, be they vaccines, antibody therapies, or cutting-edge treatments like CAR-T immunotherapy. Successfully achieving these outcomes necessitates a thoughtful digitization strategy that enables researchers to seamlessly collect, compile, organize, and analyze data rapidly. It is not an exaggeration to say that every day counts.

Biogen and Sanofi are pioneers in their space, focused on producing quality medicine and defeating devastating diseases. To continue innovating at scale, both organizations have deployed high-impact changes to their R&D technology, setting a new standard for how leading organizations make scientific advancements and discoveries.

To hear directly from the source, we caught up with our customers, David Sexton (Senior Director Genome Technologies and Informatics, Biogen) and Ayman Ismail (Principal Scientist – Lab Head, Sanofi) in a recent webinar to see how they’re spearheading digital transformation within their respective companies.

Based on our in-depth discussion, we’ve identified 4 consistent themes that have allowed Biogen and Sanofi to maximize R&D output.

Adopt a Data Governance Model

Data is only as valuable as its quality enables: capturing high quality, contextualized, and consumable data is key to a robust governance strategy. After all, our models of information are only as good as the information that informs them and our ability to access all relevant aspects of our studies.

Both Biogen and Sanofi have a robust data governance strategy that directly impacts their success and has allowed both organizations to uncover value and deeper insights from their data. Not only does this result in near-term benefits like regulatory compliance, but R&D organizations can realize long-term benefits such as:

  • Future flexibility and modularity to outpace competitors: your digital toolkit should support your growth and changing goals, especially in novel drug modalities

  • Achieving F.A.I.R. (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) data practices: data is a primary asset; make the absolute most of it

  • Increased strategic advantages like data quality and operational efficiency: enable your scientists to get it right the first time

“A good piece of our work has been creating the Lego blocks for [our data modeling]... to allow us to capture all of the information that we have in the minimal number of schemas—and have those connected relationally so that we can traverse through those tables to find the information that we need.”

— David Sexton, Senior Director Genome Technologies and Informatics, Biogen

Simplify Data Entry

Scientists want to do science. They want to design experiments, collect data, and interpret results. Any effort at digitization must put scientists’ ability to enter, review, and consume data front and center. Prior to adopting Benchling, scientists at Biogen went through the manual work of collating excel files, PDFs, and powerpoint presentations to paste into their previous ELN. Needless to say, this was frustrating and consumed valuable time that could otherwise be spent making more meaningful discoveries.

Fast forward to the present—scientists save time using Benchling because it automates and centralizes data capture. In addition to saving time on data capture, scientists also save time finding data they need in the future, since they no longer have to search across multiple systems.. By focusing on the science, Biogen and Sanofi have seen increased compliance, and scientists no longer see notebooking as an impediment, but as a helping hand.

“We're going to see a lot more groups that maybe didn't have any system in place really or weren't using anything other than excel spreadsheets—start to adopt this and be quite happy with the interface.”

— David Sexton, Senior Director Genome Technologies and Informatics, Biogen

Build a Technical Foundation for Digital Transformation

As R&D organizations have grown, many continue to operate with the same processes and structure they’ve used for years. Moving into the digital realm doesn’t mean slapping digital toolkits over existing processes; rather, it means taking the opportunity to rethink the very way we have structured our IT landscape to support the increasing demands of 21st century science.

Biogen and Sanofi have acted quickly to create new mechanisms to bring transparency, governance, and modernization to their organizations that enabled them to respond to shifting demands and growing complexity that legacy systems couldn’t support. Change isn’t easy, but it helps to take a step back and reflect on future needs by asking central questions around your technologies:

  • How prepared are we for future technologies, and are we ready to acquire modern tools and scale them?

  • Do we have a clear way of addressing the disruption of technological innovation?

  • What do our current R&D inefficiencies look like, and what stands in the way of removing these barriers?

“You can keep holding on to the past, shackled by the systems that you have, or you can adopt a new system to have a more nimble organization, and a more efficient organization.”

— Ayman Ismail, Principal Scientist – Lab Head, Sanofi

To stay on top of sudden market changes, we’ve seen businesses adjust quickly by having the proper technologies, application architectures, and processes in place. In the case of Biogen and Sanofi, it was important for them to look towards the future and bring the Benchling team aboard to enable their organizations to execute on research goals while meeting regulatory requirements.

For more information on how to evaluate your current R&D systems, read the blog 5 Signs It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Your Legacy Informatics Platform.

Keep In Lockstep With Internal Teams

Modern scientific efforts are typified by cross-functional teams, often spread across multiple geographies, working together on sophisticated technological development. Without the right tools, it can be fantastically difficult to work efficiently to solve problems across the teams. Simple things like sample submissions or study results can be painful to track in the old, semi-digital world. A key driver of transformation within both Biogen and Sanofi was the close partnership between cross-functional teams that cascaded down from business partners to end-users.

At Biogen, their Research IT Team worked to understand scientific requirements to not only build alignment with scientific leadership, but to also prepare for a successful implementation of Benchling. Sanofi made sure they understood how their data was currently structured on the backend so that IT could build the system properly and take advantage of all the features at their disposal.

“You need to understand exactly what [your scientists] need, what their workflows are, the templates required for all the different experiments—and build [your system] around that.”

— Ayman Ismail, Principal Scientist – Lab Head, Sanofi

Both R&D organizations also partnered with Benchling’s customer success teams, who continue to support their projects and work with relevant R&D functions on strategic priorities. With subject matter experts steeped in science and software, our team understands the kind of science being done at Biogen and Sanofi to help their team execute on experiments, train relevant teams, and ensure that all data remain useful throughout the organization. We work hard to ensure that their instance of Benchling is accurate today, as well as enable its continued growth and change management as projects evolve and new therapeutic targets are developed.

“We've been closely working with the [Benchling] team to help [build] out our templates that our scientists are going to be using… they understand exactly how science happens in the lab, which has been critical for us… They understand how work happens at Biogen, the workflows that go on, and [are] able to reflect that in the application.”

— David Sexton, Senior Director Genome Technologies and Informatics, Biogen

The Modern R&D Imperative

Biogen and Sanofi are taking it to the next level with Benchling and are preparing to expand the scope of their digital transformation initiatives. Here’s what lies ahead:

  • Biogen is looking to pass data forward to their manufacturing group and clinical teams to realize a fully unified system; roll out the Benchling platform to the in vivosciences team (David)

  • Sanofi would like to take advantage of their integration with AWS and leverage big data to uncover more analysis after experiments are over (Ayman)

Some of the brightest minds around the world are brought on board at industry leaders like Sanofi and Biogen to solve extremely complex problems that make a global impact. Their R&D software should mirror the cutting-edge advancements they’ve been tasked to uncover.

In the midst of the technological revolution occurring within the industry, it’s important to remember the very point of R&D digital transformation. While the pharmaceutical industry strives to modernize and reimagine the future, keeping patients’ needs central by providing them with preventative and curative therapies remains the core focus of this industry. Working quickly and efficiently to address the challenging health demands of today means improving the quality of lives and, ultimately, saving more people. The Benchling team is thrilled to continue supporting the innovative initiatives at Biogen and Sanofi.

Want to access the full discussion?

Enterprise R&D Transformation Case Study: Biogen and Sanofi

Sign up for the Benchling newsletter

Get our latest insights and announcements every month.

Powering breakthroughs for over 1,200 biotechnology companies, from startups to Fortune 500s

Helix Image