Bringing Digital Innovation to Pharmaceutical R&D

Francisco Rausa talks about his role at AbbVie and how he and industries around the world were forced to adapt with the onset of COVID-19.

Francisco Rausa doesn't hesitate when he says his job is pretty cool. As director of digital health and innovation at AbbVie, a research-driven biopharmaceutical company, Rausa identifies ways to implement new digital health tools and novel digital endports to the company's various clinical trials.  

He is agnostic when it comes to the different therapeutic areas within AbbVie, meaning one day he might focus on a tool for oncology and the next his goal shifts to supporting immunology efforts.  

Rausa, who serves on the Industrial Advisory Board for Northwestern Engineering's Master of Biotechnology program (MBP), spent a good amount of his time prior to the COVID-19 pandemic traveling the world to learn about and evaluate different companies and technologies. He held meetings with organizations and regularly attended conferences to identify new tools to support his own company's efforts. 

The pandemic brought his travel to a halt, but his goal of finding impactful technology remained.  

"I continue to assess and evaluate digital health companies and technologies," he said. "There are challenges when you're searching and evaluating and trying to do it virtually. Students have experienced this too, but there is an absolutely incredible value with meeting face-to-face." 

The key to making his job work during the pandemic was leveraging the network of colleagues and industry experts he cultivated throughout his career. It's the single most important piece of advice he passes on to MBP students. 

"You can't be static, you have to go out and network," he said. "In stressful times, like with COVID-19, you can hopefully rely on that network to pull you through."

Now more than a year since the onset of the pandemic, Rausa has been impressed with how companies have adopted new technologies and new ways to use existing technology, particularly in the healthcare arena. From the rapid rise in telehealth to using wearable devices as indicators for possible COVID-19 symptoms, he's seen an influx of companies adapting to their clients' changing needs. 

The AbbVie website states that "By putting patients first, we explore new medical innovations and ways to enhance access." It's that desire to innovate that keeps Rausa motivated. It also supports the common trait he's seen among his best colleagues over the course of his career, as well as the most promising MBP students: They all are inquisitive. 

"Those students who want to challenge the status quo and come in with an innovation mindset, that's what we're looking for, and I know other companies are looking for the same type of phenotype," Rausa said. "If you have that and you really want to make a difference, come to Northwestern."

The views stated in this piece are Francisco Rausa's and do not necessarily reflect those of AbbVie.

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