Q&A  | 

Anabel León: innovation, the key to tackling health challenges

Tags: 'Digital transformation' 'Inteligencia artificial' 'Tecnología'


Reading Time: 10 minutes

Anabel León is Digital Lead of the Pharma division in Spain for the pharmaceutical company Bayer, where she drives the company’s digital transformation. With 20 years of experience as an IT professional in different sectors, she is a tech lover who sees it as a means, not an end. Anabel has shared Bayer’s innovation strategy with The Collider and reflects on the coming trends in digital health.

What does your job entail and what are your everyday responsibilities?

My role is to guide the company’s digital strategy: identifying how and where we in Digital can create an impact on the business strategy. This includes fostering digital transformation through innovation and adopting new, more agile ways of working. 
Another important duty is to manage the digital portfolio of all the projects, looking for standardisation in the region and creating synergies among the therapeutic areas and the different countries. I work for Pharma Spain, but I belong to a global team: Digital Leads. 

What is Bayer’s corporate innovation strategy?

Innovation has always been part of Bayer’s DNA. A part of our business involves the research and development of new products. In 2021, 5.3 billion euros were invested in Research Development, which is equivalent to 12% of sales. We focus on creating leading solutions in both health and nutrition. Our current slogan is ‘Health for all, hunger for none’, so innovation is essential.  

We recently announced that Leaps by Bayer, the division that invests in disruptive technologies, is to invest more than 1.3 billion euros over the coming three years in companies involved in the development of gene therapies, as well as in decarbonisation and food safety.  

Locally, we engage our employees in the innovation initiatives aimed at promoting a change in cultural mindset, such as the Life Hub, and we involve them in open innovation strategies.  

What should the relationship be like between corporations and researchers and scientists?

Collaboration between the public and private sector is key. In fact, it is included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are working on a great many joint challenges and will only be able to progress by working together. 

Innovation is often associated with technological and digital technology. But what role do people, processes and mindsets play in promoting innovation?

People come first, then technologies. It is impossible to innovate without an appropriate mindset that prioritises learning, experimenting, creating value for the customer, collaborating… as Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. 

What will be the next trends in digital health? Where do you see most opportunities?

Digital therapies are an evolving market, particularly with the pandemic, and I think they will make the difference. I can see opportunities for all stakeholders in this market.  

Digital therapies offer patients ubiquity, which means they can be looked after anywhere and at any time, and their care is personalised. And diseases that were not addressed until now can be treated.  

Digital therapies will provide healthcare professionals with a 360º vision of the patient and data for better decision making.  

And it is an opportunity for the health system to cut costs, work on prevention and early detection, and increase patient access to treatments. 


How important is technology transfer and what opportunities does it offer to startups?

Many scientific teams and startups develop an idea, but the hard part is turning this idea into a product and launching it in the marketplace and, in short, ensuring it reaches the person who needs it. Hence the importance of technology transfer between companies and institutions. Companies must determine the solution that is to be developed based on the technology they have designed. 

What is your relationship with The Collider and what do you think is its unique value?

We began collaborating with The Collider in July 2021 with the aim of connecting with the local innovation system. The programme has provided us with a better understanding of the technologies created by scientific teams that had been unable to find the way of offering their idea to the market and that we would most likely not have discovered. We try to help these teams find the variation in the market and guide them with our experience. We also want to develop pilot projects with technologies that concern us in order to test them and to help them reach the marketplace. 

Who has been your professional mentor?

I have had a lot. You take something from each person you work with. But my father is particularly important, as he always encouraged me to study engineering despite it not being very common for women at the time. 

Do you have any quotes that define the way you work or live?

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different resultsby Albert Einstein. The basis of innovation for me is: if you want to change things, you must do things differently. This is a quote that I take into account both professionally and personally. 

What has been your most gratifying experience?

I have had a lot. I have worked on some very interesting projects. For proximity, I would have to choose the launch of our LifeHub in Barcelona. It was a bottom-up process that involved a lot of people, which gave it even more value. 

What professional advice would you give someone starting out?

I have taken part in several initiatives with youngsters and I always tell them to do something they like doing. Never stop learning, and work with a lot of soft skills such as flexibility, empathy, teamworkNowadays, knowledge is accessible to most people and what truly tells us apart is how we work.