As head of US data and analytics at Biogen, Erika Cerwin has her finger on the pulse of emerging trends. She knows that everything is moving towards enhancing the customer experience and creating a 360-degree view of the patient.As technology, finance, and healthcare come together, Cerwin is in the perfect position to leverage her unique background to make an impact at the global biotech company known for its history of innovation and ongoing commitment to battling neurological diseases.
Cerwin didn’t begin her career in healthcare—a fact that she’s turned into an asset as she harnesses the power of AI and machine learning to participate in an important digital transformation at one of the industry’s major players.
The North Carolina native first studied finance, investment banking, and private equity. She credits her father—a former IBM employee in semiconductors and networking, who also held senior roles in networking and computer science at North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—with reminding her how big a role computer science and technology (and specifically analytics) would likely play in any career.
That thought stuck with Erika Cerwin as she started her professional life as an investment banking analyst and private equity associate. After advising founders as they started new companies and helping large clients find investment vehicles, she followed her father’s footsteps to IBM and made her way onto an analytics team.
As a senior business analytics and optimization consultant, Cerwin made her first foray into healthcare by serving GSK. She later joined the pharmaceutical manufacturing company full-time to deepen her skills in advanced medical analytics.
After six years, Cerwin was ready to unite her interests in finance, technology, and start-ups to address a need she saw in the marketplace. She codesigned and cofounded BeSpree, an app that helps chronically ill patients make healthy choices and find healthy activities. Users log in to find trusted and verified location-based health and wellness groups in their communities.
To launch BeSpree, Erika Cerwin applied to incubator programs and partnered with nearby government agencies, prominent local physicians, and community groups like birth and wellness centers. “We really wanted to create a cross-platform mobile app that would connect patients to people and services and help users engage in healthy living with others,” she explains.
Building BeSpree and engaging various partners deepened Cerwin’s appreciation for what data, technology, and analytics can do in healthcare. “As I got more direct experience, I saw how everyone I was working with was more and more concerned about what the patient needs and how we can meet patients where they are,” she says, adding that she started thinking more about agile development and flexible thinking.
With this in mind, Cerwin joined Biogen in 2020 to lead the organization’s digital transformation. As the first person to hold the role, she was tasked with building and implementing a digital and data strategy for an entire function on the company’s pharmaceutical operations and technology side.
When Cerwin arrived, Biogen had just started the process of building a large state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Solothurn, Switzerland. There, workers produce ten metric tons of antibodies per year. Cerwin and her team work behind the scenes to use data to analyze efficiencies in manufacturing to improve the process at Solothurn and Biogen’s other facility, in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. It’s important work, because with each improvement, Biogen is able to accelerate the delivery of its therapies to the sick patients who rely on them.
These improvements are not confined to the operations side. On the commercial side, Erika Cerwin uses data to track scripts, identify bottlenecks, deploy sales teams to physicians’ networks, and gain a holistic view of customers and patients. She’s empowering her colleagues to deliver actionable insights. They buy millions of dollars’ worth of data and find novel ways to apply standards, governance, and analysis so leaders can make informed strategic investments and business decisions.
Cerwin’s colleagues outside Biogen are excited to see the results of these efforts. “Erika’s passion for using data science to advance patient access to life-changing drugs and therapies, along with her commitment to data privacy and security, is helping drive digital transformation at Biogen,” says Gaurav Marya, vice president of life sciences at IT company Cognizant.
The experience at BeSpree helped Cerwin learn a few things that inform her work at Biogen. “Data ethics and privacy matter at companies both large and small,” she says. “We are stewards of the data we have, and we have to protect that data.”
While there is some inherent risk involved with accessing and using data, Cerwin knows the potential greatly outweighs the danger. “We can understand and anticipate the needs and challenges our patients and customers face,” she says. As the industry continues to think about how data and the patient experience can go hand in hand, she’s looking forward to a day where custom notifications automatically alert patients to financial assistance, transportation, refills, and other services.
Now, Erika Cerwin is focused on supporting Biogen through a key transition. CEO Michel Vounatsos has stepped aside to make way for a new leader. The company is eliminating commercial plans for aduhelm and submitting a second Alzheimer’s therapy, lecanemab, for FDA approval. Biogen is facing a strategic refresh, and with Cerwin in place, it’s certain to be one centered on the power of data.
Key Moments in Biogen History
1978: The company is established in Geneva, Switzerland.
1979: Biogen scientist Charles Weissmann clones active human leukocyte (alpha) interferon.
1980: The Nobel Prize in chemistry goes to founder Walter Gilbert for his work on DNA sequencing.
1986: Biogen opens manufacturing facilities in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1993: Founder Phillip Sharp earns the Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering split genes.
1996: The FDA approves Biogen’s interferon beta-1a for the treatment of relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis.
2002: The company’s new manufacturing facility opens in North Carolina.
2007: Biogen acquires Syntonix Pharmaceuticals and develops two new hemophilia therapies.
2010: The FDA gives Biogen approval for rituximab with chemotherapy for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
2014: Biogen announces FDA approval for two hemophilia A and B treatments, which represent the first significant hemophilia advancements in twenty years.
2018: Employees celebrate Biogen’s fortieth anniversary.
Cognizant is of the world’s leading professional services companies with more than 75,000 employees focused on the healthcare and life sciences industries. Cognizant helps its clients advance science to improve patient outcomes, from helping to set the pace in clinical development and strengthen regulatory infrastructures, to modernizing manufacturing and enabling improved market competitiveness. The Cognizant life sciences team provides domain-aligned consulting, technology, and business process platforms and solutions globally, serving the world’s top 30 pharmaceutical companies, 9 of the top 10 biotech companies, and 14 of the top 15 medical device companies. For more information, visit Cognizant.com/LifeSciences.