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Pharma’s race to digital

SAY authors

Federico Marchisio and Lorraine Walters

As digital tools and technologies become ever more central to our lives they are increasingly being used to diagnose, treat and manage disease. Wearables are moving from the wellness segment to real-time patient monitoring. The mobile health market is expanding rapidly and digital therapeutics (DTX) could one day rival mainstream pharmaceuticals in areas such as chronic disease management.

No wonder then that pharmaceutical companies are keen to leverage digital health as a competitive advantage and as a means to get closer to both patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs). The race is on and leadersin the field are investing heavily in new partnerships, embracing digital advancements to improve patient care and health outcomes. Good examples can already be found of digital technologies enhancing the value of existing therapies and giving patients new ways to manage their disease.

However, there are a number of barriers to overcome and risks to consider before the industry as a whole can truly embrace digital innovation and reap the potential rewards and opportunities it offers.

The first barrier for pharma is the lack of in-house expertise to develop software-based solutions. The leaders in this arena are fast-tracking their commitment to digital by working with digital health companies or technology companies moving into healthcare. However, partnering with such companies can bring risks and challengesPharma, for example, is traditionally conservative, slow moving and highly regulated; whereas technology firms are faster paced, more likely to take risks, and less regulated.

As medicine or medical device + companion DTX becomes the norm, the treatment development process will need to be redesigned to align the slow medicine lifecycle with faster digital technology development and refinement.

There is a need for pharma to embrace a different mindset when delivering digital solutions. For example, digital platforms offer the opportunity to engage directly with patients and to bring patients and HCPs closer together. There should be a willingness also to see beyond using digital to complement and support compliance with existing medical treatments to considering a DTX as a treatment in itself. However, in the future there is a risk that standalone DTX may prove to be effective replacements for the industry’s medicines.

The more visionary pharma companies will be considering non-branded apps or shared platforms that can be used with a range of treatments and not just their own, requiring a collaborative approach. However, while there is a risk that these types of digital solutions may give patients maximum benefit from any company’s medicines, an open access mentality offers the potential to provide solutions to bigger problems.

Compatibility across the globe with a digital partner’s technology could present a barrier to universal adoption across markets. Connecting proprietary digital solutions with a multitude of global, regional and local ecosystems of apps and devices which are not consistent in the way they capture data could be tricky.

There are also legal, ethical and practical questions about collecting data, including convincing both patients and HCPs about data security and managing expectations about the amount of time spent inputting and accessing data.

In the absence of clinical trials, an additional barrier will be gathering the real-world clinical and outcomes data needed to meet regulatory requirements as well as to convince HCPs to adopt digital health technologies and for payers to reimburse them. This will provide an opportunity for leadership from pharma companies who understand what’s needed to satisfy the regulators and are better equipped than technology companies to set up studies to capture the necessary evidence.

Digital has the potential to transform the future of patient care. Already there are examples of digital solutions that allow earlier diagnosis, give patients more control over the management of their disease, or have the ability to improve adherence with a company’s medicines. For example, GSK’s MyAsthma app, developed with the Nottingham Respiratory Research Unit, allows people with asthma to track and manage their condition, while the company’s Breath of Life app detects chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in older adults.

But to reap these potential rewards, those pharma companies leading the way in digital health will need a long-term yet ever changing vision, encompassing sustainability, patient centricity and collaboration for this brave new world. Clearly communicating that vision both internally and externally will help engender belief that digital solutions can indeed enhance patient care.


by Federico Marchisio, Digital Programme Director and Lorraine Walters, Associate Director, Say Communications

by Federico Marchisio, Digital Programme Director and Lorraine Walters, Associate Director, Say Communications

17th December 2019

From: PME

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