The year of digital health disrupting pharma

February 10, 2017
By Bipin Thomas

Digital health companies are aiming at pharma as their major paying customer in 2017. Despite their vast differences, pharmaceutical manufacturers are starting to engage and pay technology firms to solve their complicated problems. One major issue pharma wants help with is accessing and selling to physicians. In-person detailing by trained sales representatives has been the core of pharma’s sales strategy for decades. One-fourth of all physician offices and two-fifths of all offices with 10 or more physicians refuse to see pharmaceutical sales reps in their offices. The Sunshine Act, which compelled every pharma company to disclose what it spends on each MD, accelerated the problem. The problem of customer awareness and engagement is ripe for tech companies, particularly those focused on social media, mobile advertising and video, to capitalize on.

2017 is going to be a tipping point, because spending and hiring within pharma’s commercial organizations are changing fast. Plus, the FDA published guidance on social media. Suddenly, these corporations have large eMarketing teams and senior leadership to drive digital health. They are luring chief information officers and technology leaders from traditional technology companies. These indicators point out that 2017 will be the year when pharma is preparing to bring in technology disruptors to address their business problems.

Cloud-based technology platforms
Broad adoption of platform technologies will enable better decision-making processes and fewer, less redundant procedures that can help drive faster, less expensive and safer clinical trials. Cloud-based platforms offer unified operating models that can facilitate the processes of designing and managing clinical trials, as well as knowledge sharing and collaboration among users, sponsors, clinical research organizations and other trial partners. Such platforms can aggregate patient data across studies and drug programs, allowing life sciences companies to benefit from quick and easy access to relevant, high-quality and analysis-ready data.

And as we move beyond the clinic to incorporate data gathered from patients’ mobile devices, a single technology platform can capture richer data sets — without increasing the cost of monitoring and data cleaning, or the burden on clinical trial sites. The advances of new algorithms running on cloud-based data platforms could have a remarkable, positive impact on clinical research, disease diagnosis and many other areas of health care.

Emerging technologies
Emerging technology is leading radical change in the pharmaceutical industry. Microchip modeling within clinical trials, 3-D and 4-D anatomical printing and other sophisticated new and emerging technologies are expected to have the potential to disrupt the current research paradigm. Advanced technologies will change the R&D paradigm not only by reaching new heights in the labs and clinics of the developed world, but also by bringing them into the developing world much sooner.

There is a fundamental shift in the way new drug candidates are tested, made possible by new technologies, ranging from organs-on-chips to 3-D tissue modeling, to microinjections directly into tumors. These new technologies are already making it possible to enable direct study of drug efficacy in the only context that matters: the human patient, without exposing patients to systemic toxicities. This will be a game-changer, particularly for cancer drug development. Currently, cancer drug efficacy observed in translational preclinical models translates poorly to treatment in humans: nine out of 10 drugs that work in preclinical models don’t show efficacy in late-stage trials and don’t make it to the market. Technologies that enable multi-drug studies without inducing systemic toxicities will release drug developers from the confines of poorly predictive preclinical models for human diseases.

Most of the health innovations are coming from the technology sector rather than the health care sector. Infusing health care market expertise into the technological development process is critical not only for acceptance of these technologies, but also essential for innovations that add immediate, real value to patient care. In clinical research, regulators are now placing greater weight on patient-reported outcomes and patient experience, an area that’s ripe for a technology disruption.

About the author: Bipin Thomas is a renowned global thought-leader on consumer-centric health care transformation. Thomas is a board member of DOTmed HealthCare Business News magazine and strategic advisor to HealthTap. Thomas is a senior executive at Flex, where he is launching new business models by connecting all stakeholders in the emerging health care ecosystem. Thomas is a former senior executive at Accenture and UST Global, where he implemented strategic digital initiatives across the care continuum including providers, payers, medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical and life sciences, federal and state health agencies.