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The Intersection of Pharma and Tech: Digital Pharma

Posted on October 19th, 2016 by in Pharma R&D


For years, the pharmaceutical or biopharma industry and the information technology (IT) sector seemed to be more or less separate entities. This has certainly changed in more recent times.We are now beginning to see more intersections being made between technology and pharmaceuticals to help with problems such as medication adherence or patient compliance, health monitoring, and patient engagement. The industry realizes now that, in certain cases, simply prescribing and picking up a drug bottle filled with pills from the pharmacy may not be enough to meet the patient’s health needs. With diversity in patient populations comes a greater need for increased personalization and digitization of pharmaceutical solutions. This realization has drastically changed the way that healthcare is viewed these days, by the patients as well as the healthcare providers.

Examples of some “digital pharma” companies that have recently emerged include: Proteus Digital Health, which offers a medication adherence solution alongside drugs with ingestible sensors (1); Pear Therapeutics, a company that “pairs” the medication with a digital therapy/patient engagement software app (2); and Medisafe, an iOS and Android based app that serves as a reminder to help patients stay on track with their medications (3). This patient connectivity helps not only patients but also the healthcare providers, as well as the payers / insurance companies.

The impact that this trend could potentially have on the pharmaceutical industry as a whole is multi-fold, I think. First and foremost, these apps create the potential of offering significant benefits on patient outcomes, particularly those who struggle to adhere to their medications. This could further ameliorate any losses which result from the forgetfulness of patients. Secondly, I think that digital technologies offer the promise of more real-time data, and with that, greater opportunities to generate a more holistic understanding of how patients respond to drugs. This will help further along the personalized medicine movement of using data “insights” to deliver appropriate information about when to take medicine at the right time. This also helps keep track of patient kinetics, assuming that the patients are on a multitude of simultaneous ingestion of medications and also tracks if there is any potential for drug interactions.

Some other notable pharma companies that are beginning to latch onto these “personalized medicine” and “digital pharma” movements are Novartis and Roche. Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez recently highlighted the importance of using technology to improve patient outcomes. He also provided an example of how pharma companies could benefit by “partnering with companies that could monitor some patients remotely… [to] look for vital signs that would tell us whether they should go to the hospital” (4). Novartis has also headlined a $100 million initiative with Qualcomm Ventures to invest in digital technologies that support pharmaceuticals (5). This in turn helps alleviate concerns about reacting to any adverse events. Keeping track of pharmacovigilance in clinical and post marketing studies has been an additional advantage due to the interlinked digital monitoring that takes place. This is a great benefit to the patient and also for consumers.

Roche has been highly involved in the digital health world as well. For example, it recently announced a partnership with mySugr, a company that offers apps to help diabetes patients manage their blood sugar (6). The app can be used to “automatically sync blood glucose data” from Roche’s Acc-Chek Connect meter to mySugr. Furthermore, in 2014, Roche announced their acquisition of Bina Technologies, a company that specialized in bioinformatics and data management. Roche strategically acquired this company to further their investment in a “data-driven approach” to treating patients with their drugs.

I firmly trust that all of these progressions are definitely part of a larger trend to couple pharmaceutical drugs or drug-delivery devices with data-driven mobile apps and technologies to help further monitor and improve human health. I believe this trend will only continue to grow into the future, as it continues to support improved patient outcomes. It is great to see such a marriage of drugs and digital technology resulting in a multitude of advantages for bettering human health!

Explore research on digital pharma, visit ScienceDirect.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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