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New entrants into pharma from the digital sector

Recent times have shown that nothing influences the trajectory of healthcare innovation like the convergence of medicine and technology; but for now, the full potential of this pairing remains to be seen.

Pharmaceutical companies moving towards digital processes

As pharma negotiates its way towards an inevitable merge with technology, it must create its own digital pathways, or other non-pharma entities will move in and beat them to the punch. Today’s vendors demand competitive prices as well as improved methods of patient engagement and data utilisation, and only the players with these capabilities will become major disruptors to the industry.1

Pharma has not evolved at the speed necessary to keep up with the demands of its market, and this lapse has allowed third-party companies to get a foot in the door. These companies are heavy hitters, using cutting-edge innovation; they are ready and able to reform the pharma industry.

One such company is MC10. Its founder, John Rogers, and his team, developed BioStampRC—a malleable sensor that is light, comfortable to wear, and programmed to collect complex physiological data without disrupting a patient’s regular activities. BioStampRC would allow health providers to more accurately diagnose and treat their patients. It would also promote patient-centricity, by assisting patients to be more involved in their own treatment.2 Ben Schlatka, Co-founder and Vice President of the Department of Corporate Development at MC10, has revealed that the company intends to market the technology to be bundled with certain drugs, a pairing that would allow pharmaceutical companies to develop more patient-centric therapies.2

Artificial intelligence to streamline drug discovery

Another major contender is Atomwise, a San Francisco based company responsible for the inception of AtomNet, an artificial intelligence system that can be used to streamline the drug discovery process. AtomNet reasons like an expert chemist and utilises algorithms to evaluate millions of drug combinations daily. Discovering a new drug can cost billions of dollars and take years, but AtomNet has the potential to isolate an effective drug formulation faster at a fraction of the cost.3

According to Dr. Han Lim, Atomwise’s Academic Partnership Executive, “The Artificial Intelligence Molecular Screen (AIMS) Program is designed to dramatically accelerate the race towards lifesaving drugs by analysing millions of compounds for each disease.”3 The company has launched 27 drug discovery projects that are currently advancing research on diseases such as Ebola, multiple sclerosis and Leukaemia.3

Proteus Digital Health is another new entrant into pharma, having created a system, the Proteus Discover, which is comprised of a Smartphone, a patch fitted with a sensor, and a pill. Each pill contains a mechanism that is activated upon ingestion and then communicates a signal to the patch to send the data collected, via Bluetooth, to a caregiver’s, family member’s or provider’s Smartphone device. One application for such a system would be to manage medication compliance from a distance. When the medication is skipped or taken incorrectly, an alert is sent to the Smartphone.4

Andrew Thompson, Proteus Digital Health’s Co-founder and CEO, is convinced that drug pricing is not the real problem. In an interview with Fortune earlier this year, he argued that the problem is that, currently, pharmaceutical companies are selling drugs to be prescribed and then these drugs are ingested incorrectly or not at all. In such circumstances, the medications are not as effective as they could be. The new Proteus medication delivery system will target this problem.5

The implications are staggering

Better drugs moving faster through the testing and approval process at a fraction of the cost. Wearable and ingestible sensors built to provide intricate physiological data capable of improving patient outcomes and improving health care management. The healthcare possibilities offered by digital seem endless. The big question is: Who will be the next major disrupters to bring sophisticated, cutting-edge technologies to the pharma table? One thing is certain: it is no longer a question of if these new entrants from the digital sector will descend, but rather, when.

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References

  1. Neville, S. (2017). Digital disrupters take Pharma “beyond the pill”. Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/d7a60642-0361-11e7-ace0-1ce02ef0def9. [Accessed 21 October 2017]
  2. BioStamp: Increased Access through design and technology. Available at: http://cargocollective.com/futurehealth/BioStamp [Accessed 21 October 2017]
  3. Levy, A. (2017). Atomwise Opens Applications for Historic AI Drug Discovery Awards. Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/atomwise-opens-applications-for-historic-ai-drug-iscovery-awards-300441615.html [Accessed 20 October 2017]
  4. Proteus Digital Health (2017). Transforming care through digital medicine. Available at: http://www.proteus.com/evidence/ [Accessed 21 October 2017]
  5. Kowitt, B. (2017). The next big breakthrough in drugs may be in how you take them. Available at: http://fortune.com/2017/05/03/drug-delivery-breakthroughs/ [Accessed 21 October 2017]
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James Wright

James Wright is Associate Director at Valid Insight. He has over twenty years' experience in the healthcare industry and consulting, specialising in clinical trial assessment, payer positioning, value and pricing strategy and lifecycle management.

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