Datica Podcast

July 25, 2017

Naomi Fried, PhD — How Digital Health Companies Can Help Pharma Innovate Faster

Dr. Fried responds:

On how pharma and a hospital might think differently about innovation: “From a pharma perspective, innovation is actually a core competency for them. Hospitals, on the other hand, see their core business as care delivery, taking care of patients.” “I would summarize pharma's approach to internal non-product innovation as slow and cautious. Culturally, I think there are many in pharma that want to continue to do things the way they've been doing them, historically. So, there are some barriers to overcome there.”

“Compared to pharma providers, [providers] tend to have fewer resources to put toward internal innovation. But I think when it comes to testing and implementing patient-facing innovations, particularly new digital health tools, I think providers generally move more quickly. They are closer to the patient. They have fewer regulatory barriers to navigate around. So they tend to be more likely to jump in and try things. I'd say when it comes to digital health innovation for patients, hospitals are probably actually a bit ahead of pharma.”

On how pharma views internal versus external innovation: “[Digital health] companies usually have specialized domain knowledge. They've built a specific digital health tool and when you look at tech-savvy, entrepreneurial start-ups, they tend to have a consumer bent and typically better at developing the type of user experience and consumer-oriented solution than large pharma companies.”

“The second real benefit to partnering with external companies around digital health innovation is that these start-up companies tend to be more nimble because they are small in size, much simpler organizationally speaking than large pharma. Digital health startups in small companies generally move more quickly and often develop products in months rather than years, and they can also make changes quickly and respond to feedback they get.”

On benefits for pharma in using digital health companies to innovate faster: “There's a whole body of rules for how pharma is permitted to interact with patients, especially stringent rules outside of the U.S., and these rules simply don't apply to digital health companies. An external digital health vendor can talk freely to a doctor and patient and I think this is beneficial when trying to develop new innovative solutions that'll touch the patient.

On benefits for digital health companies who work with pharma companies: “I think hospitals are good potential customers for some of the digital health startups, but I think pharma actually can do a lot in terms of partnership, beyond the obvious resources like money. I think pharma can help digital health startups by sharing some of the expertise and understanding they have in particular diseases and therapeutic areas.”

“Digital health startups can leverage and learn from pharma's well-established processes around health care industry-specific details, and that includes things like CPT coding, thinking about payer reimbursement. I think for start-ups, they don't have to reinvent the wheel or invest heavily in developing regulatory expertise, but really can look to a pharma partner who can help them leapfrog to where they are going.”

“Where start-ups lack infrastructure needed to reach customers and have trouble scaling up, this is something that pharmaceutical companies have done well, so I think that teaming with pharmaceutical companies, tapping into their extensive marketing infrastructures and distribution channels can really help digital start-ups get traction, much faster than they could if they were on their own.”

On whether pharma will soon provide medication plus digital health solutions: “I think in the end, pharma will continue to provide solutions to patients, at the core, there will be a medication or a therapy. But almost all of these medications in the future will be combined with digital health solutions that address a patient’s needs more comprehensively. I think these digital solutions will address side effects; they will help with medication adherence.”

On examples of medication + digital health solutions: “In the future, I think we'll see drugs being offered along with virtual care, platforms and tools. Drugs for congestive heart failure, for example might come with home monitoring, so that it is possible to track the impact of the drug and keep a patient from retaining fluid that might necessitate a trip to the emergency department. You won't just be getting a drug, but getting a drug plus a service that helps track how you are doing.”

“I think we'll also see drugs plus digital therapies for side effects. As an example, multiple sclerosis drugs might come with digital antidepressant, an app or a web-based solution that helps them manage or ideally even treat the depression that is so common in that patient population.”

“Another example that I think we'll be seeing are wearables that will help a patient know actually when they need to take their drug. Epileptic drugs might come with a wearable when an attack might be eminent and the patient can get someplace safe and take a drug to hopefully ward off that attack.”

“I like to call it D and D — drugs and digital. At the core, pharma will still be our source for medications but I think what we think of in terms of patient solutions and value to patients will be much more than just the chemical compound.”