As Steve Jobs said, “the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology.” As these two become closely intertwined, innovative digital technologies emerge.
Here’s a glimpse at some of the greatest trends and innovations that are shaping and pushing forward pharma endeavours and digital health.
Given that there’s over one billion people using Facebook Messenger, chatbots built on this platform are an ideal solution that could significantly improve patients’ health as well as the communication with their doctors.
According to a World Health Organization report,“adherence to long-term therapy for chronic illnesses in developed countries averages 50%” and “removing barriers to adherence must become a central component of efforts to improve population health worldwide.”
While apps may be one answer, they require installation and a change of context every time a user needs them. On the other hand, chatbots are extremely easy to use. Patients could scan a profile code from Messenger and immediately start talking to an adherence bot, without the need to reveal their identity or set up a separate account. Consequently, the bot would help the patient add their first medication, give details about the amounts he needs to take and the times. Then, the bot will send friendly reminders at the times they specified. All of this process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
Bots could also collect patient information – symptoms, pain level, mood information, blood sugar levels- that could be discussed with the healthcare provider. The latter could request a full report from the bot prior to the patient’s appointment so that nothing is forgotten or overlooked.
As an example, there is Stuzo’s Labs Adherence Bot. Although it’s merely a prototype, the bot already has high chances of being successful.
Recently, Chinese search engine Baidu has launched a medical chatbot dubbed Melody designed to make diagnosing illnesses easier.
Also knows as “beyond the pill” services, apps and wearables allow patients to monitor their health and symptoms outside of clinical environments, fact that will prove important when it comes to freeing hospital beds and increasing doctors’ availability.
In September 2015, the FDA accepted the first New Drug Application for a ‘digital’ medicine – the anti-psychotic drug Abilify had an ingestible sensor attached to monitor patient adherence. Such collaborations between pharma and tech are expected to boom within the next years.
Furthermore, pharma research institutes are leveraging mHealth technology to carry out clinical research. In that sense, smartphones with advanced sensors that can track movement, take measurements and record information are used to conduct studies that engage large numbers of people from wide geographical areas. Apple has several mHealth apps for clinical research, some are targeting Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, while others focus on asthma and breast cancer.
Other devices such a smartwatches like Apple Watch or Samsung Gear and fitness bands (FitBit, Jawbone, Garmin) also have sensors capable of taking biometric readings. As they become more advanced, wearable devices will become a key asset in gathering clinical trial data remotely in real-time.
The fact that these devices are connected to the internet means that the information they gather can be synced with other devices or shared with doctors and researchers. This could mean that in the future, fewer patients will need to personally go to medical research centres or hospitals when participating in clinical trials, which could prompt a shift for pharma companies and CROs towards remote monitoring, as opposed to in-person meetings.
In March 2016, epilepsy drug Spritam became the first 3D printed drug to be approved by the FDA. The pill is manufactured by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals by spreading layers of the drug and building the pill through a three-dimensional printing process. The latter enables the use of a higher dose of medicine while keeping the pill porous enough to dissolve quickly.
Researchers at the School of Pharmacy of University College London are using a technique called “hot melt extrusion” to 3D-print pills in various shapes, spanning from pyramids to doughnuts. The form of the pill influences the rate of drug release. For example, a pyramid-shaped pill releases the drug slower than a cube or sphere and this enables absorption to be controlled.
3D printed drugs are not only set to change the way in which drugs are being manufactured, but also how they are administered. Hospitals could easily adjust doses depending on individual patients and their treatment.
Cognitive computing platforms such as IBM Watson have the capabilities to interact in natural language, process vast amounts of Big Data and understand patterns and insights while learning from each interaction. The Watson Health Cloud was launched in April 2015 as an open development platform for physicians, researchers, insurers, and companies.
By digesting and interpreting millions of pages of scientific literature, IBM Watson can assist pharma companies in the development of new drugs while repurposing existing ones. Johnson & Johnson is collaborating with the IBM Watson Discovery Advisor team to use Watson to develop and evaluate medications and other treatments, while Sanofi is looking into the discovery of alternative use cases for existing drugs (drug re-purposing).
These are only a few of the amazing trends and innovations that promise to influence not only the ways in which pharma companies and healthcare providers conduct their daily research and clinical trials but also the ways in which patients from all over the world cope with illnesses and follow treatment schemes. The future promises much more!
If you’re passionate about emerging trends and innovations in pharma and healthcare, these congresses should be on your list in 2017: