“We don’t want to miss the train of digital health” is a phrase I have heard many times since I started working with pharmaceutical companies. Well, I have good news. They cannot miss it, because there are no trains to catch anymore. Instead, we should be looking to futuristic spaceships. If the pharma industry doesn’t deal with disruptive technologies, it won’t have an industry at all.
It might sound like a bold statement, but major trends suggest a future in which medical innovations come from a garage or a small startup company. For hundreds of years, innovation belonged to the R&D departments of pharma companies. A few technological developments might change that forever – and we are not happy about it.
The first 3D-printed drug, Spritam, that dissolves quickly and is used in epilepsy, was approved by the US FDA this summer. What if small companies come up with other solutions for creating drugs that can be metabolised faster and reach the market more easily because of this manufacturing method? What if the FDA becomes more open to such innovations? Whole supply chains will have to be redesigned within years, or even months.
“What if a startup can provide a solution for performing clinical trials in silico?”
What if a startup can provide a solution for performing clinical trials in silico? Instead of spending billions of dollars and waiting for years, they might be able to test thousands of drug targets in seconds on billions of patient models without the need for testing drugs on real people. What if they can recruit the right patients for these trials through digital methods more easily and much more cheaply?
Empowered patients might launch their own biotech companies to develop new drugs or acquire companies that failed to do so. They know what companies are working on and how they communicate with fellow patients and their caregivers as they follow the companies in social media. Expectations are high and if those are not met, patients find their own solutions.
Today’s healthcare is still not about precision and personalised medicine. So far, there have only been a few examples of genomic information being used in making a decision about treatment. What if a digital health company can quickly connect the dots for the patient regarding genomic background and susceptibility for drugs and dosages?
Will the pharma industry react quickly and efficiently to these? I hope so, as nobody wants the next successful drugs to come from a garage office without any clear regulation. We, patients and caregivers, need pharma companies to step up their game and meet us on the way towards a more humanistic and technological future of healthcare.