However, if the waves of change hit us unprepared – which we are now – they will wash away the medical system we know and leave it purely a technology-based service with no personal interaction. Such a complicated system should not be allowed to just wash away; it should be consciously and purposely redesigned, piece by piece. If we are unprepared for the future, then this opportunity will be lost.
When I speak to pharma companies I tell them they need to act now or they will lose business, or even be left with no business at all. What if we will spend a same amount of money, expertise and time on preventing diseases rather than treating them? It would mean we have a healthier society, and pharma lost the core of its business.
I always try to underscore these radical statements by highlighting the following trends and examples that will transform pharma:
1) Empowered Patients
Empowered patients who become equal partners with their caregivers have to potential to hack the whole healthcare system. They do research, they gather information and they keep informed. While this can be beneficial in many ways, medicine is not something laymen can easily understand. Medical professionals of every field have to get ready to provide answers and to treat patients as partners in their treatment. These ‘E-patients’ will want to get into clinical trials. Some even acquire biotech companies to run their own trials. Without proper regulation garage labs could pop up, and ethics often fly out the window the second emotions come into play. While the movement itself is helpful, the future is foggy. We need to prepare for a new kind of healthcare. A future in which pharma companies have to negotiate with patients and do what is truly best for them.
2) Gamify Health To Transform Pharma
The incentives pharma companies are currently using to motivate patients and medical professionals to use a certain product are obsolete. They need to turn to gamification to reach people where they are online, which can help improve both adherence and pharma’s image. Look at how Pokemon Go changed the whole game in weeks. It got people off the couch and outside, moving. Taking the literal first steps toward a healthier lifestyle. If the customer no longer sits in front of something that can used as an advertisement platform a new one is needed. One, where the customer is engaged and the information about their options regarding their health can stick.
If an e-patient hears about adherence, they get angry as the term implies they have to follow orders. Instead, they make decisions with their caregivers and should be motivated accordingly.
3) New Kinds Of Realities Change The World
Augmented reality and virtual reality with devices such as Google’s digital contact lenses or Oculus Rift give us a new view of the world through digital information. If you have ever had a chance to use a virtual reality device, you can compare the attractiveness of information on a website with seeing how a drug works in 3D and realize the potential that virtual reality holds for pharma. The experience is to strong you will surely not forget it anytime soon. And isn’t that what we need to do to keep on top in a world overloaded with information?
4) Sequencing Genomes At Home
Genomics and truly personalized medicine to enable us to receive therapy individually customized to our own genetic background. I own a huge text file containing my DNA data. I can take it to my doctor and hope to receive personalized drugs instead of the blockbusters that are manufactured for millions of people even though we are all genetically and metabolically different. The cost of DNA sequencing is dropping constantly. When it’s finally available to the majority the whole concept of prescribing medication will change. Pharma needs to get ready for the transformation so it can offer solutions to all.
5) Quantified Self And All That Data
Body sensors – inside and out – that measure health parameters in a comfortable and cheap way to provide crucial data. The success of clinical trials largely depends on how medical professionals collect data about their patients. Imagine this being solved and made constant and automatic by increasing use of health sensors. If pharma changes the method of gathering data as we know it now the cost-benefit could be immense. But we need to keep up to date and stay vigilant about the strides technology makes to be able to truly enjoy the benefits.
6) DIY Biotechnology Is Here
‘Do it yourself’ biotechnology generates a new generation of scientists who see no limitations in research. The biggest drug ideas have come from large institutions, but this era might be over as citizen scientists like Jack Andraka, who developed a really disruptive pancreatic cancer test, can change the whole game in a specialty. He was just 15 when he invented an inexpensive test. Supporting this kind of initiative may be the key to a future where DIY BioTech can still stay safe. Rules and regulations are there for a reason, but we can’t pretend individuals can’t accomplish great things from their teenage rooms either. Pharma needs to pay attention to the rising stars of garage labs.
7) Print Anything In 3D
The 3D printing revolution that can manufacture medical prostheses, equipment, and pharmaceuticals. A Scottish group has been working on printing out drugs in 3D with a printer. The first drug printed out with a 3D printer was approved by the FDA in 2015. Imagine getting a blueprint of a customized drug in a customized dosage related to your genomic background and that a local pharmacy could print it out for you, all without the participation of big pharma.
8) The End Of Human Experimentation Is Near
The end of human experimentation through detailed simulation of human physiology. We live in a barbaric era when new drugs are tested on actual people. What if thousands of drug targets could be tested on billions of simulations modelling the physiology of the human body in seconds with supercomputers? No more ethical dilemmas, just letting science do it’s work. It will be cheaper, faster and more reliable. Combined with the above mentioned new ways of gathering an immense amount of medical data the possibilities are almost endless. And no-one would get hurt in the process.
9) Utilizing Supercomputers To Make Complex Decisions
Medical decision made with artificial intelligence using the power of supercomputers will revolutionize everyday medicine. Cognitive computers, such as IBM Watson, have been used in many ways to analyse big data, not only in genomic research but also in biotechnology. This will change the way new drugs are found. Of course human oversight is and probably will be important, a machine can analyze with greater accuracy and speed.
10) Nanorobots In Blood
Nanorobots in blood could make early diagnoses by constantly measuring any health parameters. If the technology of transporting drugs to the actual cellular targets in nanocages becomes viable, the pharma industry will have to start producing different end products to make sure they are compatible with nanotechnology. This requires a new approach to medication, without which the transformation of pharma could be a hard and rocky one. This is the most futuristic example, but it’s never early enough to start preparing for a new revolution.
Nestlé has started focusing on 3D printing of food at home. We don’t print out food yet, but by the time we do, the company will be ready. A whole division dedicated to developing business models, experts and specialist products. The pharmaceutical industry is still in time to reap rewards too. But it needs to act now in order to stay in business when the tsunami of disruptive technologies reaches us. Technology is an amazing tool, but we need to focus on it’s advances if we want a say in how it will transform pharma.
We do need an innovative pharma industry. But the world of technology is changing medicine and healthcare so fast, that pharma must find new solutions to thrive on that in away that products are still safe and regulated. Impossible? Look at the space industry.