Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why has it taken pharma so long to get digital?

source: EyeforPharma
Written by Caroline Criado-Perez 
Caroline discusses some of the positive digital innovations over the past few months and questions whether or not we've heard it all before...
Another week, the beginning of another beautiful health – digital relationship We’ve had Pfizer’s online clinical trial. We’ve had Vodafone and Exco InTouch. And now, drum-roll please, we have Boehringer Ingelheim’s collaboration with Healthrageous.
BI and Healthrageous have initiated a pilot study that will evaluate the potential that digital solutions offer for improving the health of patients with type 2 diabetes. What this collaboration offers patients is clear: they will in effect receive round-the-clock care, through the use of Healthrageous’ digital monitoring system. They will receive ‘digital coaching’ and ‘a wireless glucose meter transmitting data to clinical monitors. The internet-based tool will be able to follow the effects of all shifts in the patient’s behaviour, from drug adherence, to lifestyle changes.
In Boehringer Ingelheim’s press release about their new collaboration with Healthrageous, they speak of a ‘beyond pill’ approach to healthcare. Chicago’s The Legal Examiner uses ‘Beyond the Pill’ as their headline. Dominic Tyer on PMLive quotes the ‘beyond the pill’ tagline. Everywhere you turn, ‘beyond the pill’ is being bandied about like it’s the latest, exciting new idea.
Except it isn’t. Let’s take a little trip down the old Memory Lane, shall we?
First stop, March 2011. Jonathan Richman. A little talk called ‘Your Computer is the Next Wonder Drug’. Ringing any bells? That’s right, over a year ago, Richman was talking about the need for pharm to act less like a manufacturer and more like a services company. He cited the disparity between the $60 billion spent by pharma on R&D in 2010, and the 21 new drugs approved by the FDA in the same year.
And it’s not just about money-saving either. As is explicitly stated by BI in their press release, one of the aims, and expected outcomes, of their collaboration with Healthrageous is to improve patient adherence, patient lifestyle. In short, to improve patient health – which is surely what pharma’s all about isn’t it?
OK, now let’s delve a little further back into the mists of time. A video this time (aren’t we getting all 21st century on you). A video in which those in the know refuse to get too excited about the idea of pharma’s collaboration with digital technology, because they’ve heard it all before.
Particularly striking is Dr Leandro Herrero, CEO of The Chalfont Project, who speaks of the conversation as ‘deja vu’. He laments that the idea is ‘not one that we’ve invented tonight’. Far from it. He gives a particularly enlightening example of what he means: at a talk he gave not long before the dinner, he used some slides, which had the audience nodding along enthusiastically. He then revealed that the slides were the same as the ones he had used in 2002. The message was clear: no-one was taking the initiative and making the changes needed.
Kevin Dolgin was downbeat about pharma’s ability or even appetite to engage effectively with a ‘beyond the pill’ approach. ‘Maybe pharma aren’t the people to do it’, he says. In an even more doom-laden forecast, Dave Chase compares pharma’s attitude to ‘the short-term thinking of Wall Street’, suggesting that, unless pharma pulls its digital socks up, and gets down and dirty in the big digital arena, it will follow in the steps of certain newspapers: unable to adapt to the realities on the newly digitized world, they will fall behind and eventually collapse.
Now, I know it looks like I’m being critical of BI. But I’m not – well, OK I am, a little. But only because this kind of partnership, while welcome, has taken an unbelievably long time to come about, leaving voices like Richman’s to exist as lone Cassandras in the wilderness – the lack of FDA guidelines is no excuse for lagging at least a decade behind every other industry online. It is to BI’s credit that they are finally investing properly in the digital revolution and exploring the benefits that collaborations between pharma and digital can offer patients.
So, the gauntlet has been laid down pharma. Will you answer the siren-call of the digital world?
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