Pharma's mobile opportunity: Adherence, marketing, trials

By Brian Dolan

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsIn recent months a number of deals, acquisitions, service and product launches have led to a growing discussion around the mobile health opportunities for pharma companies. There seem to be three big ones vying for the top.

Is it adding connectivity to clinical trials?

Earlier this month research analyst firm Cutting Edge Information (CEI) published a report that suggested pharma companies look to clinical trials and other pre-launch activities as the ripest opportunities for leveraging mobile health apps.

"With usage retention rates likely to continue hovering in the single digits, the industry may soon conclude the market is saturated with mobile health apps," CEI wrote in a press release. "Despite the low cost of development, a reasonable [ROI] is much more difficult than first envisioned."

CEI suggests two areas where pharma should focus: Streamlining trial data collection and analysis, and connecting potential trial patients to investigators. Those were opportunities for pharma companies to "differentiate themselves from the pack," according to CEI.

Some pharma companies likely agree that clinical trials are a big mobile opportunity. Pfizer, of course, made a big splash last year when it announced plans to see how mobile tools could make clinical trials more efficient. Exco Intouch, which is helping Pfizer run the trial, just poached Mark Brincat, Pfizer's Healthcare Informatics Director as their new product development director to head up their mHealth strategy.

Is it mobile marketing?

In recent months Digitas Health argued that pharma companies were missing the mobile health opportunity because so few websites for popular brands had mobile optimized websites: “Plavix has a brand site for consumers, Lipitor Savings provides information to consumers about their savings program, and only Nexium has a mobile site specifically aimed at HCPs,” Marty DeAngelo, vice president and director of interaction design at Digitas Health wrote. “In fact, based on recent research I’ve conducted, there are only a handful of mobile websites in all of the pharma space – 15 at my last count.”

Some companies are betting big on mobile marketing dollars from pharma companies. Last year Augme Technologies acquired Hipcricket for nearly $45 million. Augme's health division counts 10 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies as mobile marketing clients. Remedy Ventures and Physicians Interactive Holdings, which owns Skyscape, also launched a healthcare specific mobile advertising network last year, called Tomorrow Networks. The network launched with a handful of pharma companies already signed on.

Is it mobile health services?

This past week a company that we have been keeping a close eye on for the past three years launched its first offering. Proteus Biomedical developed Helius, an intelligent medicine service, now available at Lloyd's Pharmacies in the United Kingdom.

Lloyds will offer the Helius system as part of a personalized, medication adherence pack to its customers, which its pharmacists assemble for each individual customer. The new Helius packs will include the components of the Helius system as well as blister packs of the customer’s drug regimen. For example, if a person takes five medications each morning, one blister pack would include all five of those medication, but it will also include a Helius tablet.

The Helius tablet is a sensor-enabled pill that communicates to a peel-and-stick sensor patch worn on the patient's body. When the patient ingests the tablet and it breaks down, it sends a signal to the patch to indicate the dose had been taken. The patch communicates this information to an app on the user's mobile phone. The patch doesn't only record when a pill is ingested, it also tracks sleep patterns and records physical activity levels.

Proteus told MobiHealthNews that eventually all pharmacy businesses will offer similar services.