How pharma can keep up as healthcare goes digital

By Jonah Comstock
11:31 am
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One of the biggest ways the changing digital health landscape will affect the pharma industry is that pharma companies increasingly stand to lose control over their own stories, according to a new report from McKinsey & Company, who spoke to 20 thought leaders in various pharma-adjacent sectors.

"As the lines among payors, providers, and pharma companies blur, carefully controlled trial data will no longer be the sole source of outcome data," authors David Champagne, Amy Hung, and Oliver Leclerc wrote. "The dynamics between players are evolving: payors are expanding into areas that providers and pharma companies traditionally owned (for example, payors are in some cases excluding drugs completely from their formularies)."

As drug data becomes available in ways pharma companies can't control, they can get ahead by being more transparent, sharing their data more widely, and focusing on outcomes, which could mean moving beyond the pill.

That's only one of many ways McKinsey & Company sees the role of pharma changing in the face of new digital health technologies. Another is that as patients increasingly take control of their own treatment, patient communication and patient engagement will be essential for pharma. Many of the stakeholders interviewed in the report believe that right now even pharma companies that are making the effort to engage patients aren't truly thinking in a patient-centric way.

"Apps that face the patient but are designed to solve pharma-company business needs should never exist," Dr. Todd Johnson, the CEO of Noble.MD, says in the report. "Conversely, the market desperately needs apps that focus on patient and/or provider needs — real needs with a measurable impact on health quality and cost. If those apps also meet business needs — as a secondary or tertiary outcome — they have a chance of being adopted."

Pharma companies also need to adjust to -- and strive to participate in -- the increasing density of patient-generated data. The report mentions Proteus Digital Health, which has begun to partner with pharma companies to embed its sensor in drugs on the market, as well as Novartis's partnership with Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) on smart contact lenses for reading blood glucose.

What can pharma companies do to keep up? Well, the first suggestion the report gives is that pharma companies need to make a fundamental shift in how they envision themselves, from "asset companies to solution companies". That means pharma companies aren't just responsible for creating drugs anymore, they're responsible for creating whole systems that make the patient well, including adherence and patient engagement and education. Like payers and providers, pharma has to think about outcomes.

Additionally, pharma companies need to change how they think about risk and innovation. McKinsey contends that, according to the experts they spoke with, the technology for things like digital-enabled remote clinical trials already exists or is almost ready, but structural and organizational barriers prevent widespread adoption.

Pharma companies have a tendency to stand by and wait for someone else to innovate and take the risks, the report says. Companies need to compensate for this tendency by creating programs that reward innovation experimentation, and by hiring people like data scientists and clinical informaticists from outside of the pharma world. 

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