Earlier this month, Julie Papanek of Canaan Partners spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the changing needs of the pharmaceutical industry. She mentioned:
- How pharma’s traditional physician marketing model is breaking down because many major health systems aren’t allowing sales reps in the door
- The push for drug firms to prove their products actually benefit patients — especially in the real world
- The need to develop better
technology solutions that help optimize promotion on social media now that the FDA has provided clarity on how drug firms can advertise via this channel
The Wall Street
Journal suggests that entrepreneurs and innovators are not paying enough attention to the growing and pressing needs of pharmaceutical companies in the digital health arena. But is this really the
Yes and no.
Yes, more innovations are needed. But it’s primarily a matter of aligning product market fit than the need to produce a lot
And, no, innovators are not ignoring Big Pharma, they’re scrambling to get in the door (more on this below).
The key to digital health
success in pharma will be about understanding the unique and changing needs of the industry and developing solutions — sometimes via a process of co-creation — that work well for drug
Let’s take another look at the industry’s needs. As Papanek mentioned, marketing and clinical data collection and mining are two. Additional areas of
greatest need include:
- Strategic and organizational support to determine the best ways to commercialize existing assets and competencies in diagnostics, genetics, Big
Data and more
- Development of a digital health pipeline that will accelerate the introduction of profitable and scalable products and services that will boost
brand loyalty, replace a portion of lost revenue due to expiring patents, etc.
Technology won’t meet all these needs. People with specialized knowledge and an
innovative mindset will also play a big role.
There are other factors at play. I spend a lot of time looking closely at investment data, keeping track of global digital health
innovations and communicating with pharma executives about their needs in health tech. This work has taught me that:
- Pharmaceutical executives are flooded with
digital health opportunities: Many startups and established companies are coming to drug firms with a range of innovations, from mobile health solutions to smart pills. Executives and leaders at
these firms are having trouble triaging these innovations to determine which ones will meet key organizational, business and health goals.
- Drug firms are starting
to turn to companies with multiple products and services for help: For example, earlier this year Qualcomm announced a number of deals with pharmaceutical companies to provide key digital health
services and support technology innovations via venture funding.
- Companies are working hard to drive digital health innovation from within: A number of firms
have created internal innovation groups that are responsible for locating, developing and supporting the integration of digital health technologies into their operations. There is a special need for
this work in developing countries like Brazil and China.
Overall, the digital health innovation picture in Big Pharma is a lot brighter than the headlines would have
you believe. But, there’s clearly a lot more work to be done.
The next few years are going to be very interesting.