Incoming disruption pushes the growing ties between the pharma and tech sectors

BY Fernando L. Mompó on 09 / 09 / 2018

As in many other areas, also in the field of health the emergence of new technologies poses significant disruptions. Experts from this and different related fields increasingly propose significant changes in the kind of health models we have considered normal during the last decades. The new normal in health could happen sooner than we think.

Digital transformation is about to blur the traditional boundaries between medical technologies, drugs, devices, therapies and ICTs. Patient data management will be key in the resulting new health models. For instance, in the case of the increasingly mentioned model in which companies developing drugs are paid not for the number of pills or injections but for the results of their medications.

“Data economy” will rule, a scenario in which technological companies and not the pharmaceuticals are the ones to play with a competitive advantage.  A battle for the future health business has already begun. Large technology companies have long shown their interest in this market. Pharmas not aware today of the new role that ICT companies will play in the future will risk being left behind.

The right move might be, once again, collaboration.

Combining resources to build a virtual diabetes clinic

Onduo is one of the many examples of the growing ties between the pharma and tech sectors. Two years ago, French drugmaker Sanofi and Google’s health care arm Verily, combined resources to form this $500 million diabetes-focused joint venture. The new company leverages Verily’s experience in miniaturized electronics, analytics, and consumer software development, with Sanofi’s clinical expertise and experience in bringing treatments to people living with diabetes. According to some analysts, the move responded to Sanofi’s goal to revive declining sales in its diabetes division, hurt by sustained pricing pressure.

Earlier this year, Onduo delivered its first product in the US, a virtual diabetes clinic that offers patients a way to collect and analyze data from their glucose meters and other sensors. Combining that with data from the health care system results in a better understanding of patient’s health and health risk factors. Patients can interact with a remote care team, measure outcomes, track their progress, and ultimately receive personalized care more frequently independently from where they live, and improve their ability to have diagnoses even before symptoms appear.

More examples

How virtual clinics like Onduo will work with the traditional healthcare system is still an unanswered question. But this kind of uncertainties are not stopping similar alliances and joint ventures. Just some cases of many:

  • The Sanofi deal came after British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) also partnered with Verily to create a new company focused on fighting diseases by targeting electrical signals in the body, a novel field of medicine called bioelectronics.

  • Verily has been also working in partnership with the Swiss drugmaker Novartis on the development of a smart contact lens that has an embedded glucose sensor to help monitor diabetes.

  • Novartis also partnered with Microsoft to co-develop a Kinect-based assessment tool that can be used to track multiple sclerosis patients’ symptoms and quantify whether certain treatments are having a positive effect. Researchers will turn to machine-learning algorithms to analyze real-time video of the patient as they perform specific tasks with the Kinect.

  • The aforementioned GSK tied up with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba for online HPV vaccine appointment service. The deal lets users access online consultation services and book appointments for the anti-cervical cancer drug in more than 100 cities in China. According to a recent report by McKinsey, China’s health care market is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 12 per cent during next years.

  • More recently, last June, Alibaba Health and Merck announced a strategic collaboration agreement to provide access to patient-centric healthcare services to Chinese population. The collaboration will focus on the areas of drug track and trace and internet health services. Both companies declared they will also jointly explore areas such as pharmaceutical e-commerce and artificial intelligence.


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