Overcoming obstacles in digital medicine


Digital therapeutics or digital medicines have been in development for years, capturing the interest of pharma companies who regard them as a way to add value to prescription medication by providing supportive services to consumers. They also have the potential to reduce healthcare costs by helping physicians remotely monitor patients. They can be used to passively collect data and quantify the effectiveness of these medications and to help patients adhere to care plans.

The INVEST PharmaTech virtual conference this week cast a spotlight on digital medicines with a panel discussion discussing their future, sponsored by Emergn. Carrie Northcott, Senior Director, Project Lead Digital Medicine & Translational Imaging, Pfizer Inc. moderated the panel, which included:

  • Lana Ghanem, Managing Director, Hikma Ventures
  • Pierre Leurent, President, Digital Health, Aptar Pharma
  • Mario Moreira, Principal Consultant, Emergen
  • Abhishek Shah, Co-founder and CEO, Wellthy Therapeutics

Shah said he regards digital therapeutics as a way to support health equity.

“How do we use clinically validated software as a medical device to be able to deliver for unmet patient needs, both clinical and quality of life, and do it in a manner in which it’s reproducible, scalable, effective, safe, and can be regulated and in the hands of patients and caregivers? Shah added.

Moreira responded that digital transformations within an organization must occur in order for digital medicines to advance, through the agile in pharma trend in healthcare.

Some digital medicine applications include identifying side effects of certain medications. For oncology patients, for example, they can help them identify and manage the symptoms and side effects of chemo or radiation therapy.

Leurent highlighted how Aptar Pharma’s digital therapeutics approaches support remote monitoring for the “treatment journey” in dermatology with the goal of improving adherence. The American Academy of Dermatology published a report noting that 45% of studied patients suffering from psoriasis discontinue their treatments. Aptar collaborated with Noble to develop a Bluetooth-enabled autoinjector, AdhereIT, which detects when a patient has delivered an injection with real-time visual, audio and haptic feedback on whether the injection was performed correctly. The information also enables healthcare providers to remotely monitor their patients’ therapy through a smart analytical dashboard,
providing valuable patient-specific adherence behavior information, according to a press release on Aptar’s website.

“We have more and more connections to wearables,” said Leurent. “I think we can go really far in integrating our drug delivery system with digital companions. You can see examples of that in the form of smart injectors.”

The panelists agreed that success and advancement of digital therapeutics depend on a collaborative effort between pharma and digital health companies, payers and physicians who champion digital medicines.

“We are starting to see new reimbursement pathways in different markets to also cover the new activities by healthcare professionals when they want to engage in remote monitoring of patients,” one panelist observed, but added that education remains a challenge. “There is still a lot of room to educate the marketplace about the existence of these solutions …We also need to collaborate to make it very simple to use these products so they fit within existing workflows.”

Some panelists also observed that pharma companies are making a more concerted effort to include the patient perspective in the development of digital therapeutics. It would seem to reflect an evolution that has shifted from marketing hype to putting an infrastructure in place that can support these complex programs.

The push for clinical validation of digital therapeutics is another challenge that needs to be more robustly addressed by digital therapeutic developers for wider adoption.

Northcott observed that considering how much data digital therapeutics generate, being able to move the data easily is also an important consideration for patients, physicians, payers and regulators.

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