In their current state, life sciences companies have predominantly focused on discovering and selling drugs and devices. This story though, is about to change as healthcare delivery will soon be transformed through a fundamentally different, holistic approach known as ‘True Care’. Over the next few years, life sciences organizations and other stakeholders such as communications and technology companies will come together to cover the continuum of care through game changing business models, driven by the increasing influence of digital technologies. To remain relevant, life sciences companies will be forced to rethink their product-centric approach and move toward patient-centric solutions.
Digitally Disrupted Healthcare Delivery
Until a few years ago, most people were largely unconcerned about seemingly innocuous symptoms, often causing delayed medical care and intervention and resulting in reduced survival rates. In most cases, patients depended on their doctors to drive diagnosis, treatment, and long term care.
Today, digital technologies have redefined this process entirely, thanks to the prevalence of health information and medical news available online and on mobile devices. Through access to this information, a person experiencing a symptom such as loss of appetite and balance can immediately access apps such as Doctor on Demand to locate the nearest health care professional (HCP). Even before visiting the doctor, patients can research possible diseases that they might be suffering from, browsing relevant forums including WebMD or PatientsLikeMe.com. Today, HCP visits, preliminary tests, specialist (the oncologist and neurologist in this case) referrals, and advanced diagnostics are highly digitized. Appointments, clinical notes, test results, and doctor-doctor interactions take place seamlessly, backed by a variety of devices, apps, and technologies such as Skype and GE’s Centricity.
In this example, with a quickly confirmed diagnosis of an early stage glioblastoma, the oncologist discusses treatment options with the patient and shares links to online research, forums, and patient support groups. Automated IVR system calls and weekly email reminders ensure adherence to the set chemotherapy regimen. While in remission, the doctor keeps in touch with the patient regularly through Sermo, a social network of over 300,000 physicians, to guide him on the side effects he experiences. This scenario is a far cry from the patient care of just a decade ago. Clearly, healthcare delivery is being digitally reimagined.
Filling the Vacuum - Focus on the Patient
Against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving healthcare landscape, the life sciences industry’s battle with a multitude of issues (diminishing R&D productivity, plateauing sales, reducing reimbursements, and shrinking unmet needs in major indications) has been largely inward focused. The resulting interventions in R&D, manufacturing, sales and distribution, albeit significant, have followed suit. In contrast, with an external focus on the patient life cycle value chain, a number of players from outside the healthcare and life sciences industries have staked their claims by providing innovative products and services that address evolving patient and healthcare delivery needs.
Waking up to this realization and sensing the opportunity to unlock significant value across the patient care continuum, life sciences organizations are taking a fresh look at their traditionally product-centric business models and consequently re-sizing their business focus. Aside from the mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures observed across the pharma, MDD, and biotech sectors, manifestations of the strides made in this direction include the increasing emergence of collaborative and focused research, drug-device combinations, genomics driven personalized medicine and newer models for drug delivery—all driven and enabled by the power of digital technologies.
Emergence of the New Health Economy
A clear trend is emerging; focus on specific therapeutic categories (oncology, nephrology, urology, and so on) and expanded presence across the patient-healthcare continuum (from disease prevention, discovery, diagnosis, and treatment to post recovery monitoring and care) within the chosen categories.
For example, a leading biotechnology company has collaborated with 23andMe (a genome sequencing company) to leverage the power of high performance computing and analytics to scan the entire genome for known variations. Together, they aim to narrow large populations of Parkinson’s patients, to discover new targets for drugs and diagnostic tests faster. In another case, a healthcare company has embedded its drug, with Proteus Digital Health’s ingestible sensors to measure actual medication taking patterns and physiologic responses. This information will be relayed to the patient’s physician and/or caregiver via smartphone apps. The aim is to improve patient medication adherence and enable better informed physician decision-making to tailor treatment to the patient’s needs.
The life sciences industry is repositioning itself to shape and fit into the context of the new Health Economy [see illustration]. From a traditional position of being present in the treatment and, to some extent, recovery phase of the patient lifecycle, life sciences organizations are beginning to reshape the industry through digitally enabled patient-centric ‘True Care’ models. For example, a pharmaceutical company’s program for multiple sclerosis offers an ambassador who can help the patient with his treatment from the very start, providing resources such as injection training, online ordering of supplies, and information on side effects. In another case, a global life sciences company’s online diabetes management program provides the patient with access to a range of resources from daily life tips to tests to food advice.
The avenues that life sciences organizations are choosing to gain increased access to opportunities across the patient life cycle vary. Some companies are going on their own, while others are partnering within and outside the industry. A global healthcare group, which started out as a pharmaceuticals company, subsequently expanded into manufacturing dialysis products, equipment, and ancillaries. It now also runs dialysis centers across the world and has assumed leadership status in the nephrology segment. The life sciences company, in a step toward cementing its leadership in diabetes care, (drugs, devices, and services), partnered with Google for their expertise in analytics, miniaturized electronics, and chip design. The collaboration aims to improve diabetes care by developing new tools that bring together many of the previously siloed pieces of diabetes management (health indicators, patient-reported information, medication regimens) and enable new interventions that will make it easier for patients to successfully manage their conditions.
Squeezed between two megatrends – the new Health Economy and a digital revolution, life sciences organizations are moving toward streamlining their focus on select disease areas and capturing patient value within these, through products (drugs and devices), solutions, and services enabled by digital technologies. Surviving in the new world will require a myriad of competencies that no individual firm currently possesses. To remain relevant, companies will need to think differently and adopt a mix of traditional and novel approaches. As such, industry players should expect to see the lines of distinction blur as companies form strategic alliances with non-traditional players to create ‘patient-centered digital health innovator’ companies. As new technologies shift the balance of power toward patients, life sciences organizations must constantly reimagine themselves to remain relevant in the evolving healthcare context.