Digital health news update: A genetic play for GSK and Novartis' digital "cultural transformation"

July 31, 2018 Matthew Arnold

  • 23andMe’s drug development play has been coming into focus. Now the direct-to-consumer genetic testing giant, with its database of 5 million people’s DNA, is going steady with GSK. 23andMe sold a $300 million stake to the pharma firm as part of a four-year R&D deal that will include clinical trial recruitment for a Parkinson’s trial centered on an extremely rare genetic mutation (there are thought to be 10,000 Parkinson’s patients with the variant – 23andMe has 250 in its data bank already). GSK’s chief science officer Hal Barron said the company hopes 23andMe can help it “develop twice as many drugs for the same amount of money.”
     
  • Here’s a little more on Barron and Glaxo’s R&D strategy – they’re focusing on hijacking the immune system to disrupt diseases ranging from cancer to heart disease to diabetes.
     
  • Geisinger, the Pennsylvania-based health system, is partnering with AstraZeneca to implement an EHR-integrated mobile app for asthma patients that “combines EHR and patient-reported data feeds to enable asthma educators and respiratory therapists to triage patients on the fly and bring in specialists as needed.”
     
  • Novartis is using AI-powered scheduling to optimize its sales force as new CEO Vas Narasimhan tries to engineer a data-driven, digitally-enabled “cultural transformation” across its operations. The program will send reps daily texts or emails helping them to schedule their time based in part on customer engagement data, and Novartis has also built “an operations center to assess more than 500 clinical trials in real time, allowing the company to predict enrollment, ensure quality and evaluate costs,” and it’s launched a massive data mining project aimed at wringing new insights out of old clinical trials data. And these efforts have extremely cool/nerdy names like Data 42 and Nerve Live.
     
  • Beyond Proteus, there’s a lot happening in the field of ingestibles. Researchers at UCSD are building nanobots that they hope will serve as decoys for MRSA bacteria, while Northwestern is developing “transient” microelectronics, including a temporary pacemaker and an electronic bone growth stimulator, that dissolve in the body after use.
     
  • The FDA has been busy greenlighting digital health products – 14 of them in Q2 alone! – and releasing a second draft of precertification standards for digital health companies. And agency Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says he’s a fan of Amazon’s moves to shake up drug distribution.  
     
  • A med ed company is offering CME via Amazon’s Alexa – their pilot offering consists of three 15-20-minute sessions with interactive questions at the end, giving doctors a means of jamming some CME into their busy schedules.
     
  • Amazon is working on a pilot program that would let doctors at UPMC and Seattle’s Providence Health Systems prescribe bundles of medical products and services to patients before discharge, with Amazon (or it’s competitors) handling fulfillment, and Prime members getting discounts. Meanwhile, Amazon is already undercutting drugstores on OTC drug prices.
     
  • DE-FENSE! Walgreens moved to blunt Amazon’s transparency play with a digital platform, dubbed Find Care Now, listing local providers and putting prices on their services.  
     
  • CVS Health’s specialty pharmacy unit has “drastically improved medication adherence and active participation” among patients through a mobile patient engagement initiative that uses condition-specific predictive analytics to send tailored communications aimed at, for example, managing side effects.
     
  • So the digital health tech investment gold rush – that can’t still be a thing, right? Yup! To the downright frothy tune of $15 billion so far this year, in fact, with behavioral health startups alone getting $273 million in investment. Here’s a sampling of what’s percolating in the Cedars-Sinai accelerator. Meanwhile, Sanofi has just placed a $17 million bet on a digital health startup with an innovative smoking cessation app. And here’s a handy summary of what the big technology companies are doing on the healthcare front (Microsoft has been quietly amassing a ‘multi-billion dollar business’ in its health unit).
     
  • Ever wondered what kind of information your health insurer has on you? How about everything from TV viewing to groceries to credit ratings? Maybe pay for that butter burger with cash – it might cost you on insurance otherwise!
     
  • GDPR-like data privacy laws probably aren’t coming to the U.S. anytime soon – but lawmakers are beginning to float proposals with a distinctly Continental flair, and the generally anti-regulation Trump administration is making noise about laying down some rules. This amid news of Twitter purging bot accounts and Facebook purging Crimson Hexagon for misusing its data.
     
  • Search engines have empowered patients to take their health into their own hands, but with conspiracy theorists feverishly spouting misinformation online, there’s a mounting danger of patients falling into what nerds call “data voids” and making bad health decisions on that basis – something pharma brands should be aware of, even if “social media analytics” is at the peak of the hype cycle!
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