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Perspectives

Ten Digital Technologies Transforming Life Sciences (Part 2)

2016-08-23


As it returns to health, the life sciences industry can create new solutions and more agile business models based on a wide range of digital technologies.

With patent storms on the decline and sound business growth on the upswing, we expect life sciences industry leaders to increase their investment in digitally powered business solutions that enable new patient-centered models and business innovation. The following digital technologies will reshape the industry as consumer adoption takes hold and healthcare organizations use them to power disruption.

Mobile

The fundamentals already exist for the increased use of mobile solutions: patients, doctors, investigators and client executives are all heavy users of smart mobile devices. Indeed, health and wellness apps abound. While life sciences manufacturers have been fairly cautious about adopting or designing mobile solutions due to regulatory considerations, mobile is being used to encourage patient engagement in clinical trial settings and in commercial settings. Further, the Apple Watch and HealthKit have the potential to accelerate change because of the potentially ubiquitous infrastructure they provide for collecting, contextualizing and sharing data among patients, researchers and healthcare professionals. 

Social

Bio-pharma and medical device manufacturers have exhibited extreme caution in leveraging social media technologies because of regulatory concerns; however, self-organizing patient communities, including PatientsLikeMe, Crohnology and CaringBridge, are at the forefront of social in life sciences. More such communities seem likely to emerge around additional chronic conditions. Life sciences companies are leveraging social media to understand patient sentiment to enhance launch planning and brand positioning. As brands’ digital maturity grows, their websites are evolving from pure information-oriented brochures to services that (via social media) enable deeper interactions with target audiences. 

Cloud  

Software as a service (SaaS) is now firmly entrenched in the life sciences mainstream, especially when there is no need for validation. Veeva, Workday and Salesforce are the best examples, and there is also growing use of the public cloud (e.g., Amazon Web Services) for non-validated workloads. As the industry embraces the cloud across the value chain, it is becoming more collaborative and driven by real-time information. In R&D, automated cloud environments handle large volumes of data from multiple sources and scale on-demand for high-compute, complex modeling and simulation requirements. In manufacturing and supply chain, packaged applications such as ERP leverage both SaaS and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Marketing and sales use SaaS-based solutions to harmonize disparate processes through integrated, cloud-based solutions, targeted at process standardization and improved customer reach and satisfaction.

Cloud providers’ compliance and control maturity has steadily increased to address regulatory requirements, such as HIPAA, HITECH, GxP, etc. However, verification remains the cloud consumers’ responsibility.

Wearables and connected devices 

FDA-approved medical devices and consumer wearables, such as FitBit®, Jawbone® and the Apple Watch, are proliferating across a new “connected health ecosystem,” designed to place patients at the center of a smarter, more responsive and less costly healthcare marketplace. Wireless and digital technologies have become commonplace in the health solutions and healthcare delivery industries, complemented by widespread adoption of mobile and wireless technologies in the consumer sector. 

For example, makers of wireless health devices, such as implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICD), are aggressively exploring digital technologies and business models that will enable them to capture and retain patients through the entire journey, from the catheterization laboratory through post-implantation. The use of wireless and digital technology is expected to disrupt the classic medical device industry model, which currently disintermediates manufacturers from patients.

Additional connected health wireless and digital solutions emerging as part of the connected health mainstream include:

  • Wireless medication adherence, including smart pill holders from GlowCaps and radio frequency (RF)-enabled medication blister packs from Gentag.

  • Wireless, smart auto-injector devices that track patient medication adherence.

  • Wireless wearable patches that monitor heartbeat and arrhythmias following cardiac surgery (e.g., Mayo Clinic).

  • Ingestible chips-on-a-pill, such as those manufactured by Proteus Biomedical, to track medication adherence for specialty drugs, now in use by several life science companies.

  • Implantable devices, such as wireless-enabled ICDs (e.g., Medtronic’s CareLink) that transmit data to create Web-accessible diagnostic reports, or subcutaneous drug delivery microchips that store and release precise drug dosages (e.g., Microchips Biotech’s impants) on a schedule controlled by digital and wireless technology.

  • Consumer wearable digital and wireless devices that measure everything from sleep quality, steps taken, posture, stride, heartbeat, respiration, hydration levels, etc.

These devices capture millions of data points that serve as a proxy for a patient’s overall health – especially when the data is integrated, normalized and tracked longitudinally. The big opportunity lies in how well companies interpret and use this rich data to provide pre-emptive health interventions. Doing so could significantly improve long-term patient outcomes and lower per-patient healthcare costs while improving the patient’s experience – thus achieving healthcare’s Triple Aim.

For example, the traditional annual health exam could one day be rendered redundant – when an individual is generating thousands of continuous real-time data points on key vitals, plus behaviors like sleep, diet and exercise, why rely on a single reading of these vitals once a year to spot incipient illness? Disruption is waiting to happen here.

Bio-sensors

These early-stage technologies include ingestibles, smart implants and non-wearable biosensors. GSK is a pioneer in this area, adopting bio-sensors for trials in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Scripps, Anthem and startup Sentrian are partnering on a 1,000-patient COPD remote monitoring study using biosensors. 

3-D printing

Developments in 3-D printing could affect everything from patient adherence to speed of therapy development. Researchers at the UCL School of Pharmacy, University College London, have been experimenting with 3-D printers, extruding a water-soluble polymer mixed with acetaminophen and salts to produce custom pills of various shapes and sizes. Pills sized and dosed for specific patients could improve adherence and efficacy and are a harbinger of customized medicine.

Big disruptions will occur in the medical device industry, where the promise of creating custom medical devices on demand is almost here. MedShape has secured FDA approval for a 3-D printed device to treat bunions. On the research side, Organovo, which is focused on structurally- and functionally-accurate bioprinted human tissue models, promises to significantly speed discovery, preclinical and even early-phase development.

Artificial intelligence

The traditional service desk could be completely automated in the near future. Intelligent service platforms already exist; in fact, some of our own executives could not distinguish their performance from that of human-delivered help desk interactions.

Robotics

Robotic or intelligent process automation (IPA) is under way in areas such as pharmacovigilance case processing, enabling dramatic improvements in cost reduction, human productivity and the collection of business intelligence. (For more on this topic, read our white paper “The Robot and I.”) 

Big data analytics  

Data continues to grow, as do tools with which to pull insights from it, such as natural language processing and the semantic Web. Genomic data, key to personalized care, is seeing major investments.

Telepresence and telemedicine

Telemedicine attracted the most venture capital investment in 2014. Companies such as Teladoc and Doctor on Demand are making primary care more convenient at a lower cost. Telepresence technologies are now finding their ways into the clinical development process, as well.  

These technologies, however exciting, will only deliver value when they are used as tools to help with the following goals:

  • Catalyze business process transformation (e.g., accelerate clinical development). 

  • Create entirely new business models (e.g., Cohealo, a collaborative economy solution for sharing underutilized medical devices, modeled on businesses like Uber and AirBnB). 

  • Communicate more simply and easily with all stakeholders in the ecosystem: patients, providers, payers.

  • Convert data to insights into action help significantly improve the macro-level health outcomes of cost, quality and patient experience. 

In future installments, we’ll look at current industry business challenges and opportunities, as well as specific ways in which digital tools will enable comprehensive solutions to solve them.

Visit www.cognizant.com/life-sciences to review more of our thought leadership on digital applications in the industry, such as how analytics can help pharma companies interact more effectively with decision-makers.

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Ten Digital Technologies Transforming Life Sciences (Part 2)