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by Carlos Rodarte, Founder & Managing Director, Volar Health, LLC

This is part three of a three-part series that discusses how enhanced access to in-depth health data is impacting our understanding of personhood, the environment around us, and the pharma model.

Focusing on What Matters

The success of any industry is predicated upon that industry’s ability to effectively meet the needs and expectations of its customers. Only until recently has the pharmaceutical industry gained a true appreciation for the needs of its real customers – not the payors, but patients.

In Part one and Part two of this series we discussed the increasing relevance of ‘real-life’ data and how it can help us better understand both the individual patient and the everyday situations that impact health and disease. However, bringing these new insights and learnings into pharma’s historically rigid drug development and commercial model is not without its challenges.

While a review of the various types of organizational models that may present themselves within pharma would take us in a very different direction, it is clear that pharma is continuing to shift toward a model where patient needs increasingly drive all operations (see figure below).

With a need to become more patient centric, data savvy, and digitally forward, pharma has been making decisive moves over the years to reinvent itself. Leaders in the industry have been partnering with various patient engagement companies, on occasion making large equity investments in startups, and even acquiring more mature companies that align to their portfolios.

With so much change in the air, what should pharma continue to emphasize?

Five Activities That Will Propel Pharma Forward 

  1. Articulate a Patient-Centric Vision. Pharma companies are matrix organizations that behave in complex ways. This complexity in part reflects the various capabilities that keep the entire engine running. However, because there is such deep specialization within companies, CEOs and executives must communicate and reinforce a common vision and look to highlight individuals that embody the elements that the company is striving for. Importantly, this involves having longer-term thinking and rewarding innovative thinking (and the failures that undoubtedly will happen through rapid experimentation).
  1. Invest in Cohesive Internal Platforms. Pharma operates on a pendulum that swings between largely innovating internally and innovating externally. As new technologies, for example, present themselves, pharma may create an innovation hub around these tools – but much of the experimentation and implementation of new tech is guided by Contract Research Organizations (CROs). Only after pharma realizes that this new future paradigm might take hold – for example, one where the effective use of patient-centric technologies is paramount to success – does it begin to build up its internal capabilities. For example, today we’re beginning to see this shift take place in the area of digital endpoints. This is fueled by a combination of factors, including the creation of regulatory frameworks and cross-stakeholder initiatives like those by Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative (CTTI).
  1. Identify Opportunities to Digitize. Digital phenotypes, digital biomarkers, and digital therapeutics were all discussed in part one of this series, but it’s worth emphasizing that the point of digitization is both to increase the ability to capture meaningful data, and to improve the patient experience. This includes trials leveraging remote patient monitoring elements that reduce the burden on patients to need to drive long distances to physically connect with their doctor. Today, pharma is beginning to see the value in the utilization of such digital tools that can improve patient experience and, in turn, garner more accurate, insightful trial results.
  1. Create Bridges to Care Environment. By utilizing digital biomarkers and partnering with digital therapeutics companies, pharma is increasingly altering the care delivery environment. Digital therapeutic partnerships between startups and large pharma are gaining momentum and are especially advantageous at a time when pharma is under pressure to justify that its interventions are moving the needle on outcomes. The behavior change element that underpins digital therapeutics serves the added benefit of better engaging patients, motivating where appropriate, and providing deeper levels of human interaction. What better way to enhance its position in the outcomes-driven world than enabling more holistic interventions?
  1. Build Trust With… Everyone. Every part of the pharma operating model can improve its level of transparency and create more trustworthy relationships with patients, researchers, governments, and other healthcare stakeholders. This requires more open science initiatives, greater sharing of data, more transparency around drug pricing, and ultimately aligning the success of the pharma operating model to patient value. Risk-based contracts will have a leveling effect where high-priced medications are mitigated by lower cost, and effective, digital therapeutics, for example. This world is coming, and in many ways it’s already here – further reinforcing the importance of pharma’s ability to take an active role. 

The Future

Every part of the pharma operating model is undergoing its own mini-revolution. The way in which drugs are being discovered now involves novel data sets and analytical methods that were not around 10 years ago. Trials are digitally enabled and increasingly virtual. And, patients-as-consumers are demanding more patient-centric experiences that pharma is not accustomed to providing. This means that social determinants of health and other “life” factors need to be increasingly accounted for. There is much change happening simultaneously.

For this reason, pharma cannot simply make small, incremental steps towards this future, but rather must strategically reconsider all parts of its operating model in order to stay relevant. As healthcare, and the technology that supports it, continues to evolve, pharma must take serious steps to keep pace and use the data and solutions available to create a more patient-centric experience that can ultimately provide more meaningful, solutions.

Carlos Rodarte (@crodarte) is founder and managing director of Volar Health LLC, a digital health strategy consulting practice enabling a range of innovators to better utilize novel data sources to enhance their products and services. Disclosure: Volar Health, LLC has a client relationship with Validic™. 

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