Demand for digital health technology is increasing and biopharma companies want to get on board. From leveraging wearables in clinical trials, to tapping social media and other data sources to access real world evidence, these technology advances promise to transform how we gather data to inform clinical research, connect with researchers and maintain relationships with patients. And that transformation is already occurring. In 2016, digital health technology saw more than $4.2 billion in investment, indicating significant potential to disrupt the healthcare and clinical development landscape. Analytics and big data, wearables and biosensing devices, and telemedicine were among the most funded categories.
Biopharma companies recognize the importance of participating in this trend, however they are less clear on how to go about it. While the biopharma industry may be leaders at developing innovative diagnostic tools and therapies, they are less adept at technology innovations to bolster those scientific endeavors.
Few organizations in this space have centralized innovation centers or leaders dedicated to championing digital health projects and investments. That makes it difficult for individual teams to get funding, or support for pilot projects to demonstrate the impact of these tools. And even when they do make small investments in new technologies, the siloed nature of the teams that develop individual drugs in R&D and lack of a formal digital health center makes it difficult for lessons learned to be shared across the company. When that happens, it’s not uncommon for teams across one company to deploy the same technology without any collaboration or governance, which wastes resources, and prevents development of global best practices for digital health solutions.
How to do it right
Digital health technology cannot be deployed haphazardly. To get the most value from these investments, companies need to start by creating a digital health strategy that defines what they hope to accomplish and how technology will support those goals. Then they need to appoint digital health leaders, and establish a governance structure to ensure the right projects are supported and managed in a way that ensures the safety, efficacy and compliance of the data.
An effective digital health strategy should:
1. Have a clearly defined digital health objective. As with any technology innovation, the investment in digital health must have a business driver otherwise a company is at risk of just chasing shiny objects. When defining digital health objectives they should be specific. It’s not enough to want to use enriched studies or wearables to bring new data to clinical research. It is crucial to define why that is important to the business. Will it fill evidence gaps to improve chances of approval? Differentiate your health claims? Reduce the time or cost of a trial? Answering these questions will drive better investments and stronger results.
2. Promote the initiative. Biopharma companies often view any technology investment as an IT issue only. However, digital health touches every aspect of the company, including development, sales, biostats, research, IT, regulatory, and marketing – and you want these people on board. Actively promoting the digital health strategy, and encouraging business units to suggest project ideas will foster stronger collaboration, drive innovation, and ensure these investments get the support they need.
3. Look beyond your own four walls. Many industries have already tackled their own digital technology transformation, and solved the problems that biopharma is only now facing. Biopharma companies can avoid a lot of mistakes by looking to those industries for ideas, advice, and best practices. Activities to help include, attending conferences, having programmed meetings with patients, healthcare providers and other stakeholders, networking with digital leaders in other industries. The energy sector, finance, cloud data storage, and other highly-regulated industries offer valuable insights and lessons learned that can be adapted to the biopharma space.
4. Develop a project assessment process. Once a corporate commitment to invest in digital health technology is made, requests for funding and leadership support will come pouring in. Developing a triage system that measures that value of a proposed project based on its alignment to the objectives, cost, business impact, and other criteria will help you identify the best projects and prioritize them so you can be confidant those investments will pay off.
A well-defined and implemented digital health strategy will help organizations to ensure that these technology innovations are optimally developed and implemented to support clinical and healthcare advancement.