The Digital Transformation of the Pharma Industry & Our Health
By Bruno Villetelle, Chief Digital Officer of Takeda, a global pharmaceutical company.
The convergence of health and wellness and digital technology has become tremendously significant in the last few years, most notably through the widespread permeation of wearable technology in daily life. And it continues to grow. A myriad of products are now available for monitoring physical activity and lifestyle parameters, and continuing improvements in their biometric sophistication provides users with previously unimaginable amounts of personal data at their fingertips. However, despite the bewildering diversity and capability of these products and quite a massive voluntary adoption, few can address serious medical and healthcare needs so wearables still miss the opportunity to translate their data into long-term and impactful approaches solutions to improving health. But we, collectively, are on the verge of changing this.
Wearables: an evolution
While consumer wearables have been the mainstay path to-market with more widespread uptake to date, we are now also seeing a growing volume of medical grade wearable sensors, which are primed to expand beyond data collection data and extend to help reveal its meaning.
More than ever before, with digital technology and capabilities, we in the pharmaceutical industry are taking development of our therapeutics “beyond the pill”. Beyond counting steps, wearables are now being developed for increasingly sophisticated monitoring that can lead to clinically impactful insights. Imagine a device that tells us not just how high we’ve pushed our heart rate, but whether our heart rate is suddenly dangerously out of rhythm. Wearables can help track and analyze gait, helping inform orthopedic needs, or even be used to track tremor activity in the brain to indicate symptoms of diseases like Parkinson’s. Or a monitor not just able to show how long you have slept, but that can use an algorithm to help detect underlying conditions requiring medical attention, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
Consider how the automotive industry has embraced technology: it has delivered on the potential that technology offered, with modern cars fitted with an array of sensors for assessing real-time data, diagnosing and at times predicting issues and malfunctions, and preventing sometimes catastrophic events. Diagnostics help prevent damage and signal needed repairs to give drivers better control and the ability to troubleshoot and fix problems while they are still small and before they lead to catastrophic failure.
Wearables offer the same promise to patients and consumers – moving from descriptive analytics to diagnostic, predictive and eventually prescriptive analytics – and will eventually get there, but we as a community must do more to maximize its potential.
Putting patients in the driver’s seat
Now is a transformative time for pharma, thanks in large part to the digital and technological revolution of today, and how it is converging with our industry. In a not-too-distant future, wearables can help enable patients to become “the CEO of their own health,” with a supporting “board of advisors” – their providers – that will increasingly be linked through technology and data. The data and analytics that will be available to patients will help them make better, more comprehensively informed decisions. It creates the ability to holistically manage their wellness and not just their sickness.
Setting the stage: the digitization of health starts with a digital-enabled patient
Technology should do two primary things for patients. First – it should engage them. And by engaging, we mean extending beyond simply “tolerating” something and making it usable, enjoyable, sticky – the technology becomes part of their lives.
Secondly, it should enable the global healthcare community to change outcomes with relevant, real-time data that can be analyzed and interpreted for important insights.
The intersection of life science companies, wearables, sensors and data algorithm developers is driving development of new and diverse wearables that take a much deeper look at the complexity of our bodies. The shift is pushing wearables to potentially become a clinical imperative, to assist how healthcare providers diagnose and treat patients, to change how scientists research and develop drugs, all with the goal of keeping the patient at the center and improving their lives.
Making wearables engaging, embedded and relevant to patients and practitioners
Wearables offer even more potential to patients and the healthcare community in the future with increased accuracy, efficiency and scope of data collection, from connecting patients to clinical trials and marketers to monitoring diseases, informing care decisions, helping them manage their experience and – ultimately – potentially detecting, preventing, and controlling the spread of various illnesses on an individual and epidemiological scale.
Form factor and user experience, including how a user perceives a given technology or device and how they are motivated to use it is essential to driving acceptance and adherence. With advances in miniaturization, new materials, and power consumption, wearable devices will become smaller, more effective, and less intrusive requiring minimal, almost burden-free inputs from the patient with maximum output. We can also anticipate a future where health monitoring technologies will “disappear” by becoming embedded in our daily life – in our clothes, shoes and the objects that surround us like our cutlery, furniture or mirrors. Taking it one step further, wearables are also moving inside the body with implanted sensors to monitor multiple biomarkers and potentially create a body intranet of sensors.
This ultimate embodiment of wearables ensures their sustainability, which is essential to resulting in longer-term, lasting usage, impact and output. It takes wearables beyond a moment-in-time trend to something fully integral and integrated into our lives.
If wearable applications are going to result in decisions that affect patients’ lives, they must absolutely work and absolutely be safe, which requires rigorous testing and regulatory approval. In addition, we need to recognize that the kind of data that wearables are generating is very special. As well as being a precious resource to generate hidden insights, it is an intimate part of the patient and issues of privacy, security and ownership must be dealt with respect, sensitivity and utmost integrity.
However, the enormous potential and demand for these technologies mean that these challenges must be overcome by close collaboration between all the players in the healthcare ecosystem. At Takeda, for instance, we have our validation, security and privacy teams actively working with their peers and regulators to ensure all teams are aligned. All of this drives toward our ultimate goal in healthcare: to enhance health and quality of life while maximizing longevity.
Takeda: “Better Health, Brighter Future”
In my nearly two years as the Chief Digital Officer at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, I had the privilege to see the company embark on a transformation to adopt digital technologies throughout many activities. At the intersection of digital and healthcare, Takeda is committed to launching competitive digital initiatives, in order to help improve patients’ lives.
We are combining the best of healthcare with a focus on digital innovation, strategic partnerships and collaboration and a start-up mind-set to encourage bold and disruptive ideas that address serious clinical issues and deliver innovative and competitive digital solutions for the global healthcare community. Part of that involves re-defining Takeda as a smart and fast 33,000 person “start-up”, driving disruptive, innovative and ambitious thinking by implementing a venture capital model. This includes dedicating experimental funding to support the development of successful new digital applications.
We have assembled and continue to expand and grow a dynamic and agile team of digital thought leaders and life science and marketing experts, with a deep understanding of the intersection of health and technology to help integrate our digital activities across all aspects of the organization. In addition to attracting and retaining the best and the right talent, our employees across all spectrums of the company are going through the Takeda Digital Academy at an escalated rate – resulting in more digitally-experienced and -inclined brain power within our organization pushing forward our transformation.
We are supporting teams to engage with digital technology providers to conduct small scalable experiments to both learn and be a platform for wider deployment. In R&D, for instance our teams are collaborating with a range of academia and start-up partners to explore the use of novel behavioral markers which ideally are monitored remotely and a minimal burden to the patient that can be deployed in our clinical trials.
We also consider it our mission to promote good health within our organization, so our U.S. Business Unit employees were given a wearable device to enable them to be at the center of their own patient care, and help us further understand the patient experience in a real, daily, human sense.
We are passionate about our ability to transform the future for patients, and take seriously our investment in exponential innovations to be paired with our portfolio – we are taking a very opportunistic approach to digital in all parts of our business.
It is up to us. It is up to pharma and tech to seek each other out and foster a collaborative environment, and engage other experts and influencers – we can work together to develop the best solutions possible to address serious clinical issues.
This extends beyond borders – this is about improving health and the face of healthcare on a global scale. It’s up to us to collaborate across the pharmaceutical industry and extended healthcare community to push this evolution forward – and build a “Better Health and Brighter Future” for patients. This is about an imperative, not an option.
It is inspiring. Exponential change is close. And this will be achieved by putting the patient at the core. We have already embarked on the path of wearables. We must now work together to take the next step of making them engaging, embedded and relevant – and that’s when we’ll truly unlock their potential for patients.