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Where’s Pharma in mHealth?

My blog this week is prompted by a headline I saw in Pharma Times “Pharma miles behind on multichannel marketing”. Now whilst multichannel marketing and mHealth are far from synonymous, it did resonate with me on the subject of Pharma and mHealth. For some time I‘ve been thinking it’s strange that pharma companies aren’t more visible in grabbing the mHealth opportunity. We’ve seen consumers, clinicians, pharmacists and medical technology companies really start to achieve significant results, why not drugs companies?

Signs of life?

Last year the IFPMA (International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations) published a round-up of what was going on amongst their members. They listed 37 projects from 9 pharma companies, out of which only 25 had a patient-facing aspect. Against a backdrop of over 100,000 health apps (according to Research2Guidance) it doesn’t sound much does it? Now I knew from my own work that there was more going on, and indeed subsequently some more initiatives have been announced:

  • AstraZeneca have gone into partnership with Vodafone to offer services for cardiovascular patients
  • J&J have extended the availability of their Care4Today service to the UK and added more features
  • Sanofi announced a tie-up with Vodacom in South Africa to support diabetes sufferers
  • And Merck announced they were working on a diabetes game with Ayogo

But the stark truth is that it has looked like a toe in the water so far.

Is it ‘game over’ for Pharma?

I still believe there’s a lot of untapped opportunities for Pharma:

  1. Patient support services are increasingly in demand, especially by patient advocacy groups and payers (who want to gather evidence that the drug is worth the money). It simply isn’t going to be cost-effective to try to do that with a traditional approach like a nursing team.
  2. Companion devices for diagnostics and delivery can really help tap into underdiagnosed conditions and provide adherence support. We’ve started to see some great innovation around injection devices from the likes of Merck Serono for example.
  3. In clinical trials, it is incredible how many patient diaries are still gathered on paper (which have a very low level of validity) versus a mobile device which can time-stamp and remind the patient, so you get real evidence.
  4. I’ve also seen the provision of sponsored mHealth solutions as a great way to build your brand in emerging markets, such as GSK’s work in Mozambique with GAVI and Vodafone.
  5. Thinking even more laterally mHealth is a great tool for prevention services – and no one’s really selling prevention at the moment – although drugs companies often have vaccine divisions, they don’t seem to recognise that they’re already in the prevention game.
  6. Also the chance to take a stake in some of these new digital health companies, so far the most noticeable being Merck who set up a $500M ventures fund for this.

So I don’t think it’s too late for pharma – but I’d advise them not to hang around either. As it happens, I’ll be doing a workshop for SMi in London this July on the opportunities for pharma in mHealth, I hope some of you may book on and find out more. There’s a link here, and if you use the code ‘SMI8H6F’ you get a good discount I believe.

In any case, do let me know your thoughts on pharma in mHealth, or feel free to contact me.

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