Pharmaceuticals Look Beyond Medications to Smartphone Apps

Pharmaceuticals Look Beyond Medications to Smartphone Apps Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly investing in a whole range of health care initiatives and innovations that aren't drugs at all, including smartphone apps, educational websites, social media platforms, wireless devices and other programs, according to a new report from Ernst & Young.

Drugmakers are facing significant declines in their profits due the expiration of drug patents and cost-cutting by governments, among other pressures. Ernst & Young's report, Progressions: Building Pharma 3.0, says companies need to shift their focus from selling drugs to offering services that improve overall health outcomes through disease management, coordinated care, and an expansion across different stages of care -- or "Pharma 3.0."

That transformation is under way, albeit at an early stage of experimentation, the report notes. In the last year alone, pharmas initiated 97 projects -- a 78% increase over 2009. Driving those initiatives was mobile health technology. In particular, smartphone apps -- many specific to Apple's (AAPL) iPhone -- represented 41% of all initiatives.

Some apps are aimed at physicians. For example, Pfizer (PFE) is working with the Epocrates drug-reference app, which now includes a "Contact Pfizer" feature that allows physicians to contact the company to ask scientific questions or report adverse events. And Japan's Astellas has released a smartphone app that helps physicians assess the need for cardiac imaging.

Other apps empower patients. For example, Pfizer's collaboration with Keas brings a holistic approach to developing online personalized care plans, from weight loss programs to reminders to take pills. Roche is working with InterComponentWare to develop a web-based solution for diabetes management, while Merck (MRK) has the iPhone app Vree, and Sanofi-Aventis (SNY) produces blood-glucose monitoring devices -- developed with AgaMatrix -- that can connect to the iPhone.

Beyond diabetes, companies launched apps to aid with care in at least 14 disease categories in the past year alone. For example, Novartis' (NVS) VaxTrak helps patients keep track of vaccination schedules, Bayer's Factor Track helps hemophilia patients manage infusions, and GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Cancer Trials helps locate clinical trials. The largest fraction of these initiatives -- 15% -- are oncology-related.

Helping Old Drugs Work Better


For pharma companies, some of the biggest benefits will likely stem from improving patients' compliance in following treatment regimens. Novartis, for instance, is working with Proteus Biomedical's technology to develop microchip-embedded "smart pills" that can wirelessly transmit data to a patch and from there to a smartphone or a doctor's computer. PharmaTrust and Vitality also offer technologies to help remind patients to take their medications, as well as to notify caregivers.

"While we do not see these initiatives generating enough revenues to fill the enormous gaps left by patent expirations, they can help extend performance of existing drugs," Gautam Jaggi, managing editor of the report told DailyFinance via email.

"As payers [insurers, governments] become increasingly focused on health outcomes, Pharma 3.0 solutions ... will allow pharma companies to better leverage what they produce and what they know for improved health outcomes" he said. "Over time, these initiatives can generate new revenue sources as they are scaled up and applied widely."

That may be true, but for now pharmaceutical execs are still largely focused on drug innovation. Pharmas have invested only a small amount in such projects compared to the estimated $20 billion publicly committed by non-pharmaceuticals that are getting into that aspect of the health care business. And non-pharmas are going beyond apps into the realm of previously science fictional technologies.

Qualcomm (QCOM), for one, is leveraging its expertise in wireless connectivity. It is partnering with Hughes Telematics to develop bracelets, watches and pendants that can alert caregivers when an elderly patient has fallen down. The next generation of this tech will be "smart Band-Aids" -- peel-and-stick disposable biosensors that track heart rate, ECG or other common vital signs.

Meanwhile, a number of companies, including Cisco (CSCO), Medtronic (MDT) and Philips (PHG), are experimenting with "hospitals of the future" where patients' vital signs would be wirelessly transmitted from ambulances to the hospital, and where "smart beds" will communicate real-time patient data to the hospital's EMR system and alert caregivers immediately about adverse events.


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john&terry

Big pharma is now in the cell phone biz, thats a good one They just got handed a sweet heart deal by the clowns in WH with Obamacare

February 17 2011 at 9:56 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
scottee

let's consider the Physicians for a National Health Program....pnhp.org....HR676...it's a good alternative to Obamacare or doing nothing.

February 17 2011 at 8:24 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
earthseeds

Watch out for MONSANTO--they are the most evil and corrupt. You can get some intense info on them at www.mercola.com. Just type in their name in the search box and read what they've been doing to Americans and our products, and with government approval. It's disgusting.

February 17 2011 at 3:56 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
earthseeds

One of the most corrupt organizations in the world tied in with the US government is now going to create cell phone apps. That's rich.

February 17 2011 at 3:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Madeleine

I don't know what has happned to big pharma but I would never let anyone know if I were sick, I would rather just stay home and die, really. When big pharma butts out and lets Doctors handle their patients as human beings then mybe I would consider going to a Doctor, and by the way, forget the chips, that would be out for me. Chips in our shoes now are enough for me. I have a solution for that , wear an old pair of shoes everytime you go out to the store or to pick up the kids, it throws them all off. I also got a terrible infection from a pair of those chinese crackerboxes with chips they call shoes. How did Pharmaceutical companies and chemical companies posing as food merhants become part of our Government? They belong in the Labs with Mengele, not telling us and our Doctors what we should when we are sick and with apps yet. We must be the most interesting people on earth, everyone wants to get into our bodies and brains.

February 17 2011 at 1:32 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply