News Feature | August 20, 2014

Big Pharma Seeks To Engage Patients "Beyond the Pill"

By Suzanne Hodsden

Recently, Forbes magazine published a column describing the new directions big pharmaceutical companies are pursuing to offset the turbulent business landscape of prescription drugs. Many of these efforts seek to offer value to a potential customer “beyond the pill.”  Forbes predicts that the coming years will show pharma dipping more and more into “The Internet of Things (IoT) to offer high-tech and personal solutions that will change the ways in which disease is monitored and managed.

 “Beyond-the-pill is a logical and inevitable path forward for all,” reports Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Swiss healthcare giant Novartis. “Creating value by embedding products into a holistic offering with the aim to improve patient outcomes and provide tangible competitive advantages.”

Indeed, this move towards the high-tech is already being seen in the industry today. Last week, the Michael J. Fox Foundation announced its partnership with Intel in the development of a wearable that can streamline the ways in which researchers and doctors manage Parkinson’s symptoms.

These new wearables represent one strategy of the new business model: Big Data. Data collection through wearables and other diagnostic devices would aid in the collection and analysis of a patient’s use and experience of a drug, resulting in tailor-made care.

Pharma companies would be directly engaged in patient care, and this engagement would become the new product.

The question remains, however, whether this is something the patient will truly want or need. Some argue that a doctor, not a pharmaceutical company, is in the best position to choose a patient’s most appropriate line of care. Futhermore, couldn’t these directives be misconstrued as over-aggressive marketing or a unneeded invasion of a patient’s privacy?

Eric Pilkington, pharma advertising executive, explained to Forbes that “transparency is essential” in moving forward. “If customers don’t own their data, they need to be able to access it and know who’s collecting it and for what reason.”

Pilkington cites privacy concerns when discussing the failure of Google Health, but goes on to describe this new direction as revolutionary, individualizing patient care with highly efficient evaluations of a treatment’s success or failures.

Jimenez believes this is the future of pharma and that companies like Novartis “are going to be paid on patient outcomes as opposed to selling the pill.”