Digital disruption in pharmacology

Pharma 3.0
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Imagine you could take your prescription pill with a microchip attached. And when ingested, the chip sends wireless signals through your body and transmits not only ingestion information but also your real-time heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, even body angle and sleep status. You can send this information wherever you'd like it to go: your own computer, your doctor's office, your childrens' cell phones. Sounds like a piece of science fiction, right?

Wrong. You don't have to imagine this marvelous little drug. Proteus Biomedical created the smart pill over a year ago.

Andrew Thompson, president and CEO of Proteus Biomedical, a Redwood City, California-based company, explains that this platform “can be used as a way to expand the definition of what a pharmaceutical product actually is. What we’re doing is medicine combined with information, education, and motivation, making use of the mobile Internet.”

This is only one example of how the pharmaceutical industry landscape is rapidly changing. A recent report from Ernst & Young suggests that big pharma must shift from a product-centric business model to a customer-centric one to remain relevant. The report highlights how recent trends such as health reform, health IT, and rising consumer power are driving nontraditional companies into the pharma sector.

In order for pharma to deliver cost-effective healthy outcomes, the report suggests that the industry must begin to collaborate with companies and start-ups not traditionally involved in healthcare, such as information-technology, telecoms, and mobility companies.

If pharma of the far past was centered on the blockbuster drug, and pharma 2.0 was focused on market access then this new Pharma 3.0 is the era of healthy outcomes, the time when actual results--like the increased quality of life for a patient--becomes the key indicator of a drug or therapy success. We expect this to be a time where the industry really focuses on engaging with patients.

In this innovation-driven industry always looking for new areas of growth, information technology may not immediately come to mind. Jonathan Richman, author of the blog, Dose of Digital, is a self-described, “former pharma guy now preaching digital to every pharma and healthcare company that'll listen.” Richman explained at South-by-Southwest (SXSW) that, “In the future, it will be digital technologies that prevent, treat, and finally cure diseases...not the latest 'blockbuster' drug that has yet to be discovered (and might never be).”

ABI Research corroborates Richman's assertion in a recent report that expects mobile data services for healthcare will grow to $7.7 billion by 2014.

So how far along on this new path is big pharma? Maybe not so far yet. According to a survey by Cegedim, the majority of top pharmaceuticals are currently spending less than 5 percent of their marketing budgets developing social media initiatives.

Even with these low numbers, everyone still seems to agree that there’s great potential in digital concepts that directly help patients cope with their conditions. We all want healthy—or at least healthier--outcomes. So maybe, as Richman suggests, my computer is the next wonder drug.

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Maximus's picture

It will be a long time before I alow my digital physical health stats to be broadcast all over the internet. The potential for misuse on this technology is enormous not only by criminal element but by an ever intrusive goverment.

Sorry, no thanks

Unspecified's picture

Oh, I had no idea the Pony Express was still in business!

How did you read reply to this online article? Did you use your smart phone? Or did you grab a piece of paper, scribble your comment, then stick it in the mailbox? I'm guessing it was the former.

By the way, it's time for you to take your blood pressure medication. I can tell from the embedded heart rate monitor and temperature sensor in your keyboard that your due. Oh, and the image that your laptop camera just captured suggests that you could do to cut back on the tri-glycerides.

Maximus's picture

What subterranean sinkhole did you crawl out of? Typical

Unspecified's picture

You're right, I'm sorry. It was an overly snarky comment and oblique reference to the ACLU "Ordering Pizza" movie (warning: it's in Flash):

In the future, we may not be able to get health insurance unless we take one of these smart pills. And really, is that such a bad thing?

Wouldn't you want to get a call from your doctor saying that your white blood cell count is elevated and they've detected enzymes in your blood that might suggest you've got a pre-cancerous growth somewhere in your body? I don't know about you, but that sounds like a good thing to me.

Now, if you want to work on how to more securely transfer that data over the public internet using 4096-bit SSL encryption or some X.509 PKI solution, then that's a good discussion to have, and a problem that *should* be solved.

Rebecca's picture
Open Source Champion

I'm all for Pharma 3.0. The smart pill is fascinating... wonder if we'll ever see it in a typical specialist's office?

Ljubomir Ljubojevic's picture

What about not so wonderful implications? You serve your business opponent chip in his food while you are at business lunch and monitor his hart rate in order to find his weaknesses. Or black-widow wifes monitoring their elderly husbands so they can be more effective in killing them.
And who can vouch that they will not be able to monitor your movements once you this gets out of hand in few decades?
Next step will be that those chips are two-way, so who ever cracks it's access code will be able to control your health without you knowing...