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World’s biggest pharma companies go digital - ICT&health

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World’s biggest pharma companies go digital

Pharmaceutical companies were late to realize the impact of digitization on transforming the healthcare system and life sciences. Now they are trying to catch up by testing new business models and experimenting with innovations. Let’s analyze the digital-oriented strategic approach at Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, Servier, Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, and Novartis.

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Bayer engages startups in search for innovations

Back in 2013, Bayer established its flagship accelerator for startups developing digital solutions oriented to the diseases for which the company offers drugs. Bayer G4A (previously Grants4Apps) was initially supposed to provide funding for startups working on mobile health applications. G4A has recently evolved into a global ecosystem of stakeholders working with startups and technology companies from the healthcare sector.

This approach aims to create innovative digital solutions that could become a part of Bayer’s portfolio. G4A offers two acceleration tracks: Growth Track for early to mid-stage startups and Advanced Track for companies who already have a product or solution in the market.

Another accelerator is CoLaborator—young companies from the life science industry are offered laboratory infrastructure and office spaces and access to the company’s knowledge and research. Also, a part of the company’s growth strategy – which emphasizes the fact that a combination of health sciences and data sciences will be the critical element of innovation in the pharmaceutical industry – is focused on digitalization. Moreover, Bayer notes that digital technologies may change the way of providing healthcare and that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the awareness of both how important self-care is and how it has accelerated digitization.

Johnson & Johnson opts for apps

Established in 1886, this medical equipment and medicines manufacturer is trying to become an innovator in health technologies. A few years ago, J&J launched several mobile applications which were supposed to help patients manage their diseases. For example, in 2017, the company developed an application for patients with diabetes, which allowed them to control their blood sugar levels and manage their disease. The app has not been as successful as mySugr, which grew out of a patient community (recently acquired by Roche).

Another application, The Health Partner Knees & Hips, helps patients prepare for a hip joint operation. However, not all applications have stood the test of time. J&J collaborates with other innovative companies, such as Koa Health, which researches the use of digital cognitive behavioral therapy (dCBT) in major treatment-resistant depressive disorders. J&J is planning to develop a new generation of surgical robots under a project carried out with Google Verily since 2015. In 2020, the company announced its investment in Datavant Holdings, a company that helps health care organizations combine data from various institutions to improve medical research and patient care. JLabs is J&J’s startup accelerator.

Servier is exploring digital therapeutics

In November 2016, Servier established WeHealth Digital Medicine, an organizational unit supposed to coordinate digital strategies and help launch digital solutions. The department is responsible for looking for the most promising startups in the health care sector. In 2019, Servier signed a 10-year collaboration agreement with Lucine, a French company specializing in the development of digital therapeutics (DTx). DTx are the most promising innovations in delivering personalized care to patients, especially those with chronic diseases.

Servier is also developing software and applications for patients, doctors, and health care staff, which can be used throughout the care delivery process. An example is My Health Partner – a platform that delivers personalized content for patients with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Astra Zeneca invests in the digitization of clinical trials

To improve patients’ experience and treatment results, Astra Zeneca keeps an eye on digital health—the company’s research and development department, Digital Health, helps define visionary strategy.

The company uses Merlin, an AI-based predictive analytics tool, to optimize and automatize the designing, planning, and managing of clinical trials. Control Tower helps coordinate clinical trials at the global, regional, and national levels. Research conducted by Astra Zeneca shows that 70% of data in clinical trials may be carried out remotely. The “hybrid” research approach combines the visits of clinical studies participants in health centers with capturing data at home, using devices and applications that support patients.

Moreover, partnerships with innovative companies that deal with digital health seem to be in the spotlight of Astra Zeneca—the goal is to regularly monitor patients at home in order to manage their diseases better and make sure that they always stay connected with care teams.

Pfizer wants to win the digital race in the pharmaceutical industry

“We are using big data and such digital technologies as machine learning and artificial intelligence to expedite the drug discovery and development process and to enhance patient experiences and outcomes” – behind this general declaration of the company, there are many specific initiatives.

Pfizer collaborates with startups from the tech industry, for example, to improve the diagnostic process. In 2019, the company started a pilot project involving Mabu, a robot based on artificial intelligence. Its goal was to engage patients in the therapy to improve compliance.

LivingWith is a mobile app that offers support to cancer patients—it allows them to share information with carers, friends and family, and note essential information that can be critical for the doctors. Along with the Dominican Ministry of Health and WeRobotics, Pfizer completed a pilot project which involved drone deliveries of drugs to patients in remote and hard-to-reach locations. Like almost any other pharmaceutical company, Pfizer also has its startup accelerator – Healthcare Hub.

Novartis collaborates with big tech

Since 2018, when Vas Narasimhan became the CEO, the company has been focusing on using digital technology, for example, to improve interactions with doctors and enhance clinical trials. In Novartis Biome—a network of hubs located in the US, India, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, and China—startups may collaborate on health innovations. In China, Novartis teams up with Tencent, an Internet-based platform company. They are working together on an AI-driven “digital nurse” which is supposed to help treat heart diseases. Microsoft helps Novartis use artificial intelligence in drug research.

Start-up accelerators and hubs, partnerships with tech companies, digitally-driven clinical trials, digital therapeutics—for every leading pharmaceutical company, digitization is a must to survive in life sciences, which in the future will have to master the virtual patient journey.

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