I recently had the pleasure of visiting LabTwin, a startup based in Berlin that is working to develop the first voice-powered digital lab assistant – think Siri or Alexa with a PhD. We had the chance to test the current prototype (wake word, “Avocado!”), and I was impressed with how well it seamlessly documented precise scientific vocabulary. Voice-powered technology allows for hands-free and real-time documentation of work processes, integrating natural language processing (NLP), smart sensors, and artificial intelligence (AI) to record and carry out experiments in a time-stamped, transparent manner. With the addition of wirelessly connected lab instruments, such as analytical scales, thermometers etc., human error can also be reduced, thus increasing accuracy and reproducibility. Especially for industry labs, this is revolutionary. Not only does it promise to make life easier for scientists, but it is also poised to delight pharmaceutical regulators. Furthermore, this experience got me thinking about the recent digital startup boom and how the life science industry needs to adapt to fit evolving patient-centric business models. How can Big Pharma best capitalize on these new trends?
Getting a slice of the digital healthcare pie
Innovative minds building companies with smart solutions for healthcare’s biggest problems are popping up left and right. Trends in AI, NLP, quantum computing, blockchain, and predictive analytics are poised to create waves in pharmaceutical development, and pharma wants to cash in.
As part of their efforts to “get onboard” with digitalization, many large pharmaceutical companies have launched their own startup incubators and accelerator programs, such as J&J’s JLABS and Bayer’s Grants4Apps. The aim here is to bring a pool of bright entrepreneurs together, inject some capital, and reap the rewards of the next big thing in digital innovation. But hold on, is it that easy?
Building a holistic ecosystem of digital solutions
A big hurdle to overcome with these partnerships and innovations are the siloes currently rampant with digital solutions. Patients don’t want to download several apps, create multiple accounts, share their data countless times, and keep in mind which app does what. The real value will therefore be uncovered when technologies and solutions are consolidated, leveraging existing interfaces and getting patients all in one place.
Despite these challenges, tech startups and life science companies have, for better or for worse, tied the knot in a symbiotic marriage. Pharma companies have increasingly depleted pipelines, while startups lack the cash and idea-to-market infrastructure largely needed to stay afloat. Thus together, they are strong.
Targeted treatments born from a symbiotic relationship
Gone are the days of a one-size-fits-all approach. Life science companies are recognizing the need for tailored treatments, and hence are looking for new ways to diversify their portfolios while maintaining profitability. New approaches for targeting niche patient populations, for example through personalized medicine, or development of treatments for orphan diseases, has allowed pharma to keep ROIs high despite small market sizes. This diversity has largely been thanks to strategic partnerships with small companies (startups, biotech, digital innovators), which have opened the doors for targeted therapies.
The example of GSK and 23andMe
One recent example of this success is the collaboration between GSK and 23andMe, a company offering genetic testing for individuals to learn about their heritage and uncover the secrets of their DNA. Using this extensive genetic database, GSK is hoping to boost their R&D activities by developing more effective “precision medicines,” helping to identify patient subgroups that are more likely to benefit from certain treatments and allowing for targeted recruitment of clinical trial patients.
As life science and healthcare companies focus more on creating patient-centric products and services, partnering with innovative digital players will allow them to connect with customers and satisfy the demand for tailored solutions. Creating a digital patient ecosystem will also allow pharma and healthcare companies to bridge the data siloes and connect with patients in a way that fosters information exchange and improves patient health. Considering all the pros there are in building strong partnerships, I definitely look forward to saying “Avocado” more often.
I highly recommend that you read our whitepaper, entitled The Digital Patient Ecosystem. In this short report, we review the key trends surrounding the Digital Patient Ecosystem and highlight some of the core solutions developed by Capgemini to support this changing landscape.