Can Big Pharmas hiring of digital execs actually ‘reimagine medicine’?

Reimagination or hallucination? In recent weeks, both Glaxo Smith Kline and now Novartis have hired digital analytics and marketing executives out of non-healthcare businesses to lead their digital transformation. For GSK, Karenann Terrell joined in the new position of chief digital and technology officer from six years as chief information officer for Walmart and CIO for pharma Baxter International. From Sainsbury’s Argos, Bertrand Bodson will be assuming the chief digital officer title at Novartis without any previous healthcare experience.

Both are expected to be transformative, disruptive, and ‘reimagine medicine’. Ms. Terrell’s experience and accomplishments appear to be the closest fit to her GSK’s job expectations of integrating digital, data, and analytics strategy with enhancing clinical trials and drug discovery, as well as improving professional and consumer interactions. Novartis’ mission for Mr. Bodson aims even higher. In addition to these, he will be ‘transforming our business model using digital technologies’, ‘reimagine (sic) medicine by leveraging digital on behalf of millions of patients and practitioners’, and ‘leading cultural change’.

Both companies have good starts in advanced technologies–GSK in AI, sensor technologies for managing COPD, and a medical device mobile app; Novartis with ‘smart pill’ Proteus, a pilot with heart medication Entresto tied to monitoring and coaching, and through its Alcon subsidiary with Google, a wired-up contact lens that detects blood glucose [TTA 17 July 14]. However, this last appears to be stalled in trials and Alcon on the block. According to the FT, Novartis is feeling the pressure to develop more digital partnerships, such as Novo Nordisk’s teaming with Glooko and Sanofi with Verily Life, all in diabetic management. Acquisitions may also be the way forward.

A significant impediment to all this integration is consumer and professional trust. If too closely tied to a pharmaceutical company or appearing to be too self-serving, remote monitoring and counseling may not be trusted to be in the patient’s (or doctor’s) best interest or objective as to better approaches. The overuse of analytics, for instance in counseling or patient direction, may be perceived as violating patient privacy–creeping out the patient isn’t helpful. The bottom line: will these digital technologies serve the patient and maintain medical best practices–or best serve the pharmaceutical company’s interests?

This Editor doesn’t question these individuals’ ability, but the organizations’ capability for change. But count this Editor as a skeptic on whether one or two digital execs can marshal the bandwidth and the internal credibility to transform these lumbering, complex, regulated, and long cycle businesses. Big Retail is fast moving by comparison. PMLive 31 July (GSK), 13 Sept (Novartis)  Hat tip to TTA alumna Toni Bunting

Was 2016 a great or off year for digital health funding, M&A, IPOs? (updated)

It depends on the study you read and how jaundiced your view is. If you believe the StartUp Health Insights 2016 ‘Health Moonshots’ report, 2016 digital health funding has hit a zenith of $8.18 bn (up 38 percent from 2015), with 500 companies enjoying funding from over 900 individual investors. Yet over at fellow funder Rock Health, the forecast is far more circumspect. They tracked only half the funding–$4.2 bn in funding–with 296 deals and 451 investors, down from the $4.6 bn over 276 deals in 2015.

There are significant differences in methodology. Rock Health tracks deals only over $2 million in value, while StartUp Health seems to have no minimum or maximum; the latter includes early stage deals at a lower value (their cross-section of ~$1 million deals has 15). StartUp Health gathers in international deals at all levels (pages 11-12),  whereas Rock Health only includes US-funded ventures. Another observation is that StartUp Health defines ‘digital health’ differently than Rock Health, most notably in ‘patient/consumer experience’, ‘wellness’ and ‘personalized health’. This can be seen by comparing their top 10 categories and total funding: (more…)

Diabetes management: the Next Big Health Tech Thing?

Big Data? Passé. Health IT security and hacking? At a peak. So what’s the Next Big Thing? If you’re tracking where the money’s going, it’s diabetes management. This week saw the joint venture Onduo formed by the controversial [TTA 6 Apr] life sciences-focused Verily (Google Alphabet) and Big Pharma Sanofi with a nest egg of $500 million. Onduo will be combining devices with services to help Type II diabetics. Based upon CEO Joshua Riff’s statements to MedCityNews, their platforms are yet to be developed, but “will be a digital platform that will involve software, hardware, and very importantly service” to change patient behaviors. Partnerships with Sutter Health in Northern California and Allegheny Health Network of western Pennsylvania will test their approaches in a clinical setting. Xconomy, Reuters

Verily’s other diabetes project include the £540 million bioelectronics partnership announced in August with UK-based GSK in Galvani Electronics [TTA 3 Aug] with a focus on inflammatory, metabolic and endocrine disorders, including Type II diabetes. With Dexcom, Verily is also building an inexpensive, smaller next-gen continuous glucose monitoring sensor; Mr Riff was coy about whether this sensor would be used but allowed that sensors might be used in Onduo’s approaches. Verily is also developing the well-known glucose-reading contact lens with Novartis [TTA 1 Sep 15].

Also this week, Glooko and Sweden’s Diasend announced their merger (more…)

Medtronic favoring early-stage acquisitions, diabetes; American Well and Teva

Medtronic plc, now firmly planted in the Auld Sod of Ireland, reported a tidy $7.304 bn in its 4th quarter global revenue closing 24 April versus a prior year of $7.257 bn, with a net loss of $1 million. Their report yesterday (2 June) was primarily centered around the integration of Covidien and the foreign currency loss. Results were especially strong in the US with an 8 percent gain in fourth quarter. Earlier speculation that the major Covidien acquisition in addition to Corventis, Zephyr Technologies (through Covidien) and telehealth provider Cardiocom would slow future investments seems to be the direction CEO Omar Ishrak is taking, based on his comments during the analyst call. The Covidien strategy of making early-stage company acquisitions is to his liking and with new revenues from Covidien (and a more favorable tax domicile) certainly there is not a lack of funds despite a small loss in fourth quarter revenues. Another change from being a cardiac-centric device company is apparent in the growth area of global diabetes, shifting from pumps to diabetes management. They have a minority investment in diabetes manager Glooko, a partnership with IBM Watson Health for diabetes management, and acquired a Dutch clinic and research center, Diabeter. Jonah Comstock at Mobihealthnews has more on that call.

In a surprising move, Israel’s Teva Pharmaceuticals is putting a reported ‘tens of millions of dollars’ into American Well and their telemedicine (virtual consult) platform. The pharma interest at once may be narrow in utilizing these consults in clinical trials, but as we have seen with Merck’s telemedicine clinics in Kenya, there’s also a focus on monitoring critical medication at long distances. Late last year American Well completed an $81 million Series C, but it is not clear whether Teva is a part of this and the news is just now catching up. MedCityNews, Globes (Israeli business website)

Are wearables starting to deliver?

If you caught the recent Wired article entitled Wearables Are Totally Failing the People Who Need Them Most, you may have felt a sense of deep depression that a sector growing as strongly as it is is apparently delivering so little real health benefit (you may also be depressed to see the world of apps developers described as “From Silicon Valley and San Francisco to Austin and MIT…” although remember the North American-based Major League Baseball is called the World Series). The thrust of the article is that young people are developing wearables for people like them, who are then stopping using them within a few months, whereas those with long term conditions (LTCs) who are not the target customers are actually the ones using wearables consistently. As they say: (more…)