The Future of Pharma is Here

The Future of PharmaDigital drug delivery has reached a tipping point and it is not surprising, especially considering how much information is so readily accessible about other aspects of our lives.  After all, I have a lot more real-time digital information about what’s happening with my car and home than I do about my healthcare.

Fortunately, that’s all starting to change, thanks to converging technologies and growing opportunities for digital drug delivery to transform healthcare. According to findings from Molex’s just-released “Digital Health and the Future of Pharma” survey, 88% of pharmaceutical professionals polled rank digital drug delivery “extremely” or “very important” to their future plans.

It’s encouraging to see this groundswell of interest among pharmaceutical companies seeking innovative solutions to deliver value faster, easier and more economically. Equally important is the quickening pace among drug companies to accelerate the adoption of digital devices. Of those surveyed, 34% already are marketing at least one or multiple therapies while 65% expect most of their drug-delivery options to be digitized within 10 years.

It Takes a Village 

Digitizing drug delivery is considered one of the best ways to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare spending on treating chronic conditions. The New England Healthcare Initiative (NEHI) cites poor medication adherence as being responsible for $290 billion in “otherwise avoidable medical spending” in the U.S. each year. The NEHI also reports that of the 187 million Americans who take one or more prescription drugs, up to half do not take their medications as prescribed.

Improving patient outcomes while reducing wasteful healthcare spending requires careful coordination among patients, pharmaceutical companies, caregivers, insurers and regulators. What’s easing collaboration among these constituents is a growing recognition of the value of digital health solutions to better coordinate care delivery and increase patient engagement, ultimately leading to better outcomes for all stakeholders.

For patients, digital drug delivery can dramatically improve both preventative care and the management of chronic conditions. Caregivers, meanwhile, now recognize they can offer digital solutions to meet patients where they are and deliver better real-time results. Insurers realize that high patient adherence yields improved outcomes, thereby reducing their liabilities.  Meanwhile, healthcare regulators are figuring out how to support the increased flow of digital data without compromising patient privacy. A varied list of technology stakeholders also has joined efforts to address connectivity methods and costs while alleviating data privacy, usability and sustainability concerns associated with digital healthcare.

Over the past year, this extended community came together to combat COVID-19, reinforcing the value of digital technology to diagnose, treat and follow-up with patients remotely. In fact, 86% of the survey respondents agree the pandemic will have a long-term impact on patients preferring remote and self-care options where possible vs. traditional trips to clinics and hospitals.  

There’s no longer any debate about the power of digital technology to improve patient experiences and boost treatment efficacy. That’s why it comes as no surprise that improvements in patient engagement, outcomes and digital health adoption are among the top factors driving investments in emerging digital drug delivery solutions.

Patients Come First

There also are no exceptions when it comes to underscoring the benefits of digital drug delivery to elevate patient care. Among those polled, the top-five areas with the most potential include:

  • Ability to personalize drug delivery to patients’ needs and expectations (57%)
  • Support more effective dosing schedules (55%)
  • More accurate dosing (55%)
  • Increased adherence to medication regimen (52%)
  • Allow patients to take medications at home rather than at a clinic or hospital (48%)

Customizing healthcare delivery to address an individual’s condition, lifestyle and belief system is a complex undertaking not conducive to “one size fits all” thinking. Advancements in personalization will take time, but the opportunity to glean meaningful insights will be worth it. Just think how a drug’s efficacy can be boosted, based on a host of variables, such as possible interactions with other medications, exercise and diet, sleep, or even a person’s DNA.

In the not too distant future, devices will collect and correlate a variety of variables for improving the patient experience. It should be similar to how my car assimilates data about my driving habits and environmental conditions to boost the overall driving experience. And, while today I know a lot more about my car than my healthcare, digital solutions are poised to close the knowledge gap while fueling operational efficiencies and reduced costs.

So, it comes as no surprise that survey participants ranked opportunities to increase efficiency among the most compelling business benefits:

  • Reduce overall treatment costs through increased adherence (60%)
  • Improve efficiency by targeting labor-intensive behavioral support where needed most (54%)
  • Offer more efficient and scalable patient support (53%)
  • Fuel data-driven improvements in R&D (50%)
  • Bring new products to market faster (41%)
  • Expand real-world evidence reimbursements (33%)

While I am surprised these rankings weren’t higher, I realize there are significant challenges in facilitating greater personalization and adherence. Topping the list of barriers is risk of data privacy, followed by the high cost of devices and connectivity, as well as concerns over patient access to the Internet and regulatory issues. This sentiment will likely continue into the near future, despite significant inroads in safeguarding patient information along with the substantial value of sharing collective health data safely and securely.

In addition to ongoing data privacy innovations, increased education is needed to allay fears that sharing data could result in increased insurance rates, being denied coverage or having personal health data shared with employers. As there are laws and a lot of advocacy focused on protecting people from potential abuses, I am more optimistic than most that the industry is making progress in reducing privacy risks.

What’s Needed to Propel Growth

A cross-section of capabilities that promote adherence and personalization is needed to propel the digital drug delivery industry forward. These capabilities need to be agnostic to be deployed across a vast array of devices and treatments, while ensuring seamless, secure connectivity. Much of what’s needed is beyond the realm of traditional pharmaceutical company expertise, which is why 65% of those polled cited the need for outside help to ensure safe and reliable production of devices.

Other areas where additional expertise in device design, development and manufacturing are needed include:

  • Networking and connectivity (58%)
  • Data privacy and security (52%)
  • User interface and customer experience (50%)
  • Feedback loop to providers and caregivers (47%)
  • Integration of sensing technology (42%)

It’s complicated for pharmaceutical companies to assemble all the pieces and parts needed to accommodate evolving digital drug delivery solutions. That’s why companies like Molex and Phillips-Medisize are collaborating with our pharma customers as the industry advances to the next level. For decades, we have been focused on helping our pharmaceutical customers better understand and influence patient behavior in the real world.

Together, we continually look for ways to make drug delivery devices easier to use by infusing human-centered design principles throughout the entire device development process. Our innovation efforts involve a cross-functional team from varied disciplines, including industrial design, human factors, mechanical and electrical engineering, material science, supply chain management, software development and manufacturing as well as testing and quality.

It’s a long list and a heavy lift to simplify the complexities of digital drug delivery to the point where diagnostic and treatment data on devices can be captured and then shared securely via WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity to smartphones, patient portals or the cloud.

To accomplish this requires technology enablers for collecting data on the devices while ensuring the utmost in uptime and reliability. It also demands strengths across the entire technology ecosystem, spanning battery and sensor technologies, electronics, antennas and every type of connectivity that potentially plays a role in realizing the future of digital drug delivery. The combination of Phillips-Medisize, Molex and our parent Koch Industries is unique and differentiated in the space because together we can address the entire digital drug delivery value chain.

The opportunity to transform an entire market segment while elevating patient care is why we’re so excited to see that the future of pharma has arrived.

Paul Chaffin is President of Medical and Pharmaceutical Solutions at Molex. The portfolio includes Phillips-Medisize, an end-to-end provider of innovation, development and manufacturing services to the pharmaceutical diagnostics and medical device markets.

Senior Vice President, President Medical and Pharma Solutions Division