Doctor Docs: Doctor-Rep Relationships are Improving Amidst Pandemic
A recent Accenture study found that the pandemic has actually positively affected the way HCPs learn about pharmaceuticals and opened many opportunities for sales representatives. Firstly, 55% of the doctors surveyed said they have more time to learn about therapies and 53% are eager to do so. What do doctors want during this pandemic? More than ever, they want digital patient education (69%); education on remote patient care (67%); specific information on conditions relative to COVID-19 (65%); and information to help patients access labs, tests, and imaging (65%). In addition to this, they want financial assistance information and education about local access and care programs. According to the study, the sales reps who provide this information have the best relationships with their clients.
The COVID era is likely ushering in a system that will stick—sales reps no longer will depend on a few minutes of in-person discussion with doctors as both parties find it more beneficial to deliver digital messages and timely assistance. Ray Pressburger, Accenture’s Global Life Sciences Marketing, Sales and Access Lead, provided an example of this during an interview with FiercePharma: “One client, which serves an immunocompromised patient population in spinal muscular atrophy, decided to gather information for doctors. The pharma company called every eligible testing facility in the country and asked about provisions for immunocompromised patients during the pandemic, as well as their hours and locations. Then they created a database for reps to take to physicians with details about the testing facilities in the area for their patients.”
Therapeutic Talk: T Cells Next Target for COVID-19 Vaccines
The precise T cells shared among patients who recover from COVID-19 have been identified by TScan, the biopharma company that develops T cell receptor (TCR)-engineered T cell therapies in oncology. These findings could lead to more effective vaccines.
TScan’s data pulled three to eight immunodominant T cell targets for each protein marker type from the COVID-19 convalescent patients, most of which were not found on the spike protein of the virus. This is important as most vaccines in development focus on the spike protein, but antibodies produced by this immune reaction are proving to be short-lived.
“COVID-19 vaccine development efforts have been progressing rapidly, but to date remain largely focused on eliciting a neutralizing antibody response against the virus’ spike protein,” stated Gavin MacBeath, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at TScan. “Because antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 appear to diminish over time, there is growing concern that if vaccines do not also generate a strong T cell response, they may only provide short-term immunity. An increasing body of evidence suggests that the T cell response is important in the defense against COVID-19, and T cells that recognize coronaviruses tend to persist much longer than antibodies.”
These immunodominants were not found in other coronaviruses, which limits the possibility that prior coronavirus infection could mean immunity to COVID-19.
Med Device: Amazon Releases New Generation of Fitness Watch
Amazon launched its own wearable called Halo, a wrist watch with no face or notifications that is designed to track emotional health along with physical fitness. The wearable scans the wearer’s tone of voice to determine emotional state and sends it to the accompanying Halo app. The Halo uses a combination of AI-powered sensors and a smartphone camera to build a 3D model of the user, tracking body fat percentage, temperature, heart rate, and sleep quality. The watch’s battery lasts for a week and is waterproof, to be worn 24/7 during any activity.
For emotional tracking, the voice AI program, called Tone, uses a microphone to analyze a person’s pitch, intensity, tempo and rhythm that can identify energy, positivity, tiredness, and stress throughout the day.
“Despite the rise in digital health services and devices over the last decade, we have not seen a corresponding improvement in population health in the U.S.” says Maulik Majmudar, principal medical officer for Amazon’s Halo project. “We are using Amazon’s deep expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning to offer customers a new way to discover, adopt, and maintain personalized wellness habits.”
Amazon is also partnering with numerous health and fitness companies, such as WW (Weight Watchers), MayoClinic, and Orangetheory Fitness to provide challenges and link accounts.
Discoveries/Innovation: Elon Musk Unveils Newest Brain Chip
Elon Musk’s Neuralink revealed its newest brain chip successfully implanted in a pig. The device is shaped as a small coin and replaces a piece of the skull. The implantation is done by a surgical robot which stitches the device in with wires 5 microns thick (about the size of a blood cell). The robot avoids all arteries and completes the procedure in less than an hour without anesthesia. The chip charges wirelessly, through the skin.
The overall goal of Neuralink is to solve brain and neurological problems, such as rejoining the brain with the body’s motor functions. The chip implanted in the pig’s skull can record neurons’ electrical activity, but the company is still years away from successfully transmitting signals to other tissues. The implanted pig lights up Neuralink’s computer program every time she sniffs or touches something. The goal is for the device to eventually measure a person’s movement and body temperature.
In the future, Neuralink hopes to tackle other neurological disorders such as depression, anxiety, seizures, and memory loss. Musk even envisions the brain chips connecting the wearer to the internet or letting us use conceptual telepathy, which would be communicating with another wearer electronically via thoughts. The FDA has already given breakthrough designation to the device, and the company hopes it will soon get regulatory approval for human implantation and trials.