Ever since we were kids we have loved the shiny new toy. The fun we can have with it. The jealousy it can induce. The attention it can bring. As adults, we still get all of those feelings when we see new technology. And, even if you personally don’t, the chances are you probably work for someone who does and demands you find a way to use it for your brand. So, how does new technology impact pharma?

“The future of pharma lies in going beyond the pill,” says Prodeep Bose, EVP Growth and Innovation, The Bloc. “Some leading-edge technologies are driving that future by repositioning pharma companies from being just manufacturers of molecules to being enablers of a better patient experience.”

More specifically, Bose points to technology’s ability to disrupt diagnostics and compliance. One example: Parkinson’s Voice Initiative, which is a diagnostic voice recognition research platform that can detect micro-tremors, which are early indicators of disease onset. Another is Proteus, which has demonstrated that nanotechnology can be introduced into pills to record and improve compliance. But, technology can also impact other areas, such as marketing.

“Pharma marketing is prime for enhanced technologies like voice recognition, artificial intelligence (AI), and wearables that can surprise and delight the user,” offers David Guthrie, Chief Product Officer, PatientPoint. “These technologies make it possible for users to interact with brands simply with their voice, versus navigating nested menus via more traditional digital platforms.”

The market for wearables and other “smart” technologies, in particular, only continues to grow. According to a report from Allied Market Research, the Internet of Things (IoT) healthcare market is expected to reach $136.8 billion, globally, by 2021.

“The era of blockbuster drugs has come and gone, but the chronic diseases they treat continue to affect large swaths of the global population,” says Don Feiler, Partner, Chief Digital Officer, Calcium. “Wearable devices, implanted and wearable sensors, and their companion monitoring software apps will allow pharma the ability to develop novel methods of delivery for treatments to chronic diseases. And, without violating patient privacy, pharma can partner with wearable manufacturers to mine the vast aggregated data collected and gain insights into how populations with specific diseases behave and react to treatments.”

The Power of AI

With this onslaught of new data, pharma needs a way to make sense and use of it. That is one area in which AI can help.

“When used properly, AI is a powerful technology to deliver custom information to those who need it, when they need it, and how they need it,” explains Annemarie Crivelli, Director, Digital Services Group, Cambridge BioMarketing. “Often times, rare disease patients do not have programs or messaging specific to their needs. By applying AI and machine learning to find those segments online, we’re able to reach the right patients with custom, relevant messaging that fit their unique needs.”

AI can also be used to combine medical and pharmacy claims data with consumer attributes in order to identify audiences similar to your target.

“Consider a campaign focused on engaging community-based HCPs managing undiagnosed patients, in which AI spotlights ‘look alike’ patients on a bi-weekly cadence,” says Eze K. Abosi, SVP, Swoop. “The identification and attribution of high-priority HCPs previously omitted from the client’s NPI target list results in the seamless coordination and dynamic prioritization of field force activities. AI can then create a fully integrated, continuous feedback loop in which reps’ activities are further supported by non-branded disease-state awareness campaigns to these ideal audiences and their associated HCPs prior to an interaction, followed by branded messaging afterwards.”

Additionally, AI-enabled clinical data analytics platforms that optimize deep learning capabilities to facilitate conversational experiences with clinical data can help solve industry pain points in the drug development continuum.

“Such state-of-the-art platforms are a gateway to a new era of clinical development, one in which structured and unstructured data is integrated, curated, and animated in unprecedented fashion for actionable business insights that safely and effectively speed the development of new drugs,” says Karim Damji, SVP, Product Management & Marketing, Saama Technologies. “Increased efficiencies and cost savings will be realized in relation to critical outcomes such as patient recruitment, investigator identification, protocol adherence, inclusion/exclusion criteria, prediction of study success, continuous process improvement, and the ability to leverage previously untapped sources of data.”

Enhancing Education

And, once you identify patients or HCPs, technology such as augmented realty (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can supply a new education experience that they are more likely to remember.

“Life science marketers are adept at using video and print to express concepts, but 2D solutions are becoming tired,” explain both Thad Bench II, Corporate Affairs Manager, Benchworks and Will Gee, CEO, Balti Virtual. “For example, a one-pager explaining how a drug affects the heart is informative, but a one-pager containing an AR trigger with the ability to create a heart the patient can rotate and interact with will make for a much more informative and impactful experience.”

Partha S. Anbil, a Cognitive Enterprise Transformation Leader at IBM Global Business Services, Healthcare & Life Sciences practice, believes that only scratches the surface of the potential for AR and VR. Omega Ophthalmics is researching how to use AR in surgically implanted lenses. OxSight is testing a set of AR glasses that help the visually impaired navigate their environment. And, AccuVein’s technology can project an image onto the patient’s skin (similar to an x-ray) that shows where their veins are. Meanwhile, VR can have a significant impact on radiologist education and diagnostic image reading.

“As VR images continue to improve, 3D-rendered images could become the new ‘normal,’ allowing radiologists to manipulate the hologram during the reading process to access additional information,” Anbil explains. “Further, VR headsets will provide additional flexibility to radiologists by replacing the need for a workstation—they can view images from home or remote locations.”

In the end, all of this new technology can quite simply change the way we view the industry.

“For the most part, pharmaceutical development and commercialization is based on hope,” says Larry Brooks, VP, Strategy, Evolution Road. “The industry conducts rigorous, well-controlled clinical trials to determine if a product is safe and efficacious, but we actually don’t know how the product will affect a particular person. Digital health, and AI in particular, holds great promise to help collect, analyze, continuously learn, and leverage personalized patient data and insights to take the hope out of medicine!”

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