Almirall is a dermatology-focused pharmaceutical company based in Spain, and its investment in R&D for developing new therapeutics leads the way as the largest within the country’s pharma industry. It’s no surprise, then, that Almirall has also adopted a digital therapeutics and digital health strategy to augment it’s molecular innovations with a ‘beyond the pill’ approach. We sat down with Almirall’s first-ever Chief Digital Officer, Francesca Wuttke, to hear about the pharma company’s digital strategy which is centered on laying the framework for advanced analytical platforms that gather more health data about patients and skin health. For help and fresh ideas, Francesca has opened Almirall’s doors to health tech startups, launching a brand-new accelerator program cutely called ‘Almirall’s Digital Garden,’ to ‘seed’ and ‘grow’ innovative solutions. Are there lots of health startups out there that focus on treating psoriasis, acne, and other dermatological conditions? Francesca tells us what she hopes ‘reap’ from the Digital Garden and how she hopes her broader digital strategy will flourish at the boutique pharma company.
Filmed at Barcelona Health Hub Summit in Barcelona, Spain, October 2019.
I have noticed several articles describing how antibiotic development has bankrupted some pharmaceutical companies because there isn’t enough potential profit in a ten day course to treat multi-resistant superbug infections.
Chronic disease treatments, on the other hand, appear to be extremely profitable. A single month’s treatment with the newer diabetes drugs, COPD inhalers or blood thinners costs over $500, which means well over $50,000 over an effective ten year patent for each one of an ever increasing number of chronically ill patients.
Imagine if the same bureaucratic processes insurance companies have created for chronic disease drug coverage existed (I don’t know if they do) for acute prescriptions of superbug antibiotics: It’s Friday afternoon and a septic patient’s culture comes back indicating that the only drug that would work is an expensive one that requires a Prior Authorization. Patients would die and the insurance companies would be better off if time ran out in such bureaucratic battles for survival.
As recent events in northeastern Syria make clear, the number of displaced people in the world is rising — as are their health needs.
In 2018 I went with a team of other doctors to a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. At one stop, a woman offered us homemade bread as we examined her husband, although the couple had very little money and not enough food for themselves. As we ate the bread, she asked if we could leave them extra medications since they didn’t know when the next humanitarian mission would come through their camp.
Her request was reasonable in the situation – indeed, many other refugee families we treated asked us the same thing. Their host countries’ healthcare systems are simply not equipped to handle their needs. Lebanon alone has almost 1.5 million refugees, an increase of 1/4 of their population.
But expecting vulnerable and displaced people to hoard needed medicine is neither sustainable nor humane. Instead, we must make it part of the social contract for healthcare corporations to use some of their massive wealth to help reduce disparities in global access to healthcare. Pharmaceutical companies and the retail industry have already created efficient models healthcare corporations could follow.
Big news from Aetion CEO, Carolyn Magil, as she talks about the addition of former FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, to her Board. WHOA. What a HUGE endorsement of support for what Aetion is building…which is what, exactly? Carolyn explains how the company is using real world data (any data outside of clinical trial data) to figure out how different people will react to the same drug. That means they’re using data from health insurance claims, EMRs, wearables, pharma registries, etc. to ultimately save the time, money, and headache of finding out which medicines will work best for which patients. What’s more? A priority for Aetion is helping bring to light how populations usually under-represented in clinical trials (women, seniors, kids) will react to certain treatments. Backed by $77M in funding, and now the former FDA head, tune in to find out what’s next for Aetion.
Filmed at the HIMSS Health 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, CA in September 2019.
Every so often, my cynical self emerges from the dead. Maybe it’s a byproduct of social media, or from following Saurabh Jha, who pontificates about everything from Indian elections to the Brexit fiasco. Regardless, there are times when my attempts at refraining from being opinionated are successful, but there are rare occasions when they are not. Have I earned the right to opine freely about moving on from financial toxicity, anti-vaxers, who has ‘skin in the game’ when it comes to the health care system, the patient & their data, and if we should call patients “consumers”? You’ll have to decide.
I endorse academic publications; they can be stimulating and may delve into more research and are essential if you crave academic recognition. I also enjoy listening to live debates and podcasts, as well as reading, social media rants, but some of the debates and publications are annoying me. I have tried to address some of them in my own podcast series “Outspoken Oncology” as a remedy, but my remedy was no cure. Instead, I find myself typing away these words as a last therapeutic intervention.
Here are my random thoughts on the topics that have been rehashed & restated all over social media outlets (think: Twitter feeds, LinkedIn posts, Pubmed articles, the list goes on), that you will simply find no way out. Disclaimer, these are NOT organized by level of importance but simply based on what struck me over the past week as grossly overstated issues in health care. Forgive my blunt honesty.
Bayer’s G4A team launched their 2019 program today, so here’s a little help for anyone curious about the state of pharma startup investment and what it takes to land a deal there these days.
I had the chance to pick the brain of Bayer’s
Global Head of Digital Health, Eugene Borukhovich, during JP Morgan Healthcare
Week and pulled out these three gloriously thought-provoking soundbites from
our conversation to give you some insight as to the mindset over at big Bayer.
“Digital therapeutics are shining light on the convoluted, complex mess of digital health”
If you’ve wondered what lies ‘beyond the pill’
for Big Pharma, wonder no more. It seems the answer is digital therapeutics.
Eugene predicts that “within the next couple of years, ‘digital health’ as a
term will disappear,” and calls out organizations like the Digital Therapeutics
Alliance for their efforts to set standards around evidence-base and behavior
modification so regulators and strategic investors alike can properly evaluate
claims made by health tech startups. As time goes on, it looks like efforts to
‘pharma-lize’ the ways startups take their solutions to market will increase,
pushing them into more traditional go-to-market pathways that have familiar and
comforting guidelines in place. As Eugene says, “Ultimately, what we say in my
team, is that it’s about health in a digital world today.” Sounds like that’s
true for both the products he’s seeking AND the way pharma is looking to bring
them to market…
“These multi-hundred million [dollar] press releases are
great to a certain extent, but what happened to the start-up style mentality?”
When asked about Big Tech getting into Big
Health, in the end, it seems, Eugene shakes out to be in favor of the ‘Little
Guy’ – or, at least, in their approach. Don’t miss his comments about
“cockiness in our healthcare industry” and how Big Tech is working around that
by partnering up, but the salient point for startups is that big companies still
seem very much interested in buddying with smaller businesses. It’s for all the
same reasons as before: agility, the ability to iterate quickly, and the
opportunity to do so within reasonable budgets. Eugene offered this telling
rhetorical musing: “Just because it’s a combination of two big giants…do you
need to do $500 million? Or, do you give some…traction, milestone, [etc.]…to
prove it, just like a start-up would?”
“In large organizations, transformation equals time, and…we
don’t have time.”
“To me,” says Eugene, “the biggest challenge is
actually landing these inside the organization.” He’s talking about novel
health solutions – digital therapeutics or otherwise – after learning from
previous G4A cycles. Culture, precedent, and years of market success loom large
in big healthcare companies across the ecosystem, which is one reason why innovation
inside them is so challenging. Eugene says he’s “a big believer in a small team
– even in large organizations – to take something by the cojones, and get shit
done, and move it forward, and push the envelope from the bureaucracy and the
process.” There’s a sense of urgency to ‘innovate or die’ in the face of the
growing competition in the healthcare industry. “Back to this earlier
conversation around whether it’s tech giants or other companies,” he adds, “it
is a race to the speed of the organization. How quickly we learn and how
quickly we make the decisions. Bottom line, that’s it.”
There’s plenty more great insights and trend
predictions where these came from, plus the juicy details behind how G4A itself
has pivoted this year. Check out the full interview now.
In a recent essay, VIVIO Health’s CEO Pramod John guides us through four sensible drug policy changes and supporting rationales that could make drug pricing much fairer. Reading through it, one is struck by the magnitude of the drug manufacturing industry’s influence over policy, profoundly benefiting that sector at the deep expense of American purchasers. As Mr. John points out, the U.S. has the world’s only unregulated market for drug pricing. We have created a safe harbor provision that allows and protects unnecessary intermediaries like pharmacy benefit managers. We have created mechanisms that use taxpayer dollars to fund drug discovery, but then funnel the financial benefit exclusively to commercial interests. And we have tolerated distorted definitions of value – defined in terms that most benefit the drug manufacturers – that now dominate our pricing discussions.
The power of this maneuvering is clear in statistics on health industry revenues and earnings. An Axios analysis of financial documents from 112 publicly traded health care companies during the 3rd quarter of 2018 showed global profits of $50 billion on revenues of $636 billion. Half of that profit was controlled by 10 companies, 9 of which were pharmaceutical firms. Drug companies collected 23% of the total revenues during that quarter, but retained an astounding 63% of the profits, meaning that the drug sector accounts for nearly two-thirds of the entire health care industry’s profitability. Said another way, the drug industry reaps twice the profits of the rest of the industry combined.
The article traces the origins of an op-ed that appeared in STAT, the respected medical blog published by the Boston Globe, headlined “You can complain about TV drug ads. They may have saved my life.” Health News Review managing editor Kevin Lomangino found that a public relations firm working for Gilead, a pharmaceutical company that makes the hepatitis C drug Harvoni, had reached out to a patient named Deborah Clark Duschane and asked her to write about her experience with drug ads.
Lomangino quotes Charles Seife, a professor of journalism at New York University, who called the situation a “breach of trust.”
“The whole point of ghostwriting is to hide the hand of an actor — to make an industry position seem like it’s coming from an unaffiliated individual,” Seife said. “That’s deception. It’s meant to disarm the natural skepticism that we have when an industry makes self-serving statements. And when someone tries to disarm our skepticism, well, it ain’t good.”
As a professional ghostwriter, who has been hired by public relations professionals to work with authors on op-eds that have run in respected publications, I disagree.
Amanda Goltz is a massive ball of energy in the world of digital health. For the past 2 years she’s been working for English pharma company BTG. But how does a pharma company get involved in health tech without wasting everyone’s time, and what exactly are they trying to do? Amanda certainly has both opinions and a plan. Today part of that plan became official with the purchase of Oncoverse, a cancer management program BTG has been working on with Wanda and Dignity Health. I spoke to her Monday morning my time to find out more (and yes, if you wait to the end, there is both a job “offer” and I have my own BBC Live home office moment!)
In defending the ever-growing cost of drugs, the pharmaceutical industry can’t roll out a single, intuitive explanation. Rather, their justification breaks down into many independent but interacting parts. We have to tease these apart before examining their validity.