Top 10 Digital Health Trends: Implications for Early to Mid-Stage Biopharma

February 8, 2016 Guest Contributor

Jay_Goldman_headshot_Michael Young - Sensei Labs-Klick

Guest post by Jay Goldman (Managing Director, Sensei Labs at Klick Health) and Michael W. Young (VP, Strategy at Klick Health)

We recently had the pleasure of presenting on the Top 10 Digital Health Trends at Biotech Showcase™ 2016’s inaugural Digital Health Showcase. Our highly engaged audience was curious to hear about how the world of digital is changing the world of early to mid-stage life science companies, which we managed to squeeze into an action-packed thirty minutes! Here’s a recap for those who couldn’t join us in person.

1: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

IBM’s Watson defeat of human Jeopardy! stars Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in 2011 was a milestone in the modern age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

The world of health is rife with opportunities for AI and machine learning. Watson itself—shrunk from a room-sized super computer to a cloud-based service available for integration into any application—has become a health expert. What’s more, its newly announced Watson Health Cloud brings its technology and a number of newly acquired data sources to our industry:

Dartmouth-Hitchcock has just launched ImagineCare, a highly coordinated, intensely personalized solution built on Microsoft technologies for machine intelligence and advanced data analytics, including the just-announced Cortana Analytics Suite.

2: Virtual and Augmented Reality

As Virtual Reality (VR) has matured over the last 20 years, it’s become a landscape that stretches from Augmented Reality (AR) on one end (Google Glass being a simplistic example) to fully immersive VR at the other end (Oculus Rift). Somewhere in the middle is Microsoft’s Hololens, the world’s first “untethered holographic computer,” which some think will transform health in many ways, including the need for new doctors to train on increasingly expensive and fragile cadavers:

On the VR end of the spectrum, Oculus Rift went from raising USD 2.5 million on Kickstarter to being acquired by Facebook for USD 2 billion in about 18 months. The company recently announced consumer availability of its first product, a VR headset and 360° sound system for USD 600, slated to start shipping on March 28, 2016.

Our own technology explorists at Klick Labs have been experimenting with Oculus Rift developer editions, building immersive MOA and MOD experiences. We’ve already seen the power of placing people inside the human body to watch its mysteries unfold—and we’re only at the very start of this exciting revolution.

3: Cloud Services

Amazon has led the race to move all technology into the cloud with its Amazon Web Services recording over USD 6 billion in revenue last year alone. Our industry has begun to embrace the cloud, and specifically AWS, with giants like J&J announcing a ‘hybrid cloud’ strategy for its global IT organization.

Amazon focuses on three deep health applications: genomics (bring your tool sets to free data sets in the AWS Cloud and accelerate time to results); life sciences (easily deploy globally for any type of development, lab, or manufacturing workload); and healthcare providers and insurers (accelerate your digital transformation and enable advanced healthcare analytics).
Its newest innovation is Lambda, which fundamentally eliminates the concept of a “server” entirely in favor of bits of code that just run when they’re needed. You only pay for the exact amount of processing time used, and the first million requests per month are free. Think about that the next time you buy a very expensive computer to process a large data set or calculation.

4: Medtech

The way in which we engage socially and, to a growing degree, in business is now converging with our healthcare. Collecting data, gaining feedback, reporting medical symptoms and outcomes—whether actively or passively—are rapidly becoming significant realities. The ability to dramatically enhance the quality and the quantity of patient-reported outcomes and self-reported daily health status is revolutionizing clinical trials and medication compliance and adherence. The growth of “wearables” and “implantables,” devices and sensors which are adjacent to or implanted in the body, are experiencing rapid growth. Fitbit and iWatch are just the start of what’s to come.

5: Experiential Tech

The fundamental importance of engaging human senses is an important pathway for learning and for enjoyment. Ultimately, the degree to which understanding can be enhanced by sound, sight, and touch is at the root of experiential technology such as 3D, VR, and AR where the participant is fully immersed in the interactive. The VR/AR market is expected to grow to USD 150 billion by 2020, including military, entertainment (movies, games, etc.), and medical applications (Digi-Capital Report, 04/15). Placing decision makers into environments where they can make even more realistic choices is a key opportunity for experiential technology.

Improving the authenticity of the VR experience with technology such as Oculus Rift is only part of the equation. Accessibility to this technology is essential as well. Without accessibility, the rate of adoption and the scenarios in which VR and AR can be valuable are limited. The advent of Google Cardboard™ creates tremendous reach with a low-cost viewer to which one can add their smartphone to experience the world of VR .  

6: Clinical Trials

No area of healthcare is in need of as significant a revolution as the arena of clinical trials. The digital tech trends, which will provide this revolution are largely focused on better quality data, better data retrieval, and more effective data acquisition. Simultaneously, digital is being deployed to create communities of patients, recruit patients more readily to specific trials, and increase connectivity between patients and their healthcare providers. Initiatives such as and trial engagement webportals are just the leading edge.

The industry’s understanding of the social psychology of technology is in its infancy. Innovation in clinical trials is required but the time to build trust and familiarity needs to be considered. Patients and clinicians stand to gain much, provided reticence to change can be managed.

7: Mobile as Sensor

The devices in our pockets shouldn’t be called phones anymore—for most of us, it’s probably the least used app on them. They’re supercomputers covered in sensors: cameras, accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, GPS, microphones, light sensors, and touchscreens just to name a few. Pair them with wearable trackers and you’ve got an entire lab that’s with you every day, recording a stream of health data in real time.

Apple’s ResearchKit is the most obvious real-world application of this. It’s an Open Source project, which was established to give researchers access to all that data, opt-in and highly respective of patient privacy, to augment and accelerate their work. It’s already being used in autism, epilepsy, melanoma, asthma, Parkinson’s, diabetes, breast cancer, and cardiovascular research by organizations like Duke, Johns Hopkins, Mount Sinai, Stanford, and Oxford. Six months after its launch, there were already 100,000 patients using ResearchKit apps to share data.

8: Targeting

As drug development becomes more and more targeted, the need to find increasingly more patients for trials and scripts becomes harder and harder. Patients with rare and orphan diseases would otherwise be needles in an endless haystack if not for the powerful magnets available through today’s advanced digital technologies. Although the “digital body language” we leave behind as we search, browse, upload, and create helps marketers better sell to us—the downside of our always-connected lives—it can also help find HCPs, patients, and caregivers who may not know about a therapy that could make a difference.

We’re moving beyond the days of demographic targeting (interrupt driven, based on assumed characteristics) to contextual (relevant to the content around it), and behavioral targeting (relevant to you based on your online behaviors). Along the way, we’re triggering a vast array of ethics and privacy questions that haven’t previously needed to be answered like, Is it okay to retarget a cancer patient on Facebook if they searched for clinical trials on Google?

9: Reinventing the Biotech

The startups that shaped the web in the late ‘90s dotcom boom operated in a very different world. Their cost of entry was huge, including the need to constantly buy new servers, rent data centers, and build every line of code from scratch. If you wanted to show a map, you had to build the entire mapping app. If you wanted to accept credit cards, you had to invent e-commerce. In stark comparison, today’s startups can be up and running in Amazon Web Services with a few clicks, and can leverage Google Maps and Stripe to navigate and charge cards with a few lines of code. The more the technology gets abstracted, the faster new ideas can become new companies.

Biotech lags behind pure tech, but not by as much as one might think. There are hundreds of baby biotechs out there today, comprising a few people with laptops, joined virtually with Google Hangouts and working from different corners of the world. They may never have lab space—it can all be outsourced—and they’ll expand through the on-demand economy by simply adding on services and virtual employees as needed. The first biotechs were as much a reaction to the culture of big pharma as they were a new approach to the science. Tomorrow’s biotechs will make them look more and more like Yahoo! as they radically reshape the world, Uber-style.

10: The Decoded Biotech

Our last trend comes from our New York Times bestselling book The Decoded Company. It centers around a deceptively simple question: What if you understood your people better than you understand your customers? Our industry spends a tremendous amount of money understanding patients and HCPs, mapping the patient journey, leading KOL panels, and gathering data about what drives brand requests and prescribing decisions. What would happen if we spent as much effort inside our companies to understand what engages our own people?

Decoded focuses on three trends:

  • Technology as a coach: Big data, machine learning, and advances in processing power have given tech the ability to be a real-time coach, guiding us to far better performance.
  • Data as a sixth sense: We can now equip the right people with the right data at the right moment to help them make better decisions faster.
  • Engineered ecosystems:  We can intentionally design our cultures and our environments to deeply engage our people and deliver far greater value.

Bonus Trend: Constant Change

Change itself is changing, getting faster, more complex, and much more highly specialized in every discipline. We know this from the science behind new drugs, which are going deeper into every disease state than once thought possible, exploding the old blockbuster paradigm in exchange for highly specialized, niche, ultra-rare orphan cures that are paving the path toward personalized medicine. What’s true in biopharma is true in every industry: the rate of change feels almost exponential at this point and it’s only accelerating.

Stay on Trend

Keeping up with the rate of change is near impossible, unless it’s your job. If you want to keep updated, we cover many of the more marketing and commercial focused developments in our free weekly Klick Wire newsletter, to which you can subscribe online.


Watch Goldman & Young’s panel from Digital Health Showcase, “Top 10 digital health trends: Implications for early to mid-stage biopharma,” on partnering360:Insight. And watch these interviews with Goldman and Young, respectively, to hear their insights on the future of digital health in drug development.


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