Digital health is in its early days, and healthcare companies are still learning how this technology can be leveraged to add value to drug development as well as to clinical medicine. At Johnson & Johnson the emphasis is on adding value that solves significant problems through differentiated healthcare solutions.
Johnson & Johnson sees digital health technology as one part of a larger mix of solutions as the industry moves toward precision medicine and a connected, patient-centered healthcare ecosystem. “Digital health technology is part of a bigger picture, enabling a more integrated approach when you consider its applications and technologies in areas such as mobile health, sensors, 3D printing and big data,” says Cris De Luca, digital health innovation leader, Johnson & Johnson Innovation. “It’s a new piece of the larger puzzle, towards improving human health.”
Because Johnson & Johnson is involved in digital health across its main sectors, which include pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and consumer health, “we have an exciting opportunity to look at solutions across a patient journey from prediagnosis, through treatment, to how they live with disease. We differentiate through our sectors and draw on the depth and breadth of our expertise and unique collaboration model,” De Luca says. For companies working with Johnson & Johnson’s innovation arm, that broad expertise can be of great value in helping them develop digital health solutions that can scale, are safe and can enhance health outcomes.
Johnson & Johnson Innovation focusing on healthcare technology
Johnson & Johnson’s focus on digital health draws on the company’s history in health and wellness. Examples include the 2008 acquisition of online wellness organization HealthMedia, Inc. and, later, BabyCenter.com (the largest online forum for parenting and expecting mothers). Its cutting-edge Human Performance Institute is unique among corporations. Researchers there translate the habits and mindsets of world-class athletes for business environments, helping executives manage their energy for improved health and mental focus. Another example is with Janssen Healthcare Innovation’s Care4Today® mobile health manager that enables people to manage medications from their phone.
De Luca, however, focuses on external innovation, working with early stage entrepreneurs to develop possible partnerships and commercialization arrangements in the application of digital health technologies across Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceuticals, medical device and consumer health sectors.
Incubation and Acceleration are a key component to this strategy and JLABS, Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s incubator model that provides facilities and services to help startup companies thrive, is pivotal in that effort. This innovation incubator helps innovative pharma, medical device, and consumer companies advance their products with the help of J&J resources and expertise. Based on JLABS’ success, J&J also has formed a health and wellness technology accelerator to attract entrepreneurial companies that are developing direct-to-consumer interventions in nutrition, physical activity, stress, sleep, and alcohol and smoking cessation.
“Companies in our incubators have access to our expertise and resources, including the state-of-the-art lab equipment, prototyping spaces and platform technology,” De Luca says. For its part, “Johnson & Johnson Innovation focuses on connections with rock star teams and transformative innovation. There are no strings attached, but there’s a solid conversion rate to partnerships.”
That same type of connection is beginning to occur in digital health, too, with the company’s newest incubators in Houston and Toronto. “Digital health startups require different facility considerations than biotech companies. For example, biotechs need instrumentation and bench space. Digital health companies need good Internet connections, meeting space and great coffee. We offer spaces that appeal to the broader scientific and health-oriented ecosystem,” De Luca says. ”And more importantly, being part of that community facilitates intellectual cross-fertilization and collaboration by entrepreneurs working across pharmaceutical, consumer, medical device and digital health.
Through digital health initiatives, Johnson & Johnson enables a more holistic approach to health that includes preventative care to help keep healthy individuals healthy,” De Luca says.
The instant popularity of Pokémon Go is one example of the unintentional possibilities for digital health solutions. “People who haven’t moved in ages are suddenly walking miles because of Pokémon Go. The message,” he says, “is that things trigger human behavior beyond what we typically think about.” Those triggers can translate into new classes of health-oriented solutions which can positively enable behavior modification.
The popularity of general activity trackers is another example. To go beyond being merely digital pedometers or heart rate monitors, activity trackers must provide more accurate, actionable information. “For general health tracking, accuracy is less important than precision. For clinical use, however, accuracy and precision are equally critical, and we are starting to see clinical-grade devices hit the market.”
In the future, De Luca envisions passive data collection growing within wellness and care management programs. “Passive data collection draws insights based on things people already are doing, such as posting to social media. Digital phenotyping is an example.”
Digital phenotyping develops a sense of an individual’s health by monitoring trends and noting deviations. For instance, by monitoring deviations in patterns of mobility, texting, online posting and even speech for persons being treated for a particular condition (depression, perhaps) interventions may become more timely and, therefore, more beneficial.
“We’re already seeing some interesting areas, including mental health, where digital health is starting to take off,” De Luca says. “For example, digital health solutions can track moods, diagnose depression, track treatment adherence and even potentially predict relapse.”
Focus on problem-solving, not technology
For potential investors, the challenge in digital health is to identify value quickly. “To put the field in perspective, there are some 165,000 health-related apps in the app store. Of those, 36 comprise 50 percent of all downloads,” De Luca says.
“As a new venture lead for digital health, my job is to separate the music from the noise. You have to develop different standards for evaluation and criteria for review,” he points out. In digital health, that means determining “where the unmet needs are, and what has the potential to transform and provide value in terms of improving outcomes. There are promising possibilities as this field advances.”
Those opportunities don’t automatically equate to amazing technologies or devices, though. Instead, De Luca focuses on how digital technology solves, or at least mitigates, real problems in health and wellness. Therefore, he says, “it would be beneficial if entrepreneurs would begin their pitches with validated problems. Go deep when discussing the problem and why this particular solution solves it. Why build this solution at all?” he challenges entrepreneurs. Often entrepreneurs present technologies that look for problems as opposed to highlighting the fundamental problem being solved.
Innovators also must clearly differentiate their solutions from other products on the market or in development, and how their approach adds value. “There are a lot of similarities among software and devices in the technical innovation world so it’s important to have a well-thought-out value proposition that sets you apart,” he stresses.
Developing a digital medical device is notably different from developing a digital consumer device. Although the features may be similar, devices used for clinical applications must be exceptionally accurate and precise, and also must pass extensive (and expensive) regulatory scrutiny, which slows time to market.
“Developing a successful medical digital health solution is serious,” De Luca emphasizes. To guide the process, “work with a strategic partner like Johnson & Johnson Innovation. We have deep scientific, regulatory and consumer expertise, which is unique in the industry. We also have global reach and know-how.”
Cris De Luca will discuss digital health in more detail at the BioPharm America™ 2016 panel discussion, “How digital medicine companies are influencing pharma R&D,” Thursday, September 15 in Boston.