How Pharma is Remapping the Route to Smarter Digital Health Development to Enable Better Patient Selfcare

June 4, 2024 Lieneke Hodnett

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How Pharma is Remapping the Route to Smarter Digital Health Development to Enable Better Patient Selfcare

This article is based on our recent Impatient Health Webinar in which digital health experts from S3 Connected Health, Ypsomed, and Roche discussed how to get the right mix of ingredients in developing digital health solutions to successfully go to market, scale, and deliver lasting value to patients. 


Pharma companies excel in inventing, developing, and selling drugs. Venturing into the world of digital health, however, demands a vastly different approach and skill set. When pharma companies made their first foray into digital health, they often believed they could handle everything in-house, only to realize that, actually, what was involved was akin to building a whole new company within the existing one. They discovered that they not only needed resources with the skills to manufacture the solution itself but also expertise in areas such as understanding how to address the unmet needs of patients with a digital health solution, how to demonstrate the solution's value for all stakeholders, and how to formulate an effective commercialization strategy.

Pharma companies have recognized this gap in their capabilities and become more strategic in their approach to developing digital health solutions. They increasingly understand the importance of partnering with digital health specialists and using a platform approach to create their solutions, freeing up their resources to focus on the core business challenges that their digital health solution can address.

This approach becomes even more evident when we examine digital health solutions incorporating connected drug delivery devices. Developing these devices has traditionally been challenging due to technical and cost barriers, but with the emergence of platforms that substantially reduce those barriers, we are seeing a new wave of devices entering or nearing the market.


The Recipe For Success 

A Clear Value Proposition That Is Aligned With Stakeholder Needs

It is crucial to have a clear understanding from the outset of the solution's value proposition and to keep this at the forefront throughout. This understanding not only guides the development process but also reassures the stakeholders about the potential return on investment. Digital health solutions that incorporate connected drug delivery devices can create value in numerous ways, including offering competitive differentiation in the market, supporting patients with onboarding, adherence to, and persistence with therapy, and generating evidence for disease insights and access and reimbursement. Establishing robust reasons for developing a solution from the beginning is essential to sustain the effort throughout the development process.

These solutions must provide value to a wide range of internal and external stakeholders. Success is achieved when a solution is developed that meets all those various needs. For example, for the patient, the solution should help enable better self-care when they are managing their condition independently. Healthcare professionals need a solution that seamlessly fits into their workflow and provides tangible assistance in caring for their patients. Various stakeholders within the pharma company will expect to see value in offering competitive differentiation in the market, insights into how patients manage their treatment, or insights into identifying patients who could benefit from their therapy. Payers moving towards value-based care models will be looking for evidence for reimbursement models. Achieving alignment on stakeholder needs is not easy and is an ongoing task because stakeholder needs constantly evolve. So, the solution must also be agile and evolve in line with stakeholder needs.

One of the main reasons for failure to deliver these solutions in the past is the time it took to develop them. When building everything from scratch in-house, developing a solution inevitably becomes more complex than initially anticipated and takes longer to complete. Meanwhile, the decision-makers may move on, the market may change, the company may shift its priorities to other challenges or opportunities, and the internal alignment and support that was initially present may slip away if no progress has been made. Pharma companies have learned a crucial lesson - alignment fades away if you don’t deliver. This realization has led them to adopt a more strategic approach, deciding when to build, partner, or buy to ensure the timely delivery of impactful solutions.


A Quicker, More Predictable Path to Market is Required

A digital health solution with a drug delivery device will have many potential use cases beyond just addressing the core business challenge set out at the start. Addressing these use cases while retaining focus on the reason for building the solution in the first place and maintaining that internal alignment throughout is a real challenge. Pharma needs to consider how many use cases they can manage, as well as how the solution will evolve and adapt to future needs. They need to find and maintain product-market fit, enable their product roadmap, and future-proof their solution. Additionally, they will need to anticipate use cases that may not be apparent at the beginning. This makes it challenging to build an architecture that will work in the future without forward-looking experience. The same applies to connected devices, which must be configured, evolved, and updated to support various use cases and life cycles. So developing these solutions entirely in-house from scratch simply is not viable. It will take too long and that internal alignment will fade away. A quicker, more predictable path to market involves recognizing the need to leverage what is already built in terms of common functionalities of these solutions across different diseases and therapy areas while ensuring customizable solutions for specific user experiences.


A Platform Approach Enables Pharma to Focus on the Core Problem They Need to Solve

Pharma's ambitions for their digital health solutions with connected drug delivery devices must be big…but the steps they take to get there don’t need to be. In the past developing connected drug delivery devices has been a very challenging road to travel, with huge technical and cost barriers. This means that those developing these devices have often fallen into the trap of overinvesting in the early stages and underinvesting in the later stages – but those later stages are where the real value capture happens when the solution is brought to market.

This is why we are seeing such a move towards platforms. A key advantage of platforming is that it allows pharma to focus their time and creativity on what makes their business challenge unique, addressing their patients' specific needs and contexts. Without this approach, pharma risks spending over 80% of their energy on building the same core functions repeatedly, hindering their ability to tailor solutions to their specific requirements and ultimately obstructing success. Different diseases and therapy areas share common needs and recurring functions. However, the unique contexts and user experiences demand adaptable and customizable components to ensure a personalized experience. This approach is crucial for achieving engagement and effectiveness in specific cases, as a one-size-fits-all solution cannot be tailored to individual contexts and lacks differentiation.    

Digital Health Platforms allow pharma to focus on their core challenges

The journey into digital health has been a learning experience for pharma companies, unveiling the complexity and strategic planning required for success. By honing in on patient needs, leveraging existing technologies, and aligning solutions with business objectives, pharma companies can develop impactful digital health solutions that enhance patient self-care and improve health outcomes.

To learn more, watch the full webinar below, or get in touch with us to discuss how we can support the development of your digital health solution.


S3 Connected Health WebinarDownload our webinar with Andrew Tubb, Director, Prouct Management, S3 Connected Health, Florian Kuehni, Product Area Head, Digital Health, Yposmed, Leslie Anne Fendt, Global Program Lead, Remote Vision Monitoring (Digital Heath), Roche, and Paul Upham, Global Head of Smart Devices, Roche