The strategic direction of the industry can seemingly be summed up in the phrase "beyond the pill", which is a composite of two big ideas:
- Digital-only treatments that address the root cause of health problems, which are often bio-psycho-social. Lifestyle, not disease is killing people, so it may be possible to create highly addictive, game-like experiences that change lifestyles and therefore beat the statistics.
- Treatment ecosystems that reflect the fact that people's problems are often blends of ailments that cannot be effectively treated by a single drug provider or physician. Doing this for real suggests some kind of aggregator that blends patient data on symptoms and ability to pay with combinations of treatments... kind of like a terrifying Skyscanner for treatment
This world suggests a range of potential business models:
- Faster, radically cheaper drug development pipelines with (basic) digital underneath them, rather than the reams of paperwork and endless loops that underpin today's processes. This would be necessary because monopolies would be removed by (2) - the ecosystem would reveal other options than a wonder-drug and thus potentially remove customers who would otherwise have used the treatment unnecessarily
- Selling outcomes, which could be as sophisticated (terrifying) as paying per year of extra life or for quality of life. This is the ultimate destination of a pivot to patient-centricity, which the industry appears obsessed with. I personally think that no one on the stage really understood the difference between a product business that thinks about customer needs and an actual patient-centric business, which is the route into treatment for patients that love them... I call that a 'doctor', but probably wrong...
- Selling enabling data and tools into the ecosystem to cater for new requirements within the packages of care that are being assembled. This portfolio strategy is certainly interesting. I felt that pharma people lobbed 'monetising data' into the conversation because it was trendy, rather than really understanding how to do it... but a few of the startups (Tonic Health and HGE, take a bow) demonstrated how! That must be why the former are the sink of value in the industry
Operating model was also discussed in reasonable detail; generally accompanied by sighs and hand-wringing. I do understand why it's hard for pharma to do digital (cadence!) but I also think that a research-led industry that depends on accurate, objective data is well-equipped to adapt to an experimentation-based business model. If they aren't then no one is!
The main thrust on operating model was whether to make innovation a business unit (all of the big guys had done this) and how to supplement it with incubators and venture capital investments. My view is that the latter is over-blown in pharma. These are organisations that have always acquired new ideas. Doing the same in digital is just an extension of med-tech, rather than the use of carnivorous acquisition to change the make-up of the core business. No one could point to a successful acquisition, either... Just sayin'...
Anyhow, enough negativity. I enjoyed the conference. Not something I can often say about these things, perhaps because I've heard the same thing at tech' conferences for 10 years. Or something.