There is always innovation happening in the world of pharmaceuticals. Every week we hear of new drug trials, patents being filed and breakthroughs in researching the underlying causes of chronic disease or cancers.

But I can’t think of a time in our life, perhaps with the exception of the 80s Aids campaigns, when the intersection between acute need, R&D and policy is life changing. Developing a vaccine in under a year is testament to the power of human endeavour.

We’ve also seen the extraordinary power of digital when managing complex public health matters. From applications like ZOE that tracks symptoms for national studies, through the revival of the QR code to check-in at public spaces for track and trace, to the appreciation of an online appointment with a doctor. People who didn’t use mobile or the internet in this way before do now.

According to IDC, shipments of wearables also went up in the middle of the pandemic as people turned to technology to motivate them to do that extra mile or monitor the quality of their sleep. It wasn’t by a little either – wearables grew to 153.5 million in the final quarter of 2020, up 27.2% compared to the same period last year.

This affinity with using apps and smart technology to improve life represents a new opportunity for drug companies, and in particular how the drugs they develop deliver measurable and better outcomes for patients.

Why does it matter?

We are seeing more and more ‘biosimilars’ come on to the market. This is a drug that is identical in formula to an original patented drug in terms of quality, safety and efficacy. They come about when an original drug patent expires. Drug companies are free to create molecularly similar drugs.

The main advantage this gives drug companies is that they can produce drugs without further research and development. They are therefore much cheaper to take to market and they offer the consumer choice and the maker a new revenue stream.

But because they are identical to any other biosimilar with the same reference biological make up, there is nothing to differentiate these drugs in the market. In essence a biosimilar made by company A is, by law, exactly the same as a biosimilar made by company B.

This lack of differentiation has led companies to consider how they can add more value and grow sales. One answer is to combine the medicine with digital technology. In doing so, they can improve patient outcomes, and provide a meaningful differentiator when biosimilars are being considered by drug buyers of national health services and organisations.

What does it look like in practical terms?

In a recent client project we developed an app that patients use to manage their medication and lifestyle for autoimmune conditions.

The initial requirement was to build a web based tool into which people would log their daily exercise, diet, mental health, medication regime and so on.

It’s an easy route to take, but in terms of user experience it’s quite cumbersome compared to an app that could be linked to devices people already use, like smart watches with heart rate monitors built in. As we’ve already seen the evidence is there that this is an avenue to explore.

We therefore looked at how mobile apps could not only facilitate the client’s ambition but greatly improve use and outcomes for the patient, and therefore the return on investment, and the uptake of the drug.

Our approach was to integrate APIs for medication platforms with existing mobile based health kits monitoring blood pressure and heart rate etc. This idea was extended to include a “Buddy App” whereby approved family and friends can see how their loved ones are doing on a daily basis with a simple happy / sad emoji. Simple but effective. It also offers relevant content related to the patient’s condition with help and advice on how they can better manage or pre-empt symptoms.

This absolutely met the what, when and why criteria and has proved that when you focus on how people live and integrate existing technology well, you can create tools people want to use.

It also shows that it makes a difference to understand your audience and how they live their life. While online applications are great for managing some aspects of our lives, even when we’ve been in lockdown mobile apps are what we have turned to.

It’s also a good reminder that development of new digital tools doesn’t have to be from scratch. The components our app needed already existed so it made little sense to reinvent the wheel. Instead, placing effort in the creation of APIs meant not only could we harness tried and tested technology people are already familiar with and using, but we could also deliver a solution to market quickly and without cutting any corners.

If you’re about to embark on a project to improve drug outcomes, or want to know more about the development of APIs and integration with your systems then contact us.