Innovating beyond the pill: the blossoming relationship between pharma and tech

“Currently health and tech don’t speak the same language,” says Erik Janssen, vice president of innovative solutions neurology at biopharma company UCB.

In order to benefit from the value technology can bring to patients, Janssen believes that pharma must adapt its approach.

While pharma is a heavily-regulated industry which tends to work in siloes, tech companies tend to be much more “entrepreneurial, customer centric and rely more heavily on partnerships”, he tells MobiHealthNews.

“We can create value for patients by overcoming these challenges to successfully converge the health and technology ecosystems, recognising the unique expertise that each industry brings,” he says.  

For example, he argues that the pharmaceutical industry brings “in-depth knowledge of the patient, scientific expertise and rich patient data”, while tech companies can provide data capture processes and predictive analytics. 

“When brought together, through partnerships, there is an opportunity for both industries to benefit and learn from each other, ultimately to create solutions that can aid and advance patient outcomes and experiences,” Janssen explains.

He will be one of the speakers at a session run by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) at the forthcoming HIMSS & Health 2.0 European conference in Helskini, Finland this June.

The session, entitled ‘Pharma focus: Innovating beyond the pill’, will examine how industries can talk to each other, how regulations and development pathways interact and the value of new health and disease management services for patients.

“It’s the combination of biology and data that will enable a more personalised and participatory medicine,” says Magda Chlebus, executive director of science policy and regulatory affairs at the EFPIA.

This, she says, involves not just the medicine, but “all the services around it, as well as what happens in the run-up – such as prevention, interception, treatment and management.”

But Chlebus admits that integrating technology is “not a straightforward concept”, because the tech and pharma sectors have each evolved in isolation.

“Solutions may work at micro level but scaling up possibilities remain to be explored,” she says.


One person with first-hand experience of bringing together the worlds of tech and pharma is Timo Heikkilä, cofounder of automatic pill detection technology Popit, which alerts users via an app when they forget to take medication.

According to Heikkilä, pharma plays a “pivotal role” in digital healthcare.

“Patients put a great deal of trust in pharma. Due to the sheer scale and reach of the industry, it has the responsibility to embrace innovation and drive it forward,” he says.

The industry’s massive distribution network and reach can certainly be invaluable for tech solutions that need scaling.

“Nothing fuels a new innovation like exposing it to millions of users, and pharma companies provide access to these kinds of customer numbers,” he says.

Meanwhile, tech solutions can help tackle the pharmaceutical industry’s ongoing problem of patients who do not take medication as advised. 

“Approximately 50% of patients are non-adherent and this causes significant problems for the industry, payers, and of course the patients themselves,” explains Heikkilä.

However, the pharmaceutical industry’s slow pace compared to the fast-moving world of tech startups is a potential barrier to collaboration.

“A common phrase is that a startup’s month is a pharma’s year,” jokes Heikkilä. “Large pharma companies tend to be ran by heavy processes, which is completely understandable in a regulated industry dealing with life and death.”

But when there is a “true and topical need that collaboration is out to solve”, he believes this can be overcome.

MobiHealthNews is a HIMSS Media publication.

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