At the dawn of connected health, the pharmaceutical industry is starting to look not so much to new drug development as to personalised treatment solutions, which are creating new relationships between doctor and patient.

Pharma industry needs “new drivers for growth going forward”

Interview with Rémy Teston, Head of E-Marketing at multinational pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer.

L’Atelier: What connected health solutions does Pfizer offer? And what’s your overall strategy?

Rémy Teston: At the moment we don’t provide any connected tools or devices, but this is a trend that we’re aware of and it’s an evolving situation. In fact there are relatively few initiatives of this kind taking place in the pharmaceutical field. All the pharma firms are trying to gain a better understanding of the challenge before launching into it. The medical sector is highly regulated. The only such initiative I know of is that of [French pharmaceutical company] Sanofi, which is running a project focusing on diabetes. We’re giving ourselves sufficient time to find out about the market.

Given that there are no connected health initiatives at the moment, what are your plans?

Well, at the present time we’re merely observing the situation, but it’s clear that health-related connected objects will become a focal point for the pharmaceutical industry. We’re now seeing connected objects incorporated into a whole range of connected services in various fields. Prevention, screening, and monitoring of medication adherence by older people are all areas to be looked at. In addition, collaborative tools which bring healthcare professionals and patients together, plus digital support devices for use during treatment could be implemented. By using web and mobile technologies, we could also offer virtual tools to assist with training of personnel.

Is connected health going to mean a change of business model for pharmaceutical companies?

The industry is currently centred on the development and promotion of medicines. However, we will have to find new drivers for growth going forward as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to launch new products. Even if these changes have not been agreed for the moment, the business model will evolve in the future. Pharmaceutical firms will need to adjust their business model towards providing complete treatment solutions that combine personalised medicines and services. Medication adherence is among our priorities in relation to chronic illnesses such as diabetes. In any case, we mustn’t miss out on this new trend because if we don’t negotiate this turning point adroitly other players could well step in.

Will these solutions engender new relationships with patients?

The patient relationship is a delicate area as there is a great deal of regulation here. We’re not allowed to market our products – our medicines – directly to patients. However, things can be done in the areas related to our field, e.g. prevention and screening. So we can in fact communicate with the patient in collaboration with the doctor. And we could develop a direct relationship with the patient on the subject of adherence to medication schedules.

What about with doctors?

Well, we will be able to improve our relationship with healthcare practitioners by providing them with actual tools rather than just information.

Have you done any testing? Collaborating with m-health players for example?

We’re thinking about it. Going it alone does look rather difficult, yes. In fact the best way to gain a foothold in the e-health sector is to create partnerships with the paying entities, i.e. the insurance companies and social security bodies, rather than the solutions developers. We intend to run some pilot initiatives. However, we depend to a large extent on European – even global – strategies, which leaves us very little room for manoeuvre. We’re trying to get initiatives going but it takes time.

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about connected objects, e-health and m-health. What exactly is holding back connected health?

The very use of mobile devices seems to me to be a drawback. Although smartphones have become widespread, people still mainly use them for looking at emails and sending SMS, though there has been strong growth in applications. I think moreover that today connected objects are perceived as gadgets. No proper study has been carried out from a truly medical viewpoint. In the main, apps focus on fitness or weight loss.

What’s your view on medical data security in this new paradigm?

Well, that’s another major drawback. The Ministry of Health here in France is working on this issue at the moment. There is indeed a question mark over how we can guarantee the general public that their data will be properly managed and kept secure. That’s a real challenge. Patients are perhaps not yet ready to allow their doctor to examine their health data at any time.

By Pierre-Marie Mateo