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Pharma and Tech’s Excellent Adventure: Making the Journey to Digital Health

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Monday, October 5, 2020

The road to digital health has been paved with good intentions: it’s about helping people take charge of their own health and wellness, after all. But it’s been a rocky road as well, and for pharma and tech companies taking the trip together, it’s been at times a bumpy ride filled with pitfalls, detours, and even mutual incomprehension. Nonetheless, there’s great opportunity for those hardy souls brave enough and savvy enough—and patient enough—to overcome the obstacles and stay the course.

This was among the insights gleaned from a fascinating panel moderated by Brooke Paige, CSAP, currently ASAP’s board chair and formerly vice president of alliance management at Pear Therapeutics, where she was deeply involved in digital health initiatives, called “Preparing for the Journey in Digital Health: When Healthcare’s Path Forward Leads Through Silicon Valley,” held on the final day of the recently completed ASAP BioPharma Conference.

So What Is It?

First of all, what is digital health, anyway? According to panelist Christopher Lento, head of healthcare strategic partnerships at Noom, “there are a lot of definitions floating around,” but he defined digital health as “any technology that allows patients to take ownership or engagement of their own care.”

Lento noted that nearly a thousand companies are currently working on digital therapeutics, and another panelist, Knut Sturmhoefel, CA-AM, PhD, global head of alliance management at Novartis International AG and a new ASAP board member, added that there are now many digital/biopharma partnerships. “It’s a broad spectrum of collaborations we’re starting to see,” he said, while cautioning that “we’re all learning at the moment. There’s no one model to manage these.”

That could make digital health a fertile field for the application of alliance management, of course. Lento said that in his experience, digital health often involves smaller teams, companies, and startups, especially on the tech side, and thus cofounders may get involved in managing these relationships. But he thinks there are many instances where it would be great to see a trained alliance manager stepping in and “grabbing control of the relationship” in a helpful way.

“I hope there’s an alliance manager who steps up,” he said. “It looks normal, but we’re trying to get to know each other. If you can get along, you could be on the path to great things. If there’s friction early on, you should probably take a pause.”

Seeing the Elephant

Another panelist, Davina Pallone, vice president for product at Fruit Street, addressed the big elephant in the room: the vast differences in outlook, timelines, and methods between tech or digital companies and those in the biopharma sphere. She noted that the tech side tends to operate with a “fail-fast mentality” derived from agile software development, marked by rapid code release, quick product launch, and ongoing, nearly continuous iteration and improvement of the product.

“It is a mismatch for the life cycle on the pharma side,” she acknowledged. “You don’t ‘fail fast’ with human subjects.” Or, as Lento described the pharma reaction: “What?! You’re changing the product on a daily basis?” Sturmhoefel also added that “quick changes are not what you can introduce in a product” when regulatory agencies such as the FDA are involved.

Thus, as Pallone put it, a tight collaboration and cooperation between the product and regulatory teams is absolutely necessary for success, ideally leading to a “happy medium” where you fail fast, but don’t put patients at risk.

“Fresh Tracks in the Snow”: The Promise of Digital in the Age of COVID-19

Still, because there’s so much opportunity in the area of digital health, “we’re watching so many great things happen,” according to Lento. Companies are engaging in partnerships of all kinds that are patient focused and centered on improving both access to and quality of healthcare. These partnerships are definitely breaking new ground in many cases, or as he said, “making fresh tracks in the snow.”

Pallone noted that telemedicine, one of the subsets of digital health, has certainly been “given legs” by the demands of COVID-19. “Everyone is really rethinking how often brick and mortar needs to be involved in the delivery of care.”

Lento even opined that the coronavirus has accelerated and even created more space for digital health initiatives. “As horrible as the global pandemic has been, there is some light here,” he said, pointing to cognitive behavioral therapy programs and coaching that can be delivered direct to consumers via digital therapeutics, perhaps helping to ease isolation and stress suffered by “those in need.”

“There’s a tremendous opportunity for those looking to make that jump” into the field—especially if they can help bridge the divides between digital and pharma, he said.

Pallone noted “the promise of digital: you can keep making it better and better. It’s not always well understood on the pharma side.” Still, there are going to be bumps in the road, and even failures, she said.

“What’s causing the failure is massive amounts of learning,” she explained. “You have to get out there and you’re going to take some knocks.”

The solution? More collaboration, and more buy-in from providers and patients. Better and better products and solutions. And while we’re at it, more peace, love, and understanding between “the pharma side” and “the tech side,” and more willingness to fail fast and keep iterating while still protecting patients’ health.

If you registered for the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference, don’t forget that you can still access both livestream and on-demand content from the conference until Nov. 13. And keep checking this space for more posts on some of the great sessions like this one featured as well.

Tags:  alliance management  Brooke Paige  Christopher Lento  collaborations  Davina Pallone  Digital Health  digital therapeutics  engagement  Fruit Street  healthcare  Knut Sturmhoefel  life cycle  Noom  Novartis digital/biopharma partnerships  patients  pharma  regulatory  strategic partnerships  tech 

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When Worlds Converge: Digital Therapeutics Meets Biopharma Alliance Management

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Even a year or two ago, the idea of digital therapeutics didn’t stir up a great amount of interest among most participants at ASAP’s BioPharma Conference, according to Mike Leonetti, president and CEO of ASAP. That sort of ambivalence no longer applies, as was evident at the September 23 Leadership Forum that kicked off ASAP’s BioPharma 2019, held Sept. 23–25 in Boston.

            The invitation-only gathering of 20-some biopharma alliance leaders was treated to a glimpse into the future—and a privileged look at a rapidly changing present—by senior executives from two companies that have been fast-tracking prescription digital therapeutics in their own alliance. Alex Waldron, chief strategy officer at Pear Therapeutics, and Joris van Dam, head of digital therapeutics for the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, were introduced by Leonetti and by Brooke Paige, vice president of alliance management at Pear Therapeutics and ASAP’s board chair.

            Waldron and van Dam described digital therapeutics as “software as a therapeutic,” or customer-facing software that helps clinically treat disease. It’s still relatively new, but already has become one of the five modalities of modern medical treatment (small molecule, large molecule, gene, cell, and digital). Whereas traditional biopharma alliances are asset-based partnerships formed on the basis of a molecule, in a partnership around digital therapeutics, the technology product is the asset.

            While we often think of wearable devices when we think about digital therapeutics, perhaps the most common such device is your smartphone. So far Pear and Novartis are experiencing some success around products used to treat depression that occurs with patients who have multiple sclerosis (MS) or schizophrenia, for example.

            Patients’ usage of and familiarity with their own cell phones is a big plus in such treatment, both in terms of access—a phone app is available 24/7, when patients need it, unlike a doctor or psychiatrist—and also adherence to the treatment plan, since the app can remind patients to stick to the program they’re on and help them get going with it again.  Other uses being explored include the treatment of addiction and other types of depression.

            Managing an alliance between a smaller, tech-oriented company and a large pharma company can be challenging, of course—as can any partnership between more traditional biopharma and tech. In this case, Novartis brought its commercial infrastructure, clinical trials expertise, and scientific strengths to the table; Pear brought technology, manufacturing, and ownership of the pharmacovigilance aspect, i.e., safety and data reporting.

            As part of the forum, the 20-plus alliance leaders were asked several questions and polled on their responses. Among the highlights:

  • More than 50 percent said their company had at least one or two digital/nontraditional alliances that were being operated as managed partnerships.
  • More than 50 percent said someone other than alliance management or business development managed these partnerships at their companies.
  • More than 80 percent said they expected their companies to increase the number of these digital/nontraditional partnerships in the next two years.
  • Nearly 70 percent reported the biggest challenges of such partnerships included finding a common language, the lack of alliance management skills, and cultural differences.
  • Fifty percent of respondents felt that these partnerships should be managed by the alliance management group in their organization—but nearly as many acknowledged that they don’t currently have the bandwidth to do so.

            In the roundtable discussion portion of the forum, participants came up with a number of elements or processes in traditional biopharma alliance management that would need to be revised, modified, leveraged, or speeded up to meet the needs of digital and nontraditional partnerships and to take advantage of the potential for innovation. These included:

  • Increasing the frequency of governance meetings and check-ins
  • Speeding up decision-making processes and structures and including more senior people in them
  • Educating senior management and managing stakeholders to ensure senior-level support and alignment
  • Hiring more tech-savvy alliance managers
  • Having more people on board who are well versed in IP issues and the regulatory environment
  • Needing to trust the partner in ways beyond what has been common in the past—including continuous data sharing
  • Hiring more disruptors and fewer people who are invested in protecting “the way we do things here”
  • Establishing clear roles and responsibilities from the outset of the alliance, as early as the kickoff (if not before)
  • Understanding each other better, given the different cultures of tech and biopharma companies

A window into the future indeed, and certainly there will be much more to come on this subject as the numbers of digital and nontraditional partnerships in biopharma continue to increase. And as ASAP BioPharma Conference 2019 continues, stay tuned for more of the latest coverage!

Tags:  Alex Waldron  alliance managers  ASAP BioPharma Conference  clinical trials expertise  commercial infrastructure  digital therapeutics  Joris van Dam  Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research  Pear Therapeutics  scientific strengths  software as a therapeutic 

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Relevance of Partnerships for Intelligent Workspaces and 5G Transforming and Disrupting Partners to Headline ASAP Tech Partner Forum in June

Posted By Michael Leonetti, CSAP, Friday, April 19, 2019

The Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals is gearing up for the 2019 ASAP Tech Partner Forum scheduled for June 19 at Citrix Systems in Santa Clara, California. The third annual program features partnering executives representing companies such as Google, Facebook, Verizon, Ericsson, Salesforce, Citrix and many others throughout the one-day event which includes plenty of networking with those in the high-tech community. “From the perspective of an attendee, the quality of the program was exceptional…It was right up there with the quality of ASAP Global Alliance Summit presentations, but in an intimate environment allowing you more access to those speaking. So, I was blown away by the program,” commented an attendee from last year’s forum; more of the same can be expected at this year’s event.

Program highlights include; Citrix Systems’ Senior Vice President, Steve Wilson who will headline the forum as he discusses the relevance of partnership as companies embark on delivering intelligent workspaces. Other speakers include Josh Moss, editor-in-chief of the Silicon Valley Business Journal; Jim Chow, head, global SI strategic partnership for Google Cloud; Katherine O'Leary, global consulting partnerships at Workplace by Facebook; Davina Pallone, vice president, product with Neurotrack among others. Topics such as how 5G will transform and disrupt business and partners; managing coopetition-based partnerships through introducing disruptive technologies; digital therapeutics; the framework for creating an ecosystem dashboard; and using AI to create new partnerships is something Ken Gardner, CEO and founder of conDati will discuss. “We have found that this event takes a deeper dive into topics that are relevant to day-to-day challenges and things that will affect how partner success is driven,” comments another attendee.

To register for the 2019 ASAP Tech Partner Forum and take advantage of the special offer, intimate event and gain insight on how to accelerate your business visit www.asaptechforum.org today!

 Attached Files:

Tags:  5G  AI  ASAP Tech Partner Forum  Citrix  ConDait  Coopetition  Davina Pallon  digital therapeutics  Disruptive Technologies  ecosystem dashboard  Facebook  Google Cloud  Jim Chow  Katherine O’Leary  Ken Gardner  Neurotrack  Santa Clara  Steve Wilson 

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