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Technology and Patients Intersect at Digital Pharma East


Pharmaceutical Executive

A look at highlights from the Digital Pharma East conference looking at technology and marketing innovation in pharma.

Bryan O'Malley

Digital experts from drug companies, agencies, media vendors, and Silicon Valley descended on Philadelphia last month for Digital Pharma East-a celebration of technology and marketing innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. Dozens of sessions were given over four jam-packed days featuring some of the best and brightest digital thinkers. Here are a few of the highlights.

Data-driven marketing

Data, personalization, and privacy were popular topics in many of the sessions, as data-driven marketing became the unofficial theme of the conference. Executives from AstraZeneca, AbbVie, and Takeda all gave talks on how they are moving toward omnichannel marketing and leveraging data points from multiple channels to generate personalized communications for each individual in their target list.

Many companies are also beginning to explore the power of machine learning and AI to determine the next best action for reaching each audience member. Craig McGettigan, head of multichannel engagement at Sanofi, showed how their system already goes one step further by predicting what combination of actions will produce the most revenue for each target. His team is already working on the next major advancement that will predict the next best message for each engagement as well.

There is clearly a lot of innovation happening around big data in pharma this year, and it feels like we’re just scratching the surface.

Patients at the core

A conference about technology may seem like a cold and dispassionate affair, but another big theme was keeping patients at the center of what we do. Alisha Bridges, a young woman who has been living with psoriasis since the age of seven, gave a very emotional presentation about the challenges of living with the condition.

“I felt like the only person in the world with this condition,” she told the audience while discussing the lack of representation of people of color in mainstream psoriasis advertisements.

Tracy Yedlin, associate director of integrated marketing at Takeda, also gave a fascinating talk on how digital technology can enable empathetic patient experiences. One neat example? Changing the sounds made by health-monitoring devices in hospitals to be less stressful for patients.

Digital therapeutics

Perhaps the most interesting presentation was by Alex Waldron, chief strategy officer at Pear Therapeutics, who discussed digital therapeutics. His company has produced two mobile apps-one for substance use disorder (SUD) and another for opioid use disorder (OUD)-that have a demonstrated therapeutic benefit to patients. In fact, Pear ran a clinical trial to prove the efficacy of their platform and successfully lobbied to have them regulated by the FDA in the same way as molecules and proteins.

The apps require a prescription by a physician, are covered by health insurance, and their access is restricted to a prescribed length of therapy. The company is already working on apps for other conditions, including insomnia and schizophrenia.

The fact that a smartphone app is now being regulated by the FDA is absolutely fascinating, and it raises a lot of questions. Do updates to one of these apps require an additional FDA approval? Who owns the data generated by these apps-the patient or Pear? Will that data end up in the patient’s medical records?

It will be interesting to watch these topics evolve over the next year.


Bryan O’Malley is head of digital at Fingerpaint’s Saratoga Springs office. He can be reached at bomalley@fingerpaint.com.



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