The challenges, opportunities of implementing voice in pharma

Yesterday at the Voice of Healthcare Summit at Harvard Medical School, panelists discussed the lure of voice technology, its opportunities and the importance of keeping privacy front and center. Increasingly, Amazon Alexa and Siri are no longer just a tool for ordering pizza. Voice technology has found its way into healthcare, and now one of the most established industries in the medical world is starting to explore the possibilities of voice: pharma.

“I think voice should be part of a robust ecosystem in which pharma provides treatment information … and things like that,” Kay Bayne, senior manager of consumer and HCP marketing at AstraZeneca, said during the Voice of Healthcare Summit at Harvard Medical School yesterday.

While the technology has a myriad of potential use cases, there are still a lot of unknowns.

“I think right now there is a lot of experimenting going on trying to figure out how to use this as a platform,” Shwen Gwee, cofounder of Novartis Biome and global head of Open Innovations at Novartis, said during the event. “We are heavily regulated. While that prevents us from doing things that are overly creative, it also gives us an opportunity because with things like pre-approved content … you have the opportunity to really leverage these medias and drive some of the things that have been done by traditional channels in the past. So really looking at things like patient support programs, medical information or even marketing to clinical. I’ve seen voice for collecting patient-reported outcomes for clinical trials.”

However, like many other new gadgets on the market today, there is a danger of adopting voice for the just for the sake of it.

How Finland is teaming up with pharma to identify genetic variants in disease

The country’s FinnGen Project seeks to use its unique population bottleneck and cohesive health records to drive genetic insights. Deep in the belly of the University of Helsinki, large metallic cylinders line a basement lab. While the setting is clinical, scientists have added a playful touch with snow-themed name tags on each of the vats. Still, the mission of the lab is serious — inside “snow queen” and “snow castle” lie genetic samples that could potentially help decode genetic variants responsible for disease.

Finland is unique

Finland came onto the world stage last year when it was named “happiest country” by Forbes. But it isn’t just their happiness scores that make the Finnish people unique.

Situated in the far northeast corner of Europe, over the last few millennia Finland has seen less immigration than other parts of Europe. This has led to Finland becoming one of the largest population bottlenecks, meaning that the Finnish gene pool is largely homogeneous.

This fact can help scientists pinpoint gene variants that are linked to specific diseases, Anu Jalanko, project manager at FinnGen, said at a media event in June. Instead of researchers sifting through billions of variants to link them to a disease or condition, they need only sift through hundreds of thousands.

“We geneticist use this fact to have an easier time to identify variants, and identify specific variants in complex situations,” Aarno Palotie, scientific director of the FinnGen Project, said at HIMSS Europe in June.

Pharma's 2019 Q2 saw several clinical trial, medication management partnerships

Diving deeper into digital, this quarter the pharma giants have continued to implement new tools to enhance clinical trials, support medication management with technology and partner in developing digital therapeutics.

Onc, a foreign entity to this established industry, pharma executives are now becoming better versed in working with digital health companies and sharing the lessons they’ve learned.

“It’s not partnerships of pharma versus [digital] but a partnership of equals,” Erik Janssen, VP of innovative solutions in neurology at UCB Biopharma, said at HIMSS Europe last month. “It is about collaboration, and it is about learning a different perspective of the complexity of healthcare as well. It is also about improvisation … You must be agile. It is also about sustainability.”

While Janssen and others have encouraged partnerships between the two worlds, others have pointed out the challenges.

“The number one [risk to pharma] is just the complexity of developing these technologies,” Dr. Ameet Nathwani, chief medical officer and chief digital officer at Sanofi, said at BIO 2019 in Philadelphia. “Just imagine, when you develop a biologic drug and you make a slight modification, you have to go through this whole process. Just imagine that in the software world, where software changes over time. What’s the IP of it, can you IP a software? Well, actually, the regulations are not that clear and so there’s software’s copyright, and then what’s the generic version of it?”