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The Convergence of BioPharma and Digital Medicine

June 9, 2015
Our newfound capability of digitizing the medical essence of human beings with biosensors, imaging, sequencing and other biologic omics (A “Google Medical Map” of Each Individual) will be the foundation for a new era of medicine — one that is datafied and democratized.

Most of the leading biopharma companies have already begun to embrace digital medicine, through partnerships with online health communities, particularly Patients Like Me or via biosensors in a variety of conditions including diabetes, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and for improving medication adherence. The recent roll out of Apple’s ResearchKit has shown how quickly participants can be enrolled via mobile apps — more than 100,000 individuals for five apps within a few months. But along with enrolling in a research program, the patients have been able to obtain relevant data about their condition that was previously not available. For example, the mPower app developed at The University of Rochester provides the individual with objective smartphone-derived metrics for gait, tremor, and voice that may be helpful in dosing medications. Several mobile apps are already commercially available to enhance enrollment, independent of the iOS platform and, in aggregate, this provides a remarkable opportunity for fast, efficient enrollment and completion of clinical trials. There are still important issues to resolve such as privacy, security of the data, authentic identification of the participant and well-accepted standards of informed consent obtained via a mobile device app. Furthermore, none of the large projects have yet incorporated hardware —“adds”— for the smartphone, and unless the devices and data plans are supplied to participants, there is a concern about a skewed sample population.

Beyond smartphone and social media synapses, there is the attractive opportunity to leverage genomic and other biologic omic data (RNA, proteins, metabolites, microbiome, epigenome) to promote individualized medicine. Currently, for the top 10 medications on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) list there is overwhelming — nearly 80% unresponsiveness — and remarkable economic waste, no less the unnecessary exposure for adverse drug effects and potential for drug-drug interactions. With specialty drug costs skyrocketing, the need to define responders and to develop new drugs for non-responders is more urgent than ever. But so is there the potential to “crack the case” with our remarkable medical mapping technologies at the individual level.

Soon, the patient-generated data via mobile devices will greatly exceed the quantity of data that traditionally exists in electronic medical records. Presently, such data are “homeless” and it is time to solve this problem, whether it be via personal clouds or the Healthbank model that exists in Switzerland. As medicine gets more digitized in this era of ubiquitous medical devices, pervasive connectivity and cloud/super computing, it also gets more democratized. Wherever there is a mobile signal, there’s an opportunity for better healthcare. And for better biopharma productivity and clinical efficacy in the future.

As the biopharmaceutical industry converges next week in Philadelphia for the 2015 BIO International Convention, many of these issues will be front and center on the agenda, with a robust slate of educational programming in the Digital Health Track. I am honored to be giving a keynote address on Wednesday, June 17 to discuss the state of digital medicine and its impact on healthcare, and hope you’ll be able to join us.

Dr. Eric Topol is the Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and author of The Patient Will See You Now, on how smartphones are putting medicine in your hands and The Creative Destruction of Medicine, the definitive book on the digital-medicine revolution. He has been named the #1 Most Influential Physician Executive in the United States by Modern Healthcare; a “Rock Star of Science” by GQ; and even the “Doctor of the Decade” by Scientific Information. Dr. Topol is widely recognized as the leading authority on digital medicine and its impact on every branch of healthcare.