Education, Partnerships, Technology and Opportunity: The Building Blocks for Advancing Digital Therapeutics

by | Jan 31, 2022 | Blog


LOREEN BROWN  |  Global Head, Digital Patient Support Solutions]

The healthcare industry is trying to navigate its way through a modern digital revolution. Today’s progress with digital health platforms, software, tools and devices creates huge opportunities and value, and more importantly, improves patient outcomes. However, it also creates a huge shift in the traditional pharma model. Combining digital therapeutics with drug therapies is quite complex and adoption is quite challenging given the many barriers in and relatively new field.

In light of those challenges, I recently had the wonderful opportunity to moderate a timely discussion at AMG World’s Virtual Digital Therapeutics Global conference to discuss “Education, Partnerships, Technology and Opportunity: The Building Blocks for Advancing Digital Therapeutics” with some of the best and brightest experts in the DTx space. Megan Coder, (VP of Global Policy, Digital Therapeutics Alliance), Walter Greenleaf, PhD, (Neuroscientist, Virtual Reality, and Digital Health Expert, Virtual Human Interaction Lab, Stanford University), Basker Gummadi, (Senior Director Digital Therapeutics, Bristol Myers Squibb), Dominick Kennerson, (Digital & Commercial Innovation, Global Head G4A Digital Health Partnerships, Bayer) and Smit Patel, (Director of Digital Medicine, DIME, Digital Medicine Society) shared their insights and expertise regarding the importance of developing strategic partnerships with key stakeholders to create value and develop new commercial opportunities.

Our discussion focused on how best to create and implement digital therapeutics within the somewhat fragmented environment. The panelists described the importance of taking a collaborative approach to embracing emerging technology and innovation for the continued development and accelerated advancement of DTx. Several times we heard “a rising tide lifts all ships,” as the group agreed that the sharing of best practices and true collaboration is what is needed to tackle the many obstacles to utilization and reimbursement of these products. When the industry works collaboratively on pre-competitive topics (eg, how best to address quality, reimbursement, global impact, etc), the culmination of bringing together numerous perspectives and unique views can produce valuable discussions to help unite the group and solve difficult problems.

Megan Coder emphasized that she works daily at DTA help to “rise the tide” by expanding the understanding, adoption, and integration of clinically evaluated DTx with patients, clinicians, payors, policymakers through education, advocacy, and cross-industry collaboration. The focus has shifted from their original focus of “what is a DTx” to how do policy makers create the right frameworks, how do payers approach DTx, how, when do clinicians prescribe DTx and what is the patient experience.

From his personal experience Walter Greenleaf shared an example of industrial collaboration in the 1980’s in Silicon Valley. This was a time when the surge of tech companies (eg, Apple, Intel, Google) was moving at warp speed, and rather than keep learnings to themselves, these companies shared their discoveries, worked together and cross-licensed their technologies grow the entire industry. Similarly in the 90’s, the gaming industry at that time was quite small, but the game developers realized that in order to grow into the multi-billion industry that it is today, they needed to work together – which they did to develop the platforms, the shared heuristics, the motifs and to some extent to even self-regulate aspects of their industry. In a more recent example, Walter discussed leveraging DTx to enhance, improve and accelerate clinical trials for not only manufacturers, but patient and providers, as well.

IMPACT, the virtual first medical practice collaboration, is a another great example of recent collaboration that spun out of healthcare processes disrupted by COVID. DiMe and the American Telemedicine Association in partnership with leading virtual first care (V1C) companies, investors, payers, patients, and actuaries created a pre-competitive consortium dedicated to supporting V1C companies and their commitment to patient-centric care. One output of that group is the open-sourced Payer-V1C Contracting Toolkit, which provides a fit-for-purpose guide that can be used when contracting with VIC solutions, offering a vital resource to accelerate the adoption of V1C and thus improve outcomes, access, and patient experience.

We also discussed the importance of including the patient in these collaborations. Including the patient in design thinking is key according to Basker Gummadi to gain techniques to better understand the social, emotional, and physical needs of the users and then turn those needs into human-centered solutions. To expand on that thinking, Dominick Kennerson suggested we consider taking a more people-focused approach when it comes to design. Most people don’t see themselves as patients, even if they are managing a chronic disease, until they must go to the hospital. For example, people with CGM devices on their phones don’t necessarily consider themselves as patients, but rather as people managing their health. Thinking in this manner can also help improve scalability, similar to how Apple designs a phone more holistically for a billion people on the planet.

In order to be able to scale quickly and easily to get people the care, treatment and equal access they need and deserve, standardization is essential. And while standardization may sound boring, Megan explained that the impact it can have is anything but. As payers, policymakers, health systems, etc. craft their own requirements for access to DTx, a huge divergence has occurred, which is overwhelming the system and hampering use and scalability. Populations, regardless of where they live, what language they speak and what entity covers their care, should have access to the same level of quality care and treatments. This is where standardization gets exciting! Collaborating with relevant stakeholders to have discussions, set expectations and create universal principles and guidelines related to DTx, allows for forward progress to be made. As such, DTx are increasingly being recognized and adopted into national frameworks around the world to improve patient care. DTA has developed country-specific resources to educate patients, clinicians, policymakers, and payors about DTx products and their value across global regions.

In addition, Walter spoke of the emerging use of wearable sensors and AR/VR systems that provide experiences to users and creates a new generation of assessments to measure cognitive function and emotional status. To leverage these new ways to assess our mood, cognition and behaviors, we need standards to capture the real value of these novel measurements. While the amazing work these organizations are doing is definitely moving the needle, no one would deny that more work needs to be done to advance the field of Digital Therapeutics. Check out the video above to hear the entire roundtable discussion!