Digital is disrupting pharmaceutical companies at their very core: product development and commercial operations. We explore this transformation with Andrew “AJ” Ploszay, Ph.D., GlaxoSmithKline’s global head of digital innovation and strategic partnerships and Brad Ansley, Director of SPI Health.
“Everyone in the U.S. [pharmaceutical industry] is, if not contemplating, actively taking strategic efforts to either mitigate and/or attempt to bear the risk,” says Dr. Ploszay whose team leads global efforts to leverage digital disruption as an organic and inorganic growth opportunity. Ploszay is referring to population health risk integrated delivery networks, health systems, and physician practices have begun to accept in their Medicare and commercial payer relationships. Research from the College of Pharmacy at the University of Florida has shown that shared risk contracts lower overall pharmaceutical spending.
Robert Navarro, Pharm.D., a clinical professor of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy at the UF College of Pharmacy reports, “While drug prices may increase, these shared-risk contracts help reduce the net cost of providing expensive new drugs to patients.” Sales process expert Brad Ansley points out the commercial implications, “Pharmaceutical sales representatives need to come with situational fluency, understanding how IDNs and ACOs work and the business acumen to help solve critical business or practice issues.” Digital has implications in every aspect of a pharmaceutical company’s core capabilities. Emerging technologies enable chemical or biological treatments to be distributed in digitally-enabled products, allowing healthcare providers, patients, and the pharma companies themselves to understand how a product is used. How patients use (or don’t use) prescribed treatments are poorly understood. Digital drug delivery technologies shine a light into that blind spot.
“We are currently running clinical trials with some of our existing medications,” shares Ploszay about a project with Propeller Health, a delivery device which reports when asthma medication is taken by the patient. “This gives us a flashlight into that black hole. We could start to know whether or not someone is taking the prescribed medication and how that relates to their health status. The health care system at large has never had access to that data so that’s a really interesting place for us.” This digitization of pharmaceutical treatments not only changes how a company discovers, develops and manufactures medicines, it also changes the commercialization and sales process. For example, physicians and other healthcare providers no longer spend time with sales reps to learn about new products. They find this information online. Sales have now become a much more complex process of engaging with decision-making committees focused on price and patient outcomes.
“There’s been a decrease in sales representatives from about 112,000 down to 70,000 because it’s no longer individual stakeholders,” remarks Ansley, whose SPI Health assists pharma, device, and other healthcare suppliers adapting to the new commercial paradigm. “Instead, health systems and other organizations have committees with an outcomes-based mentality which fundamentally changes sales discussions from features/function/benefit to solving practical business issues and increase patient outcomes.”
These same trends also apply to the ways pharmaceutical companies connect directly with consumers. A growing portion of pharma manufacturers seeks to improve the quality of their consumer data and to be better at digital engagement. These trends . . . shared-risk arrangements, digitally-enabled drug delivery, more personalized consumer engagement . . . suggest a very different role for traditional pharmaceutical companies. “I think this is really an existential question,” says Ploszay. “Pharmaceutical companies have historically discovered, developed and manufactured medicines but might we pivot to be health outcomes companies? That is a fundamentally different entity.”