San Francisco, CA — Baba Shetty, Syneos Health Commercial Solutions Chief Strategy Officer, conducted a leading-edge panel on digital therapeutics, or DTx, at the 2019 Digital Medicine and MedTech showcase.  DTx are software programs that can be prescribed in the same way as conventional medications, to prevent or treat diseases. Shetty’s panel featured DTx developers, investors, and other healthcare experts, all of whom believe that DTx represent a revolution in medicine. While the field is still young, panelists demonstrated that the amount of progress in the past few years—which is staggering—bodes well for patients, providers, and developers. The speed at which these therapies are being developed made one of Shetty’s questions particularly interesting: where will DTx be in five years?

“Five years from now, hopefully, we’ll have a whole portfolio of digital therapeutics,” said Ed Kliphuis, Investment Director at M Ventures and investor in DTx brand Akili Interactive. Kliphuis highlighted that, because DTx are unique, and so novel, it would be difficult for anyone else, even tech giants, to acquire and develop them. Accordingly, he thinks that companies like the DTx brands represented on Shetty’s panel will become giants in their own right. “What both Pear and Akili are doing is developing the direct-to-consumer pathway, developing market access, which has never been done before. Once those channels are open—once the environment has been shaped in user adoption and reimbursement—we expect it will be a completely different environment and a thriving industry. So, we foresee that some of the companies here will become the champions in their own domain.”

Digital Therapeutics Alliance Executive Director Megan Coder emphasized that DTx regimens will be seen as routine, as the number of indications for them continues growing. “DTx will just be seen as a therapeutic option, like e-banking is an option,” she said. “These will be built into formularies and utilization management processes and step therapy.”

Echoing Coder’s thoughts, Susan Cantrell, CEO of the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, also expressed optimism about DTx being viewed as routine in the near future. She added that, “One other important group, given the nature of some of the products, is employers. I see employers as a strong potential partner in making the value proposition and really pushing for utilization and uptake of DTx.”

Vincent Hennemand, Vice President of Strategy at Akili, focused on the new medical frontiers that DTx will open up. “DTx will be prescribed to treat indications that are not treatable today,” he said, highlighting that the cognitive impairment experienced by multiple sclerosis patients—which DTx will be able to treat—reflects an unmet need. 

While hesitant to quantify exactly how long this might take, Hennemand said, “There will be a solution, and it will be DTx. That’s a pretty good revolution.”

And DTx will also combat one of the health care community’s greatest vexes: medication adherence. “I have never been less worried about adherence,” said Yuri Maricich, Chief Medical Officer of Pear Therapeutics. “We know if patient is using the product or not and whether it’s working. We have dashboards all over our office. All the people can see how many patients have been prescribed, how many inputted their access codes, what is the use for every module, for every aspect of the product. To me that’s exciting.” 

“In five years,” Maricich continued, “I hope we won’t have to say ‘digital’ anything, just like people don’t have to say ‘I take my small molecule drug.’  Maybe people will just say ‘I take my medication.’ I’m looking forward to that.”

Our Perspective

Patient-centricity has been a health care buzzword for some time, with brands clamoring to provide more and more personalized experiences to their customers. But DTx brands are able to create new therapies based entirely around what a patient needs and, accordingly, the opportunities for patient-centricity afforded by DTx far surpass anything developers could achieve in the past. As Maricich explained, “Today we find a molecule, then search for the right diseases application based on mechanism of action.  But now we can go to payers now and say ‘what is your most costly population, what is the group of patients that have no patients?’ Let’s start with the patient first, and work backwards…we’ll use all of that to have digital therapeutics be tailored.  So that rather than just treating depression as an enormous monolithic disease, we’ll have products focused on a particular patient—almost as an n=1.” Revolutionary, to be sure.

Brands will seek to speed these game-changing DTx to patients in need. To achieve that, they’ll have to create marketing and messaging that keeps apace of their own innovation.

Check back here in the coming weeks for more perspectives about digital therapeutics: what they look like and what’s needed to make them available to the public. You can read an executive summary of our upcoming report by clicking here.

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.