Digiceuticals could replace prescription drugs

KEY TAKEAWAY: There are many candidates: at least 150 firms globally are developing some form of “digital therapeutic”.  Unlike other sorts of digital health apps, digiceuticals have been tested for efficacy, approved by regulatory agencies such as the FDA and are prescribed by a doctor.

Pharma firms and venture capitalists remain overly cautious on digiceuticals. Only a few drugmakers have invested in startups, but the idea that an app could replace a prescription drug has to be frightening to an industry that clings to dated business models.  

Some digiceuticals will work better alongside conventional drugs, rather than on their own—opening up possibilities for alliances between tech and pharma firms but is pharma really designed to explore the integration?  Not right now.

Then there are patients. Many patients will find it hard to believe that apps can be as effective as a pill.  An area of attention is medication for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), on which Americans spend $14bn annually. Akili Interactive recently completed a trial showing that a computer game it has developed to treat ADHD can improve attention and inhibitory control in children.

The key to digiceuticals may be HCP’s not patients.  App makers, along with the FDA, have to convince doctors that the apps really work and that patients will use them as directed.  As we have seen before many patients are reluctant to enter data or check health apps on a regular basis, but analysts estimate that the market for digiceuticals will be worth a modest $9bn by 2025.

One thing is for certain digiceuticals are coming and rather than sit on the sidelines pharma needs to start to aligning the organization NOW and start experimenting.  Of course the threat of apps replacing prescription drugs could be pharma’s worst nightmare but then change is often forced upon those that don’t look at the future.

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