Digital therapeutics are providing ground-breaking opportunities for health and care systems around the world. Not only do they deliver better insight into health issues, they are also changing how care is delivered, improving the lives of patients with chronic illnesses and delivering innovations to prevent, diagnose and treat ill health.
Last year independent health charity, The King’s Fund, identified eight technologies that it thought would have a transformative impact on healthcare over the next few years. Some are already in use in GP surgeries and hospitals, others are being used by patients in their homes and some are still in the early concept stages. Amongst the eight were smartphone apps, portable diagnostic devices, smart pills or implantable drugs and genome sequencing. Also included in the list were digital therapeutics.
Although definitions vary, in their broadest sense, digital therapeutics are solutions that use primarily consumer grade technology including smartphones and wearables combined with data and behavioural analytics. Interaction between medical professional and patient is delivered through web browsers, apps, or in conjunction with medical devices. Examples range from tailored programmes delivered online to treat insomnia – therefore helping to alleviate anxiety and depression – through to smart asthma inhalers connected with apps that accurately relay environmental information so a patient can see they are at risk, and take preventative action. At their most basic, diagnostic therapeutics assess a patient’s clinically curated data and provide advice to help the individual to deal with their condition. As well as enabling health professionals to treat conditions remotely, this can also be extended to allow patients to communicate with each other online and share their experiences. This process of digital communication and therapy is often cited as a solution to help manage long-term conditions that call for behaviour changes or to prevent diseases in the long run.
It is the growing incidence of chronic diseases coupled with the need to control escalating health costs and a desire to focus on preventative healthcare that is driving the growth in global digital therapeutics. Research suggests that the market will be worth $9.3 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 28.1% over the next four years. It’s therefore no surprise that the UK Government is taking the funding of digital therapeutics very seriously. Last September, it announced its biggest ever investment in health research with a five-year funding package. Millions are being invested in research at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust in a range of novel and translational therapeutics and digital health technology.
In terms of venture capital investment, 2016 was a strong year for the digital health market, despite a small contraction in the capital invested the previous year, according to Rock Health. A record number of companies were funded which suggests a long-term interest in the sector. North America dominates, perhaps because of the seriousness of the healthcare issues the USA faces. There have been major investments over the last few years including $172 million in July 2014 for US-based Proteus Digital Health for the manufacturing and development of its digital medicine products. Other prominent players in the market include AdhereTech, Canary Health and GE Healthcare.
But Europe too has started to see growth in this burgeoning sector. In October 2015 Carrick Therapeutics announced it was launching with $95 million of initial funding. The Dublin-based company has built programmes focused on understanding the mechanisms that cause cancer and resistance, allied with cutting edge technology to identify therapeutics and those who would benefit from them most. In April 2017, Babylon, a British company enabling users to connect with medical professionals for remote consultations raised $60 million in investment to help it integrate artificial intelligence into its solution. Meanwhile, Arthro, the Swedish start-up that focuses on diagnosing and treating osteoarthritis, announced that it had raised $2.2 million in a seed round. Arthro, like many other entrepreneurial ventures, has benefited from the help of StartUp Health. This was launched in 2011 to transform healthcare by organising and investing in entrepreneurs across the world. It has built an international network of over 30,000 innovators, industry leaders and investors who want to support the digital health initiatives that are being designed and launched every day.
Ultimately if digital therapeutics are to succeed, solutions must contain razor-sharp focus on the issues at hand. This means specialist offerings built around the intricacies of common illnesses, solutions that pioneer the treatment of rare diseases, and finally digital therapeutics that perform on a global scale. Medopad is one example of this approach in action and the benefits being provided to NHS trusts, charities and their communities, and researchers that are focused on extremely challenging and rare conditions where every ounce of data is crucial to advancing treatment regimens. The company recently signed a country-wide deployment of patient monitoring for population control that is utilising AI capabilities and digital therapeutics.
There’s little doubt that digital health and therapeutics hold the promise for radically transforming healthcare in the years to come. In a very short time we have progressed from simple wellness apps and wearables like Fitbit. Opportunities for investment are now greater, but also more complex. Many investors in the sector approach the opportunities available to them from a technology perspective, but knowledge of the healthcare system, particularly of our own unique model in the UK, is crucial to gaining a long-term advantage.
Recommendations on how we should use AI, genomics and medtech in the NHS – click here for 98 pages to guide us to the future. ‘The greatest challenge is the culture shift in learning and innovation, with a willingness to embrace technology for system-wide improvement. An ambitious drive “towards the NHS becoming the world’s largest learning organisation”’.
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