- Pharma companies recently have been pursuing partnerships with digital tech companies as a new avenue for growth, hoping to leverage population health data into improved outcomes.
- Just last week, the Financial Times reported GlaxoSmithKline was in discussions with the American telecommunications firm Qualcomm for a potentially $1 billion joint venture focused on new medical technologies.
- Qualcomm already has partnerships in place with Novartis and Roche, while other companies have teamed up with tech giants such IBM (Novo Nordisk), Google (Sanofi), and Samsung (Medtronic).
With the improvement of cloud computing, wirelessly-connected medical devices can transmit efficacy and use information into large databases, helping companies improve their products. Furthermore, 'smart' medical devices can give patients and doctors greater monitoring capabilities of drug use and health condition.
The opportunities this presents has led to a rapid increase in pharma investment. According to a recent article from Bain & Company, "US venture investment in digital healthcare quadrupled over the past four years, reaching more than $5 billion in 2014."
Many of the joint ventures announced over the past year have focused on chronic conditions, such as diabetes. In June 2015, Medtronic and Samsung announced a partnership aimed at improving diabetes management. The two firms are working first on mobile device applications providing insulin and glucose monitoring for both patients and their healthcare providers.
This partnership was quickly followed by two more: Sanofi and Google Life Sciences in August, and Novo Nordisk and IBM in December. Both of these collaborations are working on improving diabetes care management.
Qualcomm has been at the heart of this trend, teaming up with Novartis, Roche, and now GSK. Its partnership with Novartis will help provide patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease better real-time health data from wireless-enabled inhalers. Roche and Qualcomm, on the other hand, have more open-ended designs, but are similarly focused on developing secure data capture from medical devices.
However, this boom in pairing wireless medical devices with data monitoring presents risks as well. Health information is valuable to hackers and can be used to commit insurance fraud or secure access to drugs, as Reuters reports.
Additionally, wireless-enabled medical devices could potentially be hacked and their functioning disrupted, threatening the health and lives of users. In a particularly notable example, former vice-president Dick Cheney had the wireless capability of his pacemaker disabled so it could not be hacked to kill him.