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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19500

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Caruana CM
Future pharma: Pharma’s new high-tech toolkit 2011 Apr 19


Claudia M. Caruana examines innovative new ways pharma is using technology to combat counterfeiting, share data, refine sales techniques, and improve R&D

Full text:

Drug counterfeiting endangers patients and takes a big chunk out pharmaceutical profits.

According to global research and consulting company Markers and Markets (M&M), counterfeiting is at least a $670 billion a year business.

So it is no surprise, says Dennis Bryan, chair of the board of directors of the Illinois Pharmacist Association, who has tracked the industry for more than 10 years, that pharma is hitting back hard.

“Radio frequency identification (RFI) is the hottest technology now,” he says, adding that there probably isn’t a pharma company that hasn’t considered it as an important method of putting counterfeiters out of business.

AstraZeneca uses the Track and Trace program, developed by Axway. With the program, all medicine packages manufactured by AstraZeneca are serialized and can be followed from the plant to the distributor to the retail store where a prescription is filled.

Thanks to the RFI tags in every package of medicine manufactured by AstraZenac and other pharmas, Axway is believed to have approximately 100 million serialized data records in its repository, which support global trade identification numbers and global location numbers.

Bryan believes future applications of RFI could also include monitoring individual pills or tablets using nanotechnology, allowing the physician or other healthcare provider to determine if the patient has been compliant. (For more on packaging, see ‘Packaging as a marketing and compliance tool’.)

Securing and sharing data

Pharma and other heavily regulated industries are becoming more mobile, using smartphones and tablets to organize, store, and share confidential data. (For more on pharma and mobile technology, see ‘Will the iPad kickstart a pharma sales and marketing revolution?’.)

The FDA is even getting involved, having recently approved a mobile application that allows physicians to view medical images like CTs, MRIs, and PET scans on their iPhones and iPads.

Because of the industry’s need to manage highly sensitive information, there is also a need for secure mobile devices, applications, and services.

BoxTone is one of several firms that have developed commercial secure software platforms for pharma companies, including Bristol Meyers and Abbott Laboratories.

Brian Reed, vice president, products for mobile service management, says the platform “helps to address the entire mobile lifecycle: mobile device management, support management, operations management, and business management. We set up the system so the client can work with their field personnel, sending data and transferring images securely.”

The firm currently manages more than 800,000 devices for pharma and other industries.

Virtual sales training

Michael Sanzen, partner and executive creative director with Concentric Pharma Advertising, believes virtual reality technology can help pharma sales teams better communicate the value of a particular product. His company produces RepRace, an e-training tool.

“Virtualization communicates just about everything better,” according to Sanzen.

“As our physician customers become more inundated with the increasing burdens of the healthcare process, they have less time to make decisions. They’re being forced to run wellness factories, carefully balancing the needs of patients, payers, and their practices. Virtualization allows us to communicate brand value quickly.”

The training technology puts reps directly into a variety of doctor’s office scenarios.

The goal: Send reps back into the field not just with enhanced brand knowledge but with fine-tuned sales techniques.

Virtual training is a good fit for pharma, Sanzen maintains, because “whenever you’ve got brand representatives dealing directly with customers, you can’t afford to learn by trial and error. Once you’ve negatively impacted a customer, it’s difficult to win that customer back.”

The company’s first RepRace was produced for Bayer (Betaseron) in 2007.

It’s since been rolled out in slightly different forms for other clients, including one for Xifaxan550 at Salix Pharmaceuticals.

“We’re now looking to jump the fence with this technology to help physicians and their staffs learn about the nuances of dealing with a new treatment that represents a paradigm shift in the therapeutic category,” Sanzen explains.

“Physicians are managing their practices like a business and appreciate any assistance they can get from pharma in helping them keep the trains running on time. An advanced therapy, even one that promises a unique advantage, can have a very slow adoption curve if healthcare professionals are asked to upset their practice dynamic to incorporate it.”

One challenge is getting sales, sales training, and marketing to come together to support this kind of technology. If all parties do not embrace it, it tends to fizzle out.

“Our experience has taught us that creating consensus and shared ownership at the conceptual stage of a virtual selling platform is the key to success,” Sanzen says.

Putting R&D online

R&D is critical to the success of pharma, but it can be time-consuming and expensive, especially when there are many false starts. (For more on R&D, see ‘Pharma R&D: Where will the new drugs come from?’, ‘Patent expiration: Innovate or die’, and ‘Will big pharma become a collection of marketing and distribution firms?’.)

R&D has been contracted out and university and government collaborations have been helpful in cutting costs, but there’s another option: externally funded online competitions to jumpstart R&D.
Alph Bingham, co-founder of InnoCentive, says competitions can enhance the diversity of approaches to problem solving, tap minds all around the world, and better manage the failure risks associated with complex innovation.

InnoCentive was originally a new business unit for Eli Lilly but was spun off in 2005 as an independent company.
Challenges are formulated by pharmaceutical and other technical companies and posted on the website The owner of the challenge funds it, and the competition is not limited to American citizens.

Solvers choose their own problems after signing an IP agreement. They can then enter an online project room where they can ask questions and upload proposed solutions.

The submissions are evaluated and, if all criteria are met, the company issuing the challenges pays the agreed-upon fee.

To date, new synthetic routes to pharmaceuticals have been discovered, including tuberculosis therapies that are more viable for use in emerging economies.

A new biomarker to track the onset and progression of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) also has been discovered through the program.

According to Bingham, pharma companies use the program to address issues like safer manufacturing processes, better performing formulations, improved medicine stability, and interpretations of complex data sets.

Most commercial clients opt for confidentiality. In addition to commercial pharma clients, InnoCentive has worked for numerous not-for-profit disease foundations, including Global Alliance for Tuberculosis, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, Prize4Life (ALS), and Harvard Catalyst.

“We live in a highly connected and increasingly open world,” says Bingham.

“Business leaders realize that effective management of this resource involves both internal and external people who can effectively contribute. They appreciate the fact that internal experts better understand the nature of the problem or need, that they comprehend ‘local’ limitations and implementation concerns. But they also know that many times, the best minds for a given task lie outside the walls of the organization and they know the most appropriate mechanisms to find, enroll, and use those resources.”

According to Bingham, the benefit to pharma is fewer task failures, more work accomplished in parallel, and better focus for internal resources.

For patients, that means more attention devoted to unmet medical needs of low commercial benefit, better prices, fewer abandoned medicines, and lower cost medication.

For more on pharma and technology, join the sector’s other key players at Sales Force Effectiveness USA from May 17 to 19 in New Brunswick, NJ.


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