Daily Management Review

'Fantastic Voyage' to Fight Disease Brings Pharma and Tech Closer


'Fantastic Voyage' to Fight Disease Brings Pharma and Tech Closer
The rising trend of using high-tech devices that combine biology, software and hardware to tackle chronic diseases, the line between pharmaceuticals and technology is blurring as varying companies join forces.
Unveiling a new joint company on Monday that aims to market bioelectronic devices to fight illness by attaching to individual nerves, GlaxoSmithKline and Google parent Alphabet are the latest to share expertise.
'Fantastic Voyage', the 1966 sci-fi film in which a submarine is shrunk to fix an injured scientist's brain, reminds one of the plan to wrap a grain-sized electronic collar around nerves sounds.
However the boundaries in medical tech in this way are being pushed by other companies as well.
Early benefits of both to tackle inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and suppress appetite in the obese by the use of bioelectronics have been shown by U.S. biotech firms Setpoint Medical and EnteroMedics.
Others are miniaturizing technology in different ways.
While Proteus Digital Technology is working with drugmakers on pills with embedded microchips that measure drug usage, Medtronic sells a well-established camera-in-a-pill as an alternative to colonoscopies. Smart inhalers are being developed by makers of lung treatments.
"It's an area that hotting up pretty fast because the technology is moving so fast," said Hilary Thomas, chief medical adviser at KPMG.

As the Swiss-based Novartis, which is working with the U.S. group on a smart contact lens with an embedded glucose sensor to help monitor diabetes, turned to tech experts at Alphabet, many of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies have turned to tech experts as well.
While Biogen is working with the tech giant to study the progression of multiple sclerosis, Sanofi also has a diabetes deal with Alphabet.
The combination of pharmaceuticals and technology will eventually be "front and center" in disease management, Novartis Chief Executive Joe Jimenez has said.
In situations when it comes to finding new ways for patients to monitor their own health and track chronic conditions using smart devices, many technology companies are pushing hard into the healthcare arena.
Health-related applications for a new wave of wearable products are being researched by businesses such as Apple  and Samsung Electronics, along with Alphabet.
Accurate monitoring using wearables will dovetail with a drive to offer so-called value-based healthcare, believe technology and pharmaceutical companies alike.
The appeal to such medicines to cost-conscious insurers would be enhanced as the aim is to prove that medicines can keep large groups of patients healthy. Hence offering services that go beyond routine drug prescriptions is a major incentive for drugmakers.
According to Kris Famm, the GSK scientist who has been appointed president of the new jointly owned GSK-Alphabet company Galvani Bioelectronics, real-time feedback on how patients are doing is one of the benefits of bioelectronics.
"It will really help us hone the intervention. This is almost the epicenter of convergence because the technology is not only helping you to monitor a disease but it is also actually the therapy," he said.
The assurance that the new medicine can deliver the kind of benefits to overall clinical outcomes that proponents hope and the need for multi-year clinical trials to prove that the new technologies are safe are however some of the hurdles ahead for this segment.