Patient feedback is creating next-gen drug delivery devices

patient feedback

The patient voice has grown in importance, and now it is being applied to develop and deliver more sophisticated drug delivery devices. Ben Hargreaves finds that connected devices can now provide feedback remotely, allowing companies to create more patient-friendly devices, and to enable patients to safely receive complex treatment at home.

Patient centricity has been a major talking point across the industry for a number of years, and the trend does not seem to be fading. In a recent piece for pharmaphorum, uMotif’s CEO, Steve Rosenberg, explained how there are three major ways that the industry will make the patient experience a more central one in clinical research. Rosenberg’s first point was the greater involved of patients in clinical trial design and development, a shift that has been made possible through the voice of the patient, patient advocate organisations, and an industry that is more receptive to this input.

The evolution of applying patient centricity to wider areas of the healthcare system means that the patient’s voice is now being included in areas beyond clinical research. One such area is the rise of taking patient feedback into account when delivering drugs through connected devices – from the design of the devices themselves, to adherence and safety data when the patient receives the treatment. The importance of this is clear – the patient must use and live with the devices every day of their treatment. For the companies, the information is also crucial because the device itself can mean the difference between a patient adhering to their treatment and not taking their treatment regularly enough to be effective. 

Addressing adherence

Patient adherence has always been a discussion in the industry because it is essential, both to patient health and to the business of the companies producing medicine. The broader cost is also significant to society, as research has suggested that between $100 billion and $300 billion of avoidable healthcare costs can be attributed to non-adherence in the US each year.

Despite this being a constant conversation, the methods of ensuring greater adherence to treatments has taken off as a broader conversation in recent years. The understanding of the importance of bringing patients on-board with their own treatment journey has created the movement towards patient centricity. Additionally, there are now more options to help patients from their own home. With the rise of connected digital drug devices, the amount of feedback that can be provided to healthcare professionals (HCPs) and to the patients themselves has never been higher.

Patient input

To understand pharma companies’ approach towards working with patient feedback, pharmaphorum spoke to Emre Ozcan, global head of digital health at Merck KGaA about how the company is focused on ‘patient directedness’, and how this is applied to its connected device design.

“As a biopharma company, we’re trying to do a lot more beyond the molecules. That means thinking about the patient journeys, the therapy provision, and what does a patient do in real-life, in terms of adherence. For this, patient directedness is the lighthouse […] What we mean by patient directness is using myriad methodologies to get the input, engage with the patients, and test the device with the patients,” Ozcan explained.

In terms of what this looks like in practice, Ozcan outlined how there are four keys stages to the process of generating and receiving feedback to be applied to device design. The first of these is obvious: to talk to the patient, and this also extends to patient organisations. The second involves working with nurses and clinicians to understand their perspective on how devices are used. The third step is observing how the patients interact with the device in-person, rather than how patients explain their use of the device. Ozcan noted that this can be important because there can be a difference between what is said to be desirable, and the reality of what is actually helpful. 

Lastly, the company works with real-world evidence to provide feedback on how the devices are used, when, and also for providing more information on how patients could be struggling with them. This latter point is where the power of the data-generation of devices provides a major advantage in adapting them to the user’s needs. Ozcan stated that tens of thousands of patients’ usage data can be received and this can be fed back into the design process to make further iterations of devices more intuitive. As a result, it is possible to record various data points, such as what speed of injection is used, and what features are used or ignored, to tweak future designs.

Enabling patient convenience

Aside from feedback as part of the design process, active input from patients during the treatment process can ensure that they are able to receive the treatment at home, with active symptom monitoring. Two companies that recently came together to create improved drug delivery devices through a digital platform are Aptar Digital Health and Gerresheimer. Together, the companies are looking to create an integrated device that utilises Aptar’s digital health platform and Gerresheimer’s on-body device for the subcutaneous delivery of biologic medicine.

According to the partners, the aim of the collaboration was to improve the patient experience in oncology by creating a more ‘patient-centric’ solution. So it was that pharmaphorum reached out to Sai Shankar, president of Aptar Digital Health, for more information on the partnership and how the combination of expertise will offer patients an improved patient experience. 

Shankar said: “The patient experience with subcutaneous injections can be impacted by several factors, such as needle fear, lack of confidence in self-administration, or injection errors. Digital solutions address these pain points by providing tailored support to patients and caregivers during onboarding. Furthermore, once the treatment is initiated, it can help improve medication and disease management. Regulated solutions […] can even deliver personalised support for the management of treatment or treatment-related symptoms.”

In terms of why there is a need for such a solution, Shankar stated that there is a growing trend towards both enhancing patient convenience, and enabling treatment to be made available at the hospital and at home. With this push for options to receive treatments at home, there follows a greater need to monitor treatment adherence and safety for the patients, which is where digital feedback can be crucial. The data can then be transferred to the healthcare team - in Aptar’s case, through web portal or through Electronic Health Record integrations - allowing for remote monitoring. Shankar stated that Aptar’s platform allows for the combination of modules for treatment tracking, such as medication adherence, trigger detection and analysis, symptoms tracking and management, educational material, and dosing support.

The ability for the on-body device to be linked with a digital platform that can then provide feedback to HCPs dovetails with Ozcan’s view of the future of treatment and device design: “The future trend [across the industry] will be more digital, more patient-orientation, more tailoring and personalisation, which is also going to impact the device-side of treatment. Everything will be tailored to the individual in many ways and, with bioelectronics, I think it’s going to be a matter of unique devices that are an extension of our bodies.”