Digital therapies and the future of health

Gerry Chillè

The health sector is going through rapid and radical transformation and new technologies are redesigning the way healthcare is delivered, and even conceived of, thanks to the emergence of digital therapies.

Digital therapeutic (DTx) solutions are growing rapidly worldwide, expected at an annual rate of 20.5% over the next six years. According to a report by Allied Market Research the volume of DTx in 2025 will reach $8 billion, with China and the Asia Pacific region as the strongest areas of growth. The main driving force of the investments will be the need to reduce the rise of health costs but also the increasing incidence of chronic diseases among the global population.

This new generation of therapies will bring many benefits to the entire health system, from economic sustainability to first line prevention. Over time they will become more effective and, in many cases, also help reduce the incidence of certain diseases. These benefits are in great part thanks to the fact that digital therapies are designed to be focused on the needs of the patient and, above all, scientifically validated following the same standards that have been used to validate new drugs.

Key players in the world of health are starting to look at this new market with keen interest, along with regulators like the FDA who have begun to recognise digital therapeutics and their medical outcomes. The last two years have seen new digital therapies receive approvals, such as Pear Therapeutics’ reSET mobile application for the treatment of substance abuse and WellDoc’s BlueStar for the management of type 2 diabetes.

Pharmaceutical companies are also starting to become very interested in this market as it represents an opportunity to differentiate their offerings, whilst at the same time providing a way to design personalised solutions to improve individual patients’ outcomes when used in conjunction with existing drugs. The ability of some solutions to improve the outcomes of existing drug therapies is generating strategic alliances between pharma and DTx companies.

For example,  in November 2018 Sandoz signed a partnership with Pear Therapeutics to commercialise the app rerSET, and Otsuka Pharmaceutical partnered with Click Therapeutics in January 2019 to develop and commercialise a prescription digital therapeutic for treating MDD disorder.

Despite the potential of this new generation of medicines, their spread and actual adoption is restrained by a number of challenges, including: HCP awareness and adoption of DTx, correct patient identification, non-existent or inconsistent reimbursement policies, interoperability within health systems, and the absence of common clinical standards and health regulations.

Because of these factors, we are still in  a critical and complex time for digital therapeutics market, which is still mostly uncharted territory. This is the mission of the Digital Therapeutics Alliance which, since its founding in 2017, has been working to create the definition of what a digital therapeutic is and a set of common standards for the sector. An important opportunity to understand how this sector is evolving and how the future of health is being shaped by digital therapies will be at the upcoming Frontiers Health conference, held from 13 to 15 November in Berlin, where many of the most influential DTx companies and other digital health industry experts will participate.

The developments in 2019 open the door to more advances in Digital Therapeutics for next year. We expect that 2020 will accelerate the launch of solutions and the rate of their adoption, thanks to the contributions from all the players in the health innovation ecosystem, and the growing body of guidance and DTx best practices that regulators and industry partners alike are helping to create.

About the author

Gerry Chillè is general partner at Healthware Labs. His professional work has taken him from launching a media production company in NY to broadband digital communications and user experience research for NYNEX Science & Technology (a spin-off division of the famed Bell Labs). From there Gerry transitioned over to the world of digital pharma innovation when, in 2006, he helped design and launch the second ever online patient support community for the US division of a leading global pharmaceutical company. Since those early days Gerry has held various healthcare agency positions as digital strategist and planner, and in 2015 launched HealthwareLabs in NYC, whose mission is to accelerate digital health and therapeutic innovation.