10 disruptive technologies that will transform pharma


Bertalan Mesko highlights some of the key trends that are set to change our approach to health and wellbeing – and the way pharma does business.

It's fascinating to witness how disruptive innovations can truly change the way healthcare is delivered and medicine is practised. Enormous technological changes are heading our way.

However, if they hit us unprepared – which we are now – they will wash away the medical system we know and leave it purely a technology-based service with no personal interaction. Such a complicated system should not be allowed to just wash away; it should be consciously and purposely redesigned, piece by piece. If we are unprepared for the future, then this opportunity will be lost.

When I speak to pharma companies I tell them they need to act now or they will lose business, or even be left with no business at all. I try to underscore this radical statement by highlighting the following trends and examples:

1) Empowered patients who become equal partners with their caregivers hack the whole healthcare system. These 'E-patients' will want to get into clinical trials. Some even acquire biotech companies to run their own trials.

2) Health gamification, which makes it easier to motivate everyone to live more healthily. The incentives pharma companies are currently using to motive patients and medical professionals to use a certain product are obsolete. They need to turn to gamification to reach people where they are online, which can help improve both adherence and pharma's image.

3) Augmented reality and virtual reality with devices such as Google Glass or Oculus Rift give us a new view of the world through digital information. If you have ever had a chance to use a virtual reality device, you can compare the attractiveness of information on a website with seeing how a drug works in 3D and realise the potential that virtual reality holds for pharma.

4) Genomics and truly personalised medicine to enable us to receive therapy individually customised to our own genetic background. I own a huge text file containing my DNA data. I can take it to my doctor and hope to receive personalised drugs instead of the blockbusters that are manufactured for millions of people even though we are all genetically and metabolically different.

5) Body sensors, inside and out, that measure health parameters in a comfortable and cheap way to provide crucial data. The success of clinical trials largely depends on how medical professionals collect data about their patients. Imagine this being solved and made constant and automatic by increasing use of health sensors.


"Citizen scientists like Jack Andraka, who developed a really disruptive pancreatic cancer test, can change the whole game"



6) 'Do it yourself' biotechnology that generates a new generation of scientists who see no limitations in research. The biggest drug ideas have come from large institutions, but this era might be over as citizen scientists like Jack Andraka, who developed a really disruptive pancreatic cancer test, can change the whole game in a speciality.

7) The 3D printing revolution that can manufacture medical prostheses, equipment, and pharmaceuticals. A Scottish group has been working on printing out drugs in 3D with a printer. Imagine getting a blueprint of a customised drug in a customised dosage related to your genomic background and that a local pharmacy could print it out for you, all without the participation of big pharma.

8) The end of human experimentation through detailed simulation of human physiology. We live in a barbaric era when new drugs are tested on actual people. What if thousands of drug targets could be tested on billions of simulations modelling the physiology of the human body in seconds with supercomputers?

9) Medical decision making with artificial intelligence, using the power of supercomputers in everyday medicine. Cognitive computers, such as IBM Watson, have been used in many ways to analyse big data, not only in genomic research but also in biotechnology. This will change the way new drugs are found.

10) Nanorobots in our blood that can make early diagnoses by measuring any health parameters. If the technology of transporting drugs to the actual cellular targets in nanocages becomes viable, the pharma industry will have to start producing different end products to make sure they are compatible with nanotechnology.

Nestlé has started focusing on 3D printing of food at home. We don't print out food yet, but by the time we do, the company will be ready, with a whole division dedicated to developing business models, experts and specialist products. The pharmaceutical industry is still in time to reap rewards too. But it needs to act now in order to stay in business when the tsunami of disruptive technologies reaches us.

About the author:

Bertalan Mesko, MD, PhD is a medical futurist who envisions the next trends for companies and governments to ensure that a mutually positive relationship between the human touch and innovative technologies will rule the future of healthcare. He is an international speaker, consultant, geek physician with a PhD in genomics, and founder of Webicina.com.

He is the author of the recent book The Guide to the Future of Medicine. He has given hundreds of presentations at institutions including Yale, Stanford and Harvard universities and the World Health Organization, along with the Futuremed course organised by the Singularity University at NASA. His work has been cited by CNN.com, the World Health Organization, National Geographic, Forbes, TIME, the BBC, the New York Times and Wired Science, among others.

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Interview: medical futurist Bertalan Mesko

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Linda Banks

4 June, 2015