Ipsen: future of healthcare is digital – but some at risk of being left behind

Digital technology is revolutionising healthcare and communication between doctors, patients and pharma, but there is a real risk of creating a “two speed” healthcare system where ‘offline’ patients will miss out on engagement and vital information.

That was the warning from Marc de Garidel, the chief executive of specialist pharma company Ipsen, speaking to pharmaphorum following the Doctors 2.0 & YOU conference.

Giving a presentation on how technology is transforming healthcare at the conference in Paris, de Garidel said his company was embracing the possibilities of digital communication

Pointing to the importance of social media, he commented on how these patients now have far easier access to a wealth of scientific and health information, and can express their opinions and concerns either individually or through patient advocacy groups. However, he added, “high level scientific data can’t be understood by all; we have to work not to create a two speed medicine”.

Research done into ‘digital health literacy’ in Europe confirms these trends.

A pan-European survey carried out for the EU by TNS Political & Social network two years ago found many respondents used the internet for finding out about their health, but found huge variation between age groups and between countries.

Not surprisingly, younger people were much more likely to use the internet every day: 84% of 15-24 year-olds did so, compared to only 34% of people aged 55 and over – even though this age group uses health services most.

Moreover, the survey also found that while 63% of people in a good state of health used the internet every day, only 37% of people in a poor state of health did so.

Finally, the level of usage varied between countries: respondents in the Netherlands (94%), Denmark (92%) and Sweden (92%) were the most likely to say they used the internet over the last 12 months. Conversely, use was much lower in Romania (65%), Slovenia (70%) and Bulgaria (71%).

Ultimately de Garidel believes digital tools will play a key role in the relationships of stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem in the years to come, notably the way in which pharma companies interact with patients. From the patient point of view it means greater access to healthcare information while, for pharma, it relates to transparency and disease awareness.

From Ipsen’s perspective, says de Garidel, “we use social listening to detect low signals or pharmacovigilance alerts, and ad hoc social media studies to deepen our understanding of a specific disease or symptom. This helps us nourish our beyond-the-pill strategy with new services or compounds.”

Aside from its activities on social media, Ipsen’s first move into this field involved digitalising paper-based systems and training materials and deploying virtual medical scientific liaison in Europe. This has already demonstrated good results, de Garidel notes, driving up attention, satisfaction and service quality.

There are also huge benefits in clinical and R&D, and Ipsen is looking at improving key steps in its R&D strategy, particularly Phase III studies that rely heavily on healthcare professionals by deploying a tablet-based application to collect clinical data more easily.

Key five year plan

Giving an insight into Ipsen’s wider business goals, de Garidel says the firm plans to position itself as one of the fastest growing pharma companies in the world over the coming five years, with a focus on endocrinology, neurosciences and oncology based on two scientific platforms – peptides and toxins.

“We want to become a leader in key therapeutic areas such as neuroendocrine tumours and spasticity,” says de Garidel.

One major development was the US approval of Ipsen’s Dysport (abobotulinumtoxin A) in adult upper limb spasticity and in many European countries last year. And the drug is also filed with the US Food and Drug Administration for paediatric lower limb spasticity, which looks set to be the first company in the world to get approval in this indication.

In oncology, where Ipsen has a strong heritage, the company aims to focus on prostate and bladder cancer and in niche oncology diseases, in addition to its stronghold in neuroendocrine tumours.

“Ipsen aims to become a leader in the treatment of neuroendocrine tumours and to improve patient outcomes at each stage of the disease to cover the full spectrum of neuroendocrine tumour management while providing theranostic solutions to patients.” de Garidel added. To this end, the firm has filed for US approval of telotristat etiprate for the treatment of symptomatic neuroendocrine tumours with partner Lexicon, with a potential launch slated for 2017.

In bladder cancer, the firm has acquired a breakthrough technology to improve the detection and surgical removal of non-invasive tumours, which de Garidel says represents a significant improvement for urologists and their patients. In addition to this, the compound Ipsen acquired from Exelixis outside of North America and Japan is an oral drug that has already shown significant results in advanced renal cell carcinoma in three key clinical endpoints – overall survival, progression-free survival and objective response rate.

Meanwhile, Ipsen aims to remain active in M&A thanks to a clean balance sheet and a 600 million euro pot to fund acquisitions at a time when prices are lower after the biotech bubble burst last year and the industry continues to consolidate driven by payer pressure in key global markets.