March 26, 2020

Digital Therapeutics, Clinical Trials, Barcelona

Chandana Fitzgerald
Hanna Phelan

HealthXL and Almirall were lucky to  have had a chance to run this event back in February in person in Barcelona prior to the COVID-19 escalation, and wish everybody in Spain and beyond well during these tough times. Below is a roundup of the discussions we had with some of the prominent leaders in health.

Connecting with digital health leaders and learning the current processes shaping the industry is at the centre of all our events. HealthXL Global Gathering in Barcelona was an invite-only event of the world’s leading healthcare innovators. 

We focused the discussions on two key themes - educating each other about the opportunities Barcelona presents in being a conducive health hub, and asking some of the ‘real’ questions on digital therapeutics payment models.

Barcelona as a Digital Health Hub

What we learnt: 

Barcelona is not only known for its architecture, food and beaches, but also for its advancements in biotech research, healthcare services and a thriving start-up scene. In this session we explored through the eyes of the local movers and shakers why Barcelona is the right place to be for digital health, what opportunities it presents, and outline some of the successes to date.

Frederic Llordachs, Co-founder of Doctoralia, shed light on the successes of his company’s clinical connection service and the facilitative environment for this success found in Barcelona. The strong Barcelona pull factors were also energetically highlighted by Mateu Hernandez CEO of Barcelona Global who made an excellent case for the affordability, accessibility and research acumen drawing in the global community of digital health innovators. Barcelona was flagged as being highly accessible for the large hospitals to open their own innovation departments as it is more affordable than other cities in Europe - serving as an excellent test bed for innovations in a real world environment and providing a reasonably priced, highly educated workforce.

A testament to the potential of Barcelona was the quickfire showcase of the first cohort selected for the Almirall Digital Garden. These first start-ups have been chosen for the 9-month acceleration program based in the beautiful and historical settings of the Barcelona Health Hub.

The Digital Garden powered by Almirall, allows startups focused on developing innovative technology-based services and solutions to play a relevant role in tackling dermatology challenges. Led by Francesca Wuttke, CDO of Almirall, the Digital Garden differentiates from other accelerators by taking no equity in the companies accepted into the program and has been built for success by closely studying other programs working to accelerate startup innovations elsewhere in the sector.  Internal leaders from various groups at Almirall serve as voluntary mentors to these start-ups as well. 

This first cohort will be ready to graduate to Venture funding in September armed with complete business cases and a partnership willingness and know-how.This session made a strong case to all stakeholder groups for coming to Barcelona for a business card and not just a postcard! While Jorge Fernandez, Director of Innovation at EIT was also positive about the potential of Barcelona as a focal point for digital health development, areas for improvement were also flagged, including the need for increased transformative initiatives and a breakdown of legacy silos of expertise. 

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Digital Therapeutics: Modalities of Deployment and How to Get Paid 

What we learnt: 

The excitement around promising new modalities enabling the delivery of much needed DTx offerings was matched with a realisation around all the unknowns that still remain around DTx reimbursement and regulation. The recent German Digital Health Act was mentioned by multiple panelists and speakers as being a potentially promising precedent for other European countries to follow as a framework. 

Dr John Reeves CEO and Founder of Conversation Health and Tommy Kok Annfeldt of Biogen gave an insightful presentation on how Life Sciences are starting to leverage voice enabled DTx solutions. Three fundamental ways that conversational AI will power DTx according to Dr Reeves will be: 

  1. Newfound access, reach and frequency of clinical insights and interaction
  2. Transformation from flat text to deeper meaningful interactive conversations
  3. AI will complement current services with the aim of cutting costs and increasing coverage 

It was recognised by the group of experts we had on stage and in the audience that DTx holds the potential to take out a lot of cost from the system by meaningfully treating comorbidities but there remains a concern that it has become a buzzword. 

The DTx state of the nation panel saw some hard hitting questions fielded by Lisa Suennen to some very capable panelists in the form of Jessica Shull, Digital Therapeutics Alliance, Celine Ullman, Almirall, and Anish Shindore, Sanofi. Who is being reimbursed? What pathways have they taken and how can the successes and failures be truly translated into action. We walked away learning that we probably need to ask the payment questions sooner than later, and that DTx companies should start befriending health economic outcomes studies.

Beats Medical, Kaia Health, Psious and Bold Health - all featured in the DTx innovators panel discussion described how they are navigating the health plan space via either self pay or co-pay by their insurer. There was consensus that we need to try and think integratively in light of these traditional pathways. We need to combine the tech, the service economics and the context of the patient continually. This signals a shift in new dynamics of the relationship between patients, caregivers and physicians. 

We aspire to continue these very necessary and relevant conversations albeit perhaps virtually in the coming months. We were glad to have had a chance to run this event in person in Barcelona prior to the COVID-19 escalation, and wish everybody in Spain well during these tough times.

HERE is a lighter version with pictures, anecdotes and speakers from the day. 

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