Podcast #4: The World of Pharma and Digital Health: Pill, Pill Plus, Plus?
A long journey from Ukraine to New Jersey, Eugene Borukhovich had explored the entrepreneur in him during his younger college days - raking in the moolah with a ‘multi dimensional marketing’ idea prior to the dot com boom. However, this failed to satisfy his hunger for impact. Fast forward many different jobs including Metco and Health 2.0 that taught him valuable lessons he uses today, Eugene has leveraged his skills in technology, business and education to build his healthcare career.
It’s a whirlwind discussion as he unveils his thoughts on the American PBM model, on changing dynamics (moving from one who wanted to seek out large companies to one who gets seeked out now), innovative pharma companies, margins on digital health assets, his favorite start-ups and more!
As Eugene would describe it, ‘’one dark night in Berlin’’, he met the founder of Grants for Apps (G4A) and decided to join them. The G4A Program incubates start-ups that Bayer helps shape into tangible, meaningful products and companies (helping them with everything from receiving investment, to finding the right partners for R&D or commercialization) . The early stage accelerator that started in Berlin has since spread through franchises across the globe, spearheaded by passionate individuals within Bayer. His favourite start up from last year’s cohort is Kinaptic that does muscle memory training for stroke rehab using augmented reality.
We simply had to ask - Is Pharma building a brand new franchise with these digital assets? The jury is still out. With a multitude of possibilities - just pill, pill plus, just ‘plus’. There are critical questions to be answered, esp in relation to profitability and margins that may help understand what bets pharma will place - how will existing drug therapies compare with digital therapies? Eugene may not have all the answers, but he certainly leaves us with enough food for thought. As a pharmaceutical company, the one to succeed in absorbing this new identity as a tech-enabled drug maker will be the one who learns the quickest, makes changes the quickest and show significant outcomes.
If not for this kick ass job, you would find Eugene with his wifey tag teaming on her health coaching initiatives to help people live healthier and longer. Sweet answer for a Russian six footer.
About Eugene: Eugene Borukhovich is a serial intra and entrepreneur currently serving as a Global Head of Digital Health (G4A) at Bayer. He is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at Personal Health Solutions (PHS) Capital, as well as an advisor to numerous digital health startups. Eugene enjoys mentoring startups and an avid blogger about innovation, digital health and startups. He can be found at @HealthEugene or HealthEugene.com
Story snapshot: This month, Biofourmis announced the acquisition of Biovotion. The acquisition includes all of Biovotion's assets, including the Everion biosensor and 60+ global patents, covering most of the wearable and sensor technology that exists for the arm or hand, as well as Biovotion's staff, partners, and clients. On top of this, Biofourmis have just announced a partnership with Novartis on the use of a predictive analytics platform (BiovitalsHF) in combination with the Everion sensor to monitor heart failure patients.
Why is it notable?
Biofourmis have now established themselves as a very strong contender in the digital therapeutics and predictive analytics market, combining their data platform with a well established clinical-grade device from Biovotion. Biofourmis (after their inception in Cambridge) did most of their early work in Singapore, and those roots may give them a stronger foothold in Asia going forward given the relationships they've built.
This acquisition of Biovotion is actually Biofourmis’ second acquisition in two months. In October, Biofourmis acquired India-based Hashtaag (an information technology and services company focused on software and product development). This strategic acquisition of a company that Biofourmis previously worked with as a vendor was focused on acquiring the 30-person Hashtaag team and its related expertise to accelerate Biofourmis’ product development - specifically for pain and oncology.
The recent partnership with Novartis is also notable given the work Novartis are doing in relation to their heart failure drug ENTRESTO. So now, patients’ doctors are not only prescribing ENTRESTO—they are also prescribing digital therapeutics to optimize the drug therapy and to better target dosages, with a goal of better patient outcomes. Interestingly, Novartis also recently announced a partnership in the Asian market to develop WeChat assistant 'AI Nurse' for heart failure patients.
Biofourmis and Biovotion have been long standing industry partners - Could we see a similar trend of acquisition by data analytics platforms of partner device companies in future? Just a few weeks ago we say Tech Giant Google acquiring wearable device maker fitbit, hammering home a recognition of the value for wearables as a mode to capture digital biomarkers.
On top of all of this, Biofourmis deal with Novartis is one of the largest commercial digital therapeutics projects to date. The project will begin with initial roll-out in South East Asia, with plans to expand into more geographies in future. We are excited to see where this partnership goes and if it will catalyse more commercial DTx/Pharma partnerships, particularly given the recent news of the Pear/Sandoz breakup which highlighted the vast unknowns that still exist around DTx commercialisation.
Story snapshot: I am sure you heard - Google has bought Fitbit for a whopping $2.1 billion. We debated writing about it this week because the healthcare implications are not that obvious yet. But then again, this is Google, and the healthcare participation will certainly follow. So, here goes.
Why is it notable?
AI, software and hardware - Fitbit has already figured out these bits.
Google is no stranger to healthcare - since it raised its first fund in 2009, it has backed nearly 60 health-related enterprises; Verily Life Sciences founded in 2015; Alphabet has filed for 186 patents related to the healthcare field, ex-Geisinger Health System CEO as the VP etc. So Fitbit may well be another play in this direction.
Fitbits’ 28 million users could literally be a predictive analytics game changer in serving personalized health recommendations and interventions, as long as this data is not used to serve us back Google ads!
Fitbit has already worked off Google Cloud for Healthcare APIs with the promise of sharing fitness and health data easily and safely. This acquisition may imply further strengthening of this promise.
Story snapshot: Pear Therapeutics has entered a partnership with Ironwood Pharmaceuticals to bring to market prescription digital therapeutics (PDT) for gastrointestinal (GI)indications.
Why is it notable?
GI indications like Irritable Bowel Syndrome are quite amenable to a 'digital' intervention in the form of supporting nutrition, symptom tracking, etc. So it is perhaps an easier intervention. The same cannot be said about Inflammatory Bowel Disease where the medication cannot be replaced by these PDTs.
Noise. DTx have been making so much noise in the last while. The reality is that we are unclear on what GI indications or products this partnership is going to bring out.
Comes at the back of the end of Pear's partnership with Sandoz for substance use disorder treating PDTs. So, it looks like Pharma partnerships are still going strong for digital therapeutics.
We cannot say we know anything more than we did last month or the month before, which is challenging as more pharmaceutical companies and start ups try to crack the business model and go to market strategy for these types of partnerships.
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