Growing partnerships with digital health companies signal a shift in strategy

Sanofi and Leaps by Bayer are just two pharmaceutical companies that are using digital technologies to reach stakeholders more effectively.

This spring ushered in a wave of partnerships between pharma and digital health companies that signal a growing trend in healthcare. This much-needed shift to digital has been spurred by the growing number of healthcare consumers wanting an Amazon-like experience, combined with the forces of the COVID-19 pandemic that have forced the pharmaceutical industry to embrace quickly digital technology.

“The pandemic has advanced both digital health and telehealth 15 years in the space of three weeks,” said Rick Anderson, president and general manager of North America at DarioHealth.

According to a CBI Insights report on digital health investment activity in 2021, funding grew 79% year-over-year to a record $57.2 billion. Experts say these investments will only continue to grow. “There are more and more opportunities for collaboration, and I expect that to accelerate over the next three to five years,” adds Anderson. “We’re definitely going to see more and more of these types of partnerships as people try to tap into these different worlds.”

Jurgen Eckhardt, MD, senior vice president and head of Leaps by Bayer, says the company sees user-centric digital products as a relevant and growing area for the organization that will help it get closer to patients. and healthcare providers (HCPs). “From our perspective, user-centric digital products can become an important link between Bayer’s treatment and diagnostic efforts and the daily lives of patients and healthcare professionals,” he says.

Examples of 2022 pharma investments in digital health include partnerships between Biogen Inc. and MedRhythms, which partnered in May to develop and commercialize an investigational digital prescription therapy for the potential treatment of gait deficits in multiple sclerosis. Novartis and Evermed also made waves in May with a new Netflix-style approach that involves bespoke educational videos aimed specifically at rheumatologists. And in March, AstraZeneca sold its disease management platform to Huma Therapeutics and the two companies will collaborate on building apps targeted at different therapeutic areas.

Partnerships at work

HealthLeaders spoke with executives from Sanofi and DarioHealth about their recent partnership, as well as Leaps by Bayer and Woebot, and all agree that despite the challenges, the pharmaceutical industry is waking up to the need to use health digital technology to bring added value to patients.

Last month, Sanofi entered into a $30 million deal with digital therapy company DarioHealth to develop solutions on Dario’s platform and expand the commercial reach of its products in the health plan and employer markets.

According to Alex Condoleon, MD, head of digital healthcare for US general medicines at Sanofi, the company made this decision because it believes digital solutions can transform the way it discovers, develops and delivers therapies. “Collaborating with Dario brings us even closer to accelerating our mission to reverse the tide of chronic disease through the integration of healthcare and technology to help people improve their health,” he says.

Anderson says Sanofi’s approach to digital health is not just a one-off, but rather a complete shift in its business mindset. “What was interesting to us at Sanofi is that many partnerships between digital health companies and pharmaceutical companies involve using the software of the digital health company in addition or in addition to a device or a pharmaceutical product. There hasn’t been much in terms of pharma companies looking at digital health and saying, ‘Okay, this is where healthcare is going, and we want to be there. “

Sanofi is a visionary because it sees that digital therapeutics can be an opportunity to treat people as a category in its own right. »

Condoleon says it’s true.

“We believe that the integration of health care and technology can help people improve their health,” he says. “That’s why Sanofi is a leader in digital partnerships to solve critical challenges and pioneer new business models in this rapidly changing space. Through our collaboration with Dario, we aim to reinforce the value of digital therapeutic solutions and reinforce our commitment to helping people with personalized comprehensive disease management solutions.


The challenge for Sanofi and others, according to Anderson, is how to transition from their current way of operating to a more consumer-centric model that adds value. “The only way to be value-based is to have digital health as a component,” he says. “It’s going to become an integral part of the business, just like the other pieces.”

However, change will not be easy. It will be disheartening for the industry to avoid using discounts and other structures to capture and retain customers. This model generates several million dollars in revenue on these products. Flipping the thought process to provide more value in a new revenue structure, rather than being discount-based, will be a difficult transition for many, Anderson says.

“Many will struggle to make the transition to more consumer-centric solutions without cannibalizing existing businesses, but it’s worth the effort,” he says. “You get a one-to-one relationship with people through digital health. And you can collect a lot of data, you can figure out how to provide value-based contracts. Theoretically, for each member taking a medicine or drug, you can determine savings related to those people.Another advantage is the ability to conduct real-time, real-world evidence studies at a much faster pace and understanding how to scale that in terms of delivering care to people.

This is indeed one of the objectives of the partnership with Sanofi. “By working with Dario, we plan to generate evidence relating to the effectiveness of Dario’s solutions and platform to improve diabetes management, patient engagement in their diabetes self-management, and utilization of healthcare resources. of health in a real environment,” says Condoleon.

Better results for all

Digital health solutions can lead to better relationships and better patient outcomes, says Condoleon, who expects the partnership with Dario to bring both of those things to the table.

“Through this collaboration, we aim to expand access to Dario solutions for people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, musculoskeletal pain and behavioral health, through payers and employers,” he said. “Our hope is that by providing patients with a range of technology solutions, including coaching, education and digital sensors through this collaboration, we can empower them to manage their chronic conditions and help improve results.

Similarly, Eckhardt, at Leaps by Bayer, says the impact investing arm of Bayer AG is investing in transformative digital technologies to improve its mental health initiatives. The $9.5 million investment in Woebot Health marks Leaps by Bayer’s first investment in mental health.

“Mental health recovery is one of Leaps by Bayer’s core focus areas, and we believe Woebot’s technology represents a unique opportunity to support the development of digital behavioral health solutions,” he said. he declares. “Investing in Woebot represents a unique opportunity for Leaps by Bayer to support brain and mind protection and transform health through data.”

Eckhardt expects to see better patient outcomes with digital health than with previous traditional methods.

“Woebot’s approach of combining psychology and technology with AI and clinically proven therapeutic research has the potential to dramatically improve patient well-being by providing 24/7 access to digital solutions. behavioral health to address unmet needs,” adds Eckhardt.

We design our digital applications to deliver predictive, personalized and actionable insights to patient healthcare professionals and healthcare providers.”

Eckhardt says Bayer understands “that we cannot walk this road alone, which is why we have established multiple pathways, such as Leaps by Bayer and the G4A digital health partnership program, that help us identify areas of collaboration with high-potential companies to accelerate our digital capabilities and support us in our efforts to bring the right tools to our patients and healthcare professionals.”

According to Anderson, this is just the beginning of a growing wave of pharmaceutical and digital health partnerships. “Digital health and digital therapy will be part of the landscape, much like pharmaceuticals and devices are today,” he says. “We will continue to see more cross-industry partnerships associated with digital health.”

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