The Next Wave Of Healthcare Innovation

In 2010, Internet scholar Clay Shirky wrote an interesting book called “Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers Into Collaborators.” His premise was simple yet powerful: The ongoing migration of people from passive pursuits (Shirky particularly calls out watching TV) to more engaging pursuits enabled by the Internet and other digital technologies is igniting an era of “collective creativity” where people are able to connect and aggregate their efforts toward positive ends. Examples of the output from this collective creativity include Wikipedia, the open source software movement, and the myriad companies that have used the Web for crowdsourcing (i.e., online group collaboration) consumer inputs to co-create new products and services.

“Abundance” — Activating the Crowd for Good Works

Now, a new book called “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think,” by Peter Diamandis (the founder of the nonprofit X PRIZE Foundation whose mission is to stimulate investment in R&D through incentive prize competitions) builds on Shirky’s premise by proposing that this cognitive surplus is starting to be harnessed in ways that will significantly raise global living standards.

Diamandis’ theory is that this collective creativity will soon reach a tipping point (to wit, a point of “abundance”) in a way that activates the intellectual capital and resources on a scale needed to solve intractable problems like hunger and disease. Diamandis sees the confluence of three macro-trends behind this transformation:

  • The exponential growth and accessibility of computer processing power
  • The do-it-yourself ethos of the Internet culture
  • And, the “rising billions” represented by the world’s poor who are coming online en masse thanks to the dropping cost of digital hardware and the growing ubiquity of mobile networks

Abundance and Health Care Innovation

What does all this have to do with health care innovation? Imagine the types of innovation that can be achieved by combining the democratization of clinical data through the open sourcing (i.e., free distribution) of scientific data sets, with the awesome computer processing firepower scientists now have access to over the cloud at minimal cost.

Another example: some countries are leveraging the Internet and mobile networks to bring quality health care to their poorest rural communities. For instance, India uses a combination of digital technologies like SMS, mobile phone cameras and remote monitoring systems to treat kidney disease patients in isolated communities at a cost that is roughly 90% less than traditional treatments. The real kicker is that these rural patients frequently have better outcomes than their urban counterparts who receive in-person treatments on an outpatient basis.

Diamandis’ vision is a bit rosy but by no means unrealistic—considering that today we carry smartphone devices in our pockets the size of a deck of cards that have roughly the same processing power that a mainframe computer the size of a 12×12 room had 40 years ago!

Click on the below links to purchase the books mentioned in this blog post:

Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers Into Collaborators

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think

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They Unblinded Me With Science

Few disciplines in our industry are as dynamic as medical education. That’s not what everyone imagines, of course. But nowhere is it truer that the digital shift has required a radical re-imagination of how to engage physicians demanding a higher level of scientific discourse.  Drastically reduced dinner meetings and local symposia, almost no “enduring” (read: print) materials. The full-scale move to the Web demands a higher level of digital strategy in all we do.

But that’s not the biggest change: Much like in the past, when there was CME and non-CME med ed, a new channel has arisen and swiftly grown as an innovative generator and outlet for scientific exchange between the manufacturer and the practitioner. The “owners” of this channel are not in marketing at all—they are in the clinical, medical affairs, R&D and other non-promotional functions within our client base. In some companies, even the baseline financing is not derived from a brand’s P&L, but from zero-based corporate budgets, so as to completely remove any “co-mingling” of promotional and non-promotional funds. The issue: “off-label” promotion was the significant trespass that led to unbelievably large fines and ongoing compliance agreements at virtually every major pharmaceutical company.

But the needs didn’t change. Much of the information exchange needed to inform physicians about innovation in understanding the mechanisms of a disease or advances in new therapeutic modalities takes place prior to any product on market, and discussing these issues from a marketing perspective is forbidden. In comes the med affairs group. They are specifically charged with answering questions or providing educational background prior to a brand’s launch or outside a brand’s labeling—as long as it is completely separated from the commercial purpose or the on-market brand.

Our clients have gone to great lengths, in many different ways both philosophically and physically, to prove this agnostic separation.

And so have we. This marketplace evolution is the driver behind our creation of SCI Scientific Communications & Information. It’s WAY more than publications; it services the entire spectrum of the clinical, med affairs and R&D departments—all the way through presenting our clinical trial retention and recruitment expertise (through Fast 4wD). To partner with these clients, we built SCI Scientific Communications & Information to have totally separate tax ID numbers, separate email, separate payroll, separate servers and physical location, and more.  Finally, we are working with our colleagues in London and Oxford to mirror the same structure and strategy as we see this separation continuing to gain momentum, on a global scale.

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Are Centralized Global Marketing Activities the Way Forward for the Pharma Industry?

As pharma companies increasingly come under both financial and human-resource pressures, the trend is to create global central campaigns with minor local market adaptations.

The growing emergence of generic competition is emphasizing the need for even greater brand loyalty among healthcare professionals and consumers.

For these reasons, there is good rationale for pharma to both centralize and standardize marketing activities. However, does this:

  • stifle creativity and innovation?
  • disengage the local markets?
  • fail to develop marketing skill sets at the local market level?
  • create bland generic communication activities?

Without good collaboration and the use of digital enabling tools, there is a risk of all of the above happening. Simply creating global activities without gaining extensive local market input, testing in key markets, and providing clear guidance for markets is a recipe for failure.

However, there are ways to make the centralized approach work that have been successful in the industry. These include:

  • creating virtual extended global teams
  • providing pilot innovation funds to local markets
  • enabling best-practice sharing
  • bringing local market personnel into the central global team
  • working with agency networks to bring learning from beyond pharma regarding creating strong global brands

So now the question is, will the next five years bring more or less standardization and centralization?

Will local markets become increasingly important for the niche specialist drugs of the future, and will specialist-tailored local marketing activity become the trend?


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