Whitepaper - Pharma 2.0:The digital future of implantables and medicines

Posted by Jenni Armstrong on 11 December 2015

The final module of Squared Online sees Squares work in groups to create a whitepaper that sells their ideas on how a major digital trend will affect a specific industry.

From the whitepapers submitted, three outstanding groups are identified through a peer marking process and invited to present their projects in an upcoming live class. Students then vote on which overall whitepaper is the most viable, persuasive and creative.

They're great examples of how Squared Online grads combine an in-depth understanding of the digital landscape, the ability to identifty emerging trends and the creativity and strategic knowledge to make valuable, forward-looking recommendations that drive innovation and strategy in their organisations.

Read a recent top-voted whitepaper about the digital future of implantables and medicines, which focuses on innovation in a crucial and underaddressed area.

Trends in the macro-environment are threatening the future of pharma


Developing drugs represents a significant investment (R&D is on average c.30% of pharmaceutical costs, representing circa £2.6bn per drug developed ). This investment only returns on 10% of trials, and requires significant time (ave. 12 years per trial), risk to patient (single cell or animal testing often does not accurately map to human trials), and high risk of failure. This has implications both for profit-maximising shareholders, and medical advancement.


Pharma is going through the ‘patent cliff’:  revenues from long standing drugs is reducing, and there are less medicines developed to take their place. Research needs to speed up.


Trials are vastly expensive, complex, rely on patients to volunteers and investigators (research doctors) to stay the course.


Payers (NHS in the UK, Insurance companies in other markets such as USA, Germany) are placing more and more pressure on the industry to reduce healthcare costs, demonstrate improved outcomes and cost effectiveness - not just in trial, but at usage stage where data collection can be complex.


Patients are increasingly connected: demanding real-time data and evidence to engage with medical solutions, and using various tools to self-diagnose and monitor.


Bio-tech solutions such as Apple HealthKit, and commercially produced fitness brands are changing the competitive landscape.


Implantable technology has been around for 50 years - pacemakers and stents have formed the backbone of modern medicine and transformed outcomes for patients. Digital communications, the speed and miniaturisation of computers and the rise of the digital health ecosystem are revolutionising the way technology is implanted and used in humans. The benefits are clear:

  • better control and health monitoring for patients and their doctors
  • faster drug development through better understanding of patients’ health states
  • Improved drug delivery in a more targeted and cost-effective manner
  • improved drug safety with better monitoring and treatments across the healthcare system

This paper considers the challenges and opportunities that the new era of implantables represents for the pharma industry and makes recommendations on how best to respond to ensure competitive advantage is maintained and firms continue to deliver shareholder value and medical advancement.

Trends and Innovations

Digitally-driven innovations are occurring in numerous ways: not just in terms of NPD, but in organisational structures which break down traditional silos, require organisational collaborations and create a patient-centred healthcare ecosystem. In research published in September 2015 by Ogilvy Common Health Worldwide only ⅓ of major healthcare companies thought that wearables would have much impact on the market in the next two years. But this is no argument for complacency as the speed and diversity of NPD in this field is breathtaking and investment grows exponentially thanks to new entrants into the market.



  1. GSK Annual Report 2014
  2. http://www.adlittle.com/downloads/tx_adlreports/ADL_HC_2013_Digital-Health_final.pdf
  3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/arleneweintraub/2015/02/24/brain-altering-devices-may-supplant-drugs-and-pharma-is-ok-with-that/

Here right NOW

  • In September 2015 the FDA approved the first ‘digital medicine’ from Proteus healthcare2. Regular pharmaceuticals are integrated with ingestible sensors to communicate the time of ingestion to a wearable patch. This captures physiological responses and detects heart rate, activity, and rest
  • Sanofi has teamed up with Google to develop new digital health tools for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes that combine data on blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c levels with patient-reported information, medication regimen data and sensor devices3
  • Major pharmaceutical firms have already started partnerships  with bioelectronic firms: GSK has launched a $5 million fund to back academic scientists and startups³ whilst Johnson and Johnson are also investing in implantable bioelectronics

Coming SOON... Opportunity

  • Technology companies are delivering smaller and more reliable devices capable of monitoring individual patient health in real time. The ability to mass produce these and other devices is being pioneered within the microprocessor sector. The mass adoption of digitally driven implantables is imminent. These will be capable of delivering treatment as and when needed, and represent a significant market opportunity
  • The Internet of Things will drive the collection of pharma data on a huge scale. Initially this will be used to measure the success of a treatment, but will ultimately lead to a testing model that is computer simulated, without the need to test on actual humans. This will revolutionise research and development within the Pharma sector, representing a significant opportunity for data collection and the responding innovations
  • A self-contained hermetically-sealed drug delivery device that is easy to implant and remove in a doctor’s surgery, can store 100’s of therapeutic doses and release each dose at precise times. The device is controlled by the patient and/or clinician via wireless remote or programmed to release drug on a pre-determined schedule. A contraceptive version is being explored in collaboration with the Gates Foundation
  • SetPoint Medical is involved in clinical trials of a tiny implant for the vagus nerve of the neck that, when activated, helps reduce the inflammatory reflex. Cheaper and less risky than current treatments it could replace drug therapies

Over the HORIZON….. Future Markets

Arrays of full computers with antennas, each much smaller than a grain of sand, called smart dust can organise themselves inside the body into as-needed networks to power a complex internal processes such as attacking early cancer or relieving pain, alleviating the need for drugs altogether.  Korean researchers have developed ‘electronic skin’ worn on the wrist4 for monitoring and treating muscle disorders in people suffering from Parkinson’s or epilepsy. Medication is administered through the skin. Sensors detect changes in electrical resistance to indicate a fast tremor or other problem. Other versions will have temperature sensors, heart rate monitors, blood oxygen level measuring sensors etc.

Strategy For CHANGE

A major structural change is occurring in the industry, the “blockbuster” model of the last 20 years is no longer affordable, pharma8.jpgrevenue is reducing, trials represent significant investment and pharma face increasing competition from generics .  Big Pharma companies are being forced together for economies of scale in late development, but at the same time speed and cost require an entrepreneurial attitude to discovery and early development¹.   Pharma needs a more flexible approach that encourages collaboration with smaller pharmaceutical companies, biotechs and academia at all stages of development.  Pharma will need an integrated digital strategy by 2020 and IP professionals that understand the needs of business as well as the merits of individual cases.  This flexible approach enables drug companies to diversify into generics, vaccines and devices and therefore act quickly at developing products for new emerging markets, including specifically implantable technology and the market opportunities that it opens up.                


  1. http://www.dehns.com/site/information/industry_news_and_articles/structural_changes_to_the_pharmaceutical_industry.html
  2. www.proteus.com/ press releases Sept 2015
  3. www.pmlive.com/blogs/digital intelligence/sanofi 2015
  4. http://www.damngeeky.com/2014/04/02

 Recommended Strategy for implantables

Recommendation 1: pharmaceutical companies need to make strategic partnerships with research organisations and mobile health companies to develop implantable devices with the purpose of collecting biometric data for pre & post trial patient monitoring.


Recommendation 2: Companies particularly engaged in the neurodegenerative diseases should consider how ‘chip on pill’ and other implantable technologies could improve drug efficacy.


Recommendation 3: Invest and partner with increasing trends towards artificial intelligence and natural language processing. Joined together with implantables and health status monitoring technologies, artificial intelligence has the potential to support complex clinical decision making.


Recommendation 4: More work needs to be done to open up patient records and make them accessible to researchers and commercial businesses under the oversight of strict regulatory and ethical concerns.


Recommendation 5: Work with regulators to begin exploring new models for regulating the sector taking into account digital trends. Regulators should be considering how safety/effectiveness considerations can be altered by better real time data feedback to patients and professionals.


  1. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/the-future-of-medical-records/267202/
  2. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/pharmaceuticals_and_medical_products/the_road_to_digital_success_in_pharma

Summary - Key insights and recommendation

  • The current model of pharmaceutical development is breaking, the industry needs to embrace digital technology to pharma14.jpgtransform outcomes for patients as well as reduce costs and increase profits
  • Implantable devices are the means of connecting people and medicines together. They are the manifestation of the internet of things in the industry. The data they generate will allow for more agile drug development, better understanding of safety of drugs, and new insights into patient behaviour and need
  • The industry needs to rapidly invest in and partner with implantable technologies to begin reaping the benefits. They should also consider how enabling technologies such as natural language processing, and better patient record and storage will support the drive towards implantables


  1. GSK Annual report 2014 http://www.gsk.com/media/603031/annual-report-2014.pdf
  2. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/pharmaceuticals_and_medical_products/the_road_to_digital_success_in_pharma 

Find out more about Squared Online: you can give us a ring on +44 (0) 20 7173 5938, or download the brochure to read about the course and the Squared experience.


Topics: Digital marketing, Whitepaper, health and medicine