Digital Medicines: Next Steps

When Medicines Go Digital

As Japan’s Otsuka Pharmaceuticals is edging its way further into the field of digital medicine, one may be forgiven for being slightly inquisitive about the potential implications for patient data.


Digital medicines contain sensors that track patient data. Last year, Ablify My Cite, a digital drug that treats mental health, was the first to be approved by the FDA. Arising from a joint partnership between Otsuka and US based Proteus Digital Health, the drug is showing improvement in compliance in an area where adherence to treatment programs is a major issue. Indeed, mental health patients have one of the lowest compliant rates to treatment, which can lead to problems not only for the patients, but also for carers, healthcare providers and payers.


Undoubtedly, the drug addresses a major problem and it offers opportunities for more precise and targeted therapies. However, although adherence to the program is voluntary, the implications for the collection and treatment of patient data cannot be ignored. As Mr Wright, the head of digital medicines at Otsuka, mentioned, the sensor  “ could also track other behavioural markers that could help identify the right treatment options.”( Financial Times, 11/10/2018).


This raises important questions: Should patients be concerned? Do the advantages offered by the technology exceed its downsides? Is giving away our data a small price to pay?


At first blush, I would say that it would depend on the data that are collected and clarity, transparency and security about how they are stored and treated. It would also depend on how more effective the digital version of the drug would be. For instance, knowing how a drug behaves when one is sleeping, eating particular food or doing particular activities, could generate insights into most effective treatment pathways.


Thus, perhaps the question here is: How do we offset the trade-off between patients’ concerns about their data and the extreme benefits that they would derive from the technology?


In as much as the main aim of digital medicine would be to improve patient outcomes, perhaps innovation efforts should also be geared towards developing solutions that would allay patients’ concerns when it comes to the treatment, storage and security of their, shall we say, extremely personal data.


What are your thoughts?


Written by Melina Padayachy




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