Frontiers Health 2022 – a digital mixture of start-ups and life sciences in Milan

As the healthcare industry emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic into a new, digitally supercharged world, stakeholders across the industry are moving fast to embrace digital transformation. Against this backdrop of innovation, Frontiers Health 2022, held at the Palazzo del Ghiaccio in central Milan, brought together thought leaders and industry experts from across the life sciences to discuss the future of digital health.

Attendees were both on site and remote, able to follow the global conference – Frontiers Health’s seventh event – from far and wide online, and discussions covered the future of digital therapeutics: improving patient and provider workflows, standardising definitions and regulatory schemes, and focusing on patient experience.

The conference also showcased advances in digital care delivery and telehealth, while diving into the realities of ‘hospital at home’ offerings and the opportunities created by real-world evidence (RWE) from sensors and connected devices. Other additional focus areas included digital health funding, scaling, and business models, as well as digital public health and taking innovation inspiration from outside of the healthcare industry.

Healthware Group’s CEO and founder Roberto Ascione, together with WTF Health’s founder and host Jessica DaMassa, formally opened the event, centred in the main hall for Day One, while Day Two spread out from the central hall to multiple rooms and tracks, and also held some purely virtual events, including the fireside chat ‘Shaping the future of healthcare with telemedicine’, moderated by Ascione.

The enduring value of healthcare, and its present challenges

DaMassa was later joined by Glen Tullman, CEO of Transcarent, for a fireside chat on whether healthcare or digital health are in a bubble, with Tullman explaining that there’s a difference between valuations and value. Healthcare costs, he said, will keep getting higher and it’s becoming difficult to pass on those costs to the consumer. What the pandemic brought, besides tragedy for so many, was the lesson that digital health works at scale, and the future of healthcare will be one much more directly accessible to the consumer than it is today.

Scaling DTx and united policies

A panel moderated by Digital Therapeutics Alliance’s chief policy officer Megan Coder on digital health and European healthcare systems began with that question of scale, but what exactly does it mean to say that DTx has scaled? To this, Big Health’s Peter Hames replied that one aspect of scale is working with a major organisation, such as the NHS, which automatically connects you to a large group of patients.

General manager at Ethypharm Digital Therapeutics, Hélène Moore, said that scaling has become a buzzword in DTx because disparate systems make it so difficult to roll out broadly, and Aptar Digital Health’s Pierre Leurent claimed scale to be a relative thing, as different conditions have different sized populations, and noted the need for more harmonised standards, such as were to be discussed at Day Two of the conference, regarding the European DTx Policy Coalition.

Also on the panel was Healthware’s Alberta Spreafico, who mentioned that government policy can be guided by internal industry standards, so HCPs can help by aligning on their own internal policies and definitions. To this, Moore explained the importance of clear and illustrative case studies; helping people to understand what DTx are, how they work, and their potential benefits. The time, after all, is ripe: most governments and policymakers are in a period of change around digital health policy at the moment.

How advanced telehealth will scale and advance healthcare in emerging markets

Continuing with the theme of scalability, Taliossa’s Tony Estrella-led panel, ‘Beyond video visits’, had the moderator invite discussion on the promise and meaning of having an effective telehealth channel that is delivered at scale to effect change in people’s lives, particularly in emerging markets.

Praava Health’s Sylvana Sinha spoke of the Bangladeshi experience – where there are 400k patients without equity – and how her mother’s own health crisis whilst in the country for a family wedding prompted her to create Praava Health to offer an end-to-end solution and make a difference to people’s lives there. Meanwhile, Rachel Frizberg of biotech Roche explained one of the company’s core values is about reaching all the patients across the globe, not just key development markets, and mentioned its ‘Mission Leapfrog’ for creating sustainable healthcare systems in such places as the Philippines, where often breast and cervical cancers are treated far too late.

Altibbi’s Jalil Allabadi also raised the question of affordability and how the company’s telehealth solutions provide access to primary care for just $5 a month in certain parts of the world, and Estrella brought the conversation back round to partnership and how that can be achieved with larger organisations, including going direct-to-consumer in the first instance.

Shaping the future of healthcare with telemedicine; barriers to digital health adoption

A virtual fireside chat with Healthware Group’s CEO, Roberto Ascione, saw with him Teladoc Health’s CEO, Jason Gorevic, and president of international at Teladoc Health, Carlos Nueno. The three discussed transformative technology in telemedicine and how it is shaping the future of health overall, including quality, reimbursement, access, and cost. With increasing consumer demand for speed in delivery, telehealth is more than a video visit: it breaks down silos between physician appointments.

Meanwhile, Richard Secker-Johnson of ZS Associates informed his audience that a recent survey by the company had found that 70% of HCPs still cite digital health literacy as the greatest barrier to its adoption. Other hurdles include engagement, patient empowerment, and last-mile deployment. With Secker-Johnson were Malin Johansson, global head of digital health partnership at Novo Nordisk, and Saemundur Oddsson, chief medical officer at Sidekick Health. All agreed, transparency is key.

Precision health: it takes an ecosystem

The virtual keynote from Dr William Marks of Verily Life Sciences – which began life as a Google Moonshot – took talk away from scalability to focus not just on the company’s key mission of precision health, including early detection, personalised treatment, and smarter deployment of resources at the systems level, but on the idea of better measurements.

“We are still stuck in a very crude world of measurement,” he said. “Sure, we have lab tests that can measure blood counts and ECGs that can measure cardiac cycles. But in so many areas of care, the measures we have are very subjective. We tend to interact with patients in a tiny snapshot of their health, and that often leads to a delay in the detection of conditions that could be managed much better if caught earlier.”

Verily itself is exploring sensor-based measurement with its Verily Study Watch – which uses the Digital Medicine Society’s V3 framework to evaluate whether biomarkers are useful and fit to purpose.

“It [takes] an ecosystem and a variety of capabilities to move us towards precision health,” he said.

A new frontier in mental health: psychedelic therapies, past, present, and future

Also changing the scene are developments in mental health. An important space in the field, mental health disorders affect everyone in some way; everyone has a story, oftentimes unspoken. Yet, there’s still a lot more to do. A COMPASS Pathways-sponsored symposium looked at psilocybin.

Used for millennia in a folk capacity and researched during the 1950s and 1960s until put on hold for various reasons – now that research on psilocybin is starting to recommence. Why? Because we are in a mental health crisis, and very little is working. In short, we need new paradigms.

Moderator of discussions Marco Mohwinckel was joined by David Erritzoe, Walter Greenleaf, Sahil Kirpekar, Greg Ryslik, and Metten Somers. The latter stated that there’s a lot of attention on the psychedelic renaissance and that these therapies might, in the future, be part of our normal healthcare – but more evidence is still needed. A phase 3 trial needs to be tested, but patient recruitment is difficult.

Additionally, Mohwinckel noted the importance of psychological support, with patients needing to be prepared for the psychedelic experience: it’s not just about taking psilocybin and sitting there, waiting for something to happen. Therapists have to be trained in the NLP Model that data is run through. It is personalised medicine.

Walter Greenleaf’s focus is VR and AI. Such immersive technologies can train therapists in dealing with patients who have a negative experience with psilocybin. Kirpekar admitted very few pharma companies have successfully moved into service providing in the mental health area.

This series of sessions also included a conversation between Eugene Borukhovich and Kabir Nath. Borukhovich stated that he’d recently learned that psychology therapy works backwards. Mental illness is a huge issue and biological markers still haven’t been found that will help. Nath noted the complex journey for patients with treatment-resistant depression and asked how the chasm can be crossed and psychological support be scaled.

No psychedelic is going to be a panacea and digital markers are going to be relied on more than genetic or genomic markers when it comes to treatment: that is to say, big data sets, relationships between symptoms, and other parts of people’s personal activity.

Digital therapeutics and mental health; AI and genomic medicine

Monique Levy of Woebot Health discussed the concept of a therapeutic alliance, and digital therapeutics’ place therein, to a point where, like drugs, they are prescribed in certain dosages – especially when it comes to treating mental health problems. With the market for empathic technologies exploding, Levy also admitted the world is not necessarily ready, and that the question arises, also, over data privacy.

Meanwhile, Robert Konrat of Max Perutz Labs admitted an ignorance when it comes to digital tech healthcare, at the same time stressing the need for new research initiatives to exploit the massive amounts of data, so as to produce knowledge. Ranging from biochemical pathways linked together to form a phenotype, to the predictive possibility within the distance between two pathways and how WORD2Vec language analysis – working on the basis of semantics – can rotate scientific data when looking at predictive drug and disease relationships – he proposed a semantic information bank on biology, with patients as citizen scientists within the biomedical arena.

Digital health strategies in dynamic & uncertain markets: forward glancing

Frontiers Health 2022 closed with Kristin Milburn of Healthware Labs moderating a panel on digital health strategies in both dynamic and uncertain markets. Research2Guidance’s managing director Ralf Jahns noted that there are several approaches to digital health innovations: central units, decentralised teams, partner ecosystems, and business carve-outs. Equally, he said that every digital health company needs continuous market monitoring, an entrepreneurial team, a strategic roadmap, a clear value proposition for partners, and access to funding.

Merck’s global head of digital health, Emre Ozcan, conceded that biopharma now understands the value of digital health, while LifeScan’s head of global portfolio and project management David DeJonghe – an early entrant to the digital health space – said that it has to be structured around the customer. Global head of the Novartis Biome, Jacob LaPorte mentioned that ‘co-create’ is not just a buzzword when it comes to pharma and start-ups, while Wellthy Therapeutics’ chief business officer Theo Ahadome pointed out the difference between activation of patients and engagement with patients.

During this panel, Alyst was announced by Healthware and R2G. An ‘analyst in your pocket’, Alyst is a digital health research tool for tomorrow: a future horizon which is bright and necessarily digitalised.

About the author

Nicole Raleigh

Nicole Raleigh, Web Editor

Nicole Raleigh is pharmaphorum’s web editor. Transitioning to the healthcare sector in the last few years, she is an experienced media and communications professional who has worked in print and digital for over 15 years.

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