Transforming patient outcomes with digital therapeutics

  • Digital therapeutics can significantly benefit patients by improving chronic disease care and treatment

  • Digital health companies in this space are looking for the optimal positioning between technological and human interventions

  • The formation of the Digital Therapeutics Alliance in 2017 is an early sign that the sector is already maturing

Pierre Leurent, chief executive of Voluntis, speaks to pharmaphorum’s Dominic Tyer about how digital therapeutics are extending traditional healthcare as they evolve.

Digital therapeutics are re-writing our definition of medicine. As clinically-validated solutions, they can be used as standalone interventions or in association with other treatments to engage patients and improve the overall quality, cohesion, outcomes and value of healthcare delivery.

They represent a new generation of healthcare. It’s one that enhances, and in some cases replaces, current medical practices and treatments.

A number of digital therapeutics solutions have already demonstrated their safety and efficacy in randomised clinical trials. Some of the most advanced have received regulatory clearance for use as a medical device and are being integrated into clinical practice.

Pierre Leurent, chief executive of French digital therapeutics company Voluntis, explains: “Digital therapeutics are sometimes compared to medication therapies. While different in many ways, both of these interventions are designed to provide patients with positive clinical outcomes. Through randomised controlled trials and real-world evidence pilots, some digital therapeutics companies are achieving comparable results to medication therapies, yet with fewer side effects for patients.

“Ultimately, what we’re doing is finding the optimal positioning between the technology and human interventions – we are not replacing the care being delivered by care teams.”

“Instead, we are helping to extend it through these technologies, by providing better insights and interfaces for patients to engage with their healthcare team. These technologies are being designed to enhance, not replace human interaction.”

These tools are used in daily life to improve patient and provider visibility into complex treatment processes and simplify pathways to better outcomes. The hope is that they will significantly benefit individuals and communities by improving care and treatment for groups such as the elderly or those with chronic diseases.

Out-of-office care

Whatever their therapeutic focus, one of the selling points of digital therapeutics is that they are not confined to healthcare professionals’ office hours and are instead available to patients at any time of the day and any day of the year.

“It is encouraging to see physicians and other members of the healthcare delivery team, including nurse practitioners, care managers and disease specialists, use these tools to monitor and treat patients between visits to the office,” says Pierre.

“Realising that physicians are not the only people managing interactions with patients, we are developing tools that bring patients together with their entire care team.”

“These technologies are enabling better collaboration among providers and creating a new sense of ownership and empowerment among patients of all ages, during all phases of the care delivery process.”

The digital health explosion has seen many different segments of solutions emerge. For digital therapeutics, most to date have been positioned as consumer-facing solutions that see them provide interventions directly to patients. These types of solutions may then link to other systems, like electronic medical records in hospitals and clinics, to provide a more rounded and joined-up picture of care.

“While they are two very distinct systems, we are seeing increasing interoperability between digital therapeutic solutions and electronic medical records. It is important that these work synergistically to provide the maximum benefit for the patient,” Pierre says.

The barrier to entry for new companies and new solutions seems, at least at first glance, to be relatively low. Consequently, there are a lot of newcomers to the industry. But, Pierre says, appearances can be deceptive. “People do not necessarily realise what degree of investment and effort is needed to bring a digital therapeutic product to market.”

Now, supported by the growing levels of clinical evidence and outcomes, digital therapeutics are being increasingly recognised as a legitimate category and solution in the healthcare industry.

Digital Therapeutics Alliance

One of the signs that the sector is maturing was the establishment last year of its trade federation the Digital Therapeutics Alliance, something that could not have been conceived just two years before its launch.

With founding members that include Akili Interactive, Propeller Health, Voluntis and WellDoc, the mission of the Alliance (DTA) is to broaden the understanding, adoption and integration of digital therapeutic solutions into mainstream healthcare through education, advocacy and research.

Voluntis’ Pierre Leurent, who also serves as chair of the DTA’s board of directors, says: “The DTA was founded by a group of digital health pioneers that represent different therapeutic areas and have achieved high levels of clinical validation for their solutions. These leaders are teaming up to share their expertise, learnings and experience to enable success for the broader ecosystem.

“Our goal is to interact with patients, providers, payers, manufacturers, academics and technology companies, in addition to policy makers and regulators.”

“This alliance will enable us to work collectively to catalyse the impact this particular subsector of digital health will have on patient care and clinical outcomes.”

Following its formation, the DTA formed a strategic partnership with the Personal Connected Alliance – which Lilly signed up to earlier this year – to further establish digital therapeutics. A US non-profit organisation, the Personal Connected Alliance aims to make health and wellness an effortless part of daily life and also counts Voluntis and the Danish Health Data Authority among its members.

“In ten years, it will be natural for a healthcare provider to prescribe a digital therapeutic solution with, or in place of, a traditional drug therapy,” says Pierre. “Digital therapeutics will eventually be part of the routine healthcare delivery process, with clinically validated solutions being incorporated into clinical guidelines and delivery systems. We foresee this happening sooner than ten years.”

“The purpose of the Alliance is to accelerate what could be achieved in 10 or 15 years to a much shorter timeline. We are motivated to leverage digital therapeutic products to improve standards of care and benefit patients across the world.”

About the interviewee

Pierre Leurent, CEO and founder of Voluntis, has 20 years of experience in digital health in the United States and Europe. Prior to starting Voluntis in 2001, Pierre worked at GE Medical Systems, where he took part in the development of medical imaging software. He also held several positions at HealthCenter Internet Services, a San Francisco-based vendor of electronic medical record solutions. Pierre is a founding member of the Digital Therapeutics Alliance, of which he serves as the first chairman. He also chairs the eHealth France Alliance whose members are leading trade organisations representing digital and life sciences companies in France.

About the author

Dominic Tyer is a trained journalist and editor with 19 years of pharmaceutical and healthcare publishing experience. He serves as a contributing editor at pharmaphorum media, which facilitates productive engagement for pharma, bringing healthcare together to drive medical innovation. He is also creative director at the company’s specialist healthcare content consultancy, pharmaphorum connect.

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