Despite tremendous advances in medicine over the last few decades, the healthcare and pharma industries have not yet really managed to get diabetes under control.
“We are managing the disease as best as possible, but there could be much more progress in helping patients,” says Michael Goetzl, managing director UK & Ireland at Roche Diabetes Care.
Goetzl believes that combining pharmaceutical products with digital solutions can make this goal much more achievable.
Part of Goetzl’s role is ensuring that the company fits with Roche’s new global strategy, Agenda 2025.
To do this, he says that Roche, and the pharma industry in general, needs to move from a ‘product-oriented’ approach to diabetes, focused solely on drugs, to a ‘solutions-oriented’ approach – which involves bringing together software, hardware and digital services and creating solutions that are easy to access for the patient while delivering real benefits.
“It requires products on the market that can be easily connected with digital applications, and easily connected with our software. This must work quite smoothly, and it must be easy to understand – if it is too complicated for the user, the patient or the healthcare professional, it will not succeed. We are not quite there yet, but we are getting closer.
“Once we are able to offer solutions like that in the market at a high standard, we can get closer to this dream becoming true.”
He says these kinds of approaches are needed in diabetes because of the huge shift in the market towards people using more innovative technology to manage their disease.
“People will use whatever technology they can – from apps to online services and smart devices – to gain more control over their disease. If you only have one kind of product, you are not fitting into that market.
One example he uses is Roche’s acquisition of software company mySugr, which has developed an app that can be linked to some of Roche’s diabetes products to gather the information patients are creating when measuring their blood glucose. It allows a more visual approach to glucose monitoring, for example by using graphs.
“It puts everything into context, so it enables the patient to better understand what is happening and what things affect their glucose levels.”
But as the term ‘solution-oriented’ implies, these kinds of approaches can be about more than just digital apps.
Goetzl uses health coaches as an example of another service that can help patients with their diabetes management. Software designed for healthcare professionals that enables them to collect a wide range of data, and therefore come to better conclusions faster, could also help.
Of course, for combined digital/physical solutions to be truly successful they need to be integrated with healthcare systems.
Goetzl says that the UK’s NHS is further along in this journey towards integration than many other systems around the world.
“They are aware that the traditional approach will not get diabetes under control, considering that the number of patients that suffer from diabetes is increasing every year,” he says.
“They have already started a lot of projects, but it’s a process on both sides. It requires a lot of discussion with the industry and stakeholders to make it fit together, to know what is really possible to achieve.
Nevertheless, Goetzl notes that there are still many barriers to implementation that need to be overcome.
For example, despite the NHS seeing the need for these kinds of solutions, Goetzl says that there isn’t really a corresponding budget.
“You’re often targeting four or five different siloed departments at the same time,” he says. “You need to go to a certain level where you find people that do understand the overall concept and help you to decide, from a technical point of view, how this could work in terms of reimbursement.
“While this remains an unresolved question, it can be hard to move forward. The funding and the willingness can be there, but you can still find difficulties within the system.”
There are also some challenges from the patient perspective.
“We need to make sure that patients really get engaged and are motivated to follow you. If the patients do not stick to the recommended guidelines, if they just follow your solution for six months and then step away, you will not succeed.
“That’s an issue the entire industry is facing, and it highlights the need for solutions that are easy to understand and easy to use.”
Meanwhile, he says that most internal barriers that stop companies fully embracing solutions-oriented approaches revolve around “mindset shifts”.
“If you have been successful as a provider in the market for many years by selling traditional products, it can be difficult when, within quite a short time, you realise something is happening in the market and you need to follow that.
“You need to upskill the organisation and find people with the right skillset. There are positions Roche now needs that we were never looking for 10 years ago.
He says that partnerships can be key to helping companies move into areas they previously have had little experience in.
“We know that it’s simply not possible to work in every sector, so we are looking for partners that want to join us and bring in complimentary business.”
For a partnership like this to be successful, Goetzl says companies need to have a very similar vision of the objectives they want to achieve.
“For example, we recently partnered with Accenture because we realised that building all these tools together requires expertise in software, but that isn’t our core focus at Roche. Meanwhile, Accenture also want to play a more important role in the healthcare sector.”
Few in the industry would deny that digital solutions working together with pharmaceutical products is the future, but as Goetzl demonstrates, there are many factors companies need to think about when preparing for this change. Nevertheless, as pharma pushes forward with these new solutions there is hope that one day soon diabetes will be a much more manageable disease.
Michael Goetzl became managing director of Roche Diabetes Care, UK & Ireland, in January 2019 having previously led the business in northern Latin America. Prior to Diabetes Care, Michael has a background in tissue diagnostics, joining Roche following the acquisition of Ventana Diagnostics where he had started his career in sales.