Words by James Coker
“The technology shift in cell and gene therapy is happening in front of our faces, and it’s going to be the biggest driver of change in the next 5–10 years”, comments Zach Weinberg, Co-Founder, Flatiron Health, during eyeforpharma Barcelona. Among all the technological innovations that are changing the healthcare landscape, it is these therapies which are set to have the most transformative impact on patients. But do pharma need to make fundamental changes to their current operations to ensure this occurs?
While the science of gene and cell therapy is creating large sound waves in the healthcare industry, attention is slowly being turned to an area emitting a more muffled noise: logistics and administration. “These are very labour-intensive processes where you have this one upfront lumpy high cost. So these are not easy things to deal with because it’s very different to the normal pharmaceutical company paradigm, but I think we have to find a way to think and act differently to navigate this new world”, says Martin Price, VP, Market Access and Reimbursement, Janssen.
I see new ways of delivering gene and cell therapies with digital as an enabler – not changing things by itself
The need for digital technologies to assist and complement gene and cell therapies in regard to their physical delivery could not be greater. It requires new ways of thinking in the pharma industry, and none more so than in the role digital technology has to play. “I see new ways of delivering gene and cell therapies with digital as an enabler – not changing things by itself”, describes Colin Sims, SVP, Head, Transversal Corporate Strategy, Sanofi.
Physical delivery of these gene and cell therapies, each by nature different from the next, is a far more expensive and complicated task than the process of mass transportation of traditional medicines that is engrained in pharma’s DNA. Additionally, as each treatment is personalised to every patient, there must be a tight chain of identity control built into the delivery process to ensure mix-ups are not made. For their CAR T cell therapy product Kymriah, Novartis have established an online platform that enables physicians to track the manufacturing and delivery of individual products and link it to the relevant patient.
“The stakeholders are expecting the same kind of experience every day just like us. We’re used to seamless integrated ordering systems, notifications, high level of service and technology, and this is requiring us as a company to compete in ways that we haven’t competed before and a lot of this is driven by digital tools and by a different customer-facing mindset that normally doesn’t live in pharma’s DNA”, explains Emanuele Ostuni, Head of Europe, Cell and Gene Therapy, Novartis Oncology.
The technology shift in cell and gene therapy is happening in front of our faces, and it’s going to be the biggest driver of change in the next 5–10 years
While this example helps demonstrate the sort of digital solutions that are required, Ostuni acknowledges that there is still much to do in order to cope with the growing number of patients worldwide for whom these therapies will become available. Strong and robust digital systems will also be essential for implementing outcomes-based payment models that are a necessity for gene and cell therapies to succeed, for example to easily access the long-term progress of each patient. “As you enter into a different way of paying where outcomes are important, we need the systems to back it up and largely speaking neither we as a pharma company nor healthcare systems have strong, integrated systems that allow us to do this routinely and seamlessly”, he adds.
Gene and cell therapies have the potential to be among the biggest medicinal advances the world has ever witnessed. Technology must transform the delivery of these products so they can live up to this enormous potential and this means seeing digital technology as an enabler to innovation in this context, rather than the source. It is imperative that pharma acts quickly to create these systems with a new generation of gene and cell treatments on the horizon.