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Taking Innovation to the Next Level

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

Words by Kirstie Turner

Pharma is seeing a host of ground-breaking innovations, with companies developing new technologies that are changing patients’ lives and helping to develop a more patient-centric industry.

An influx of innovations is changing pharma’s game plan and they have set their eyes on the prize: patient centricity. Cannes Lions showcase some of the initiatives from companies who are focussing on first-of-their-kind technologies that can truly impact patients’ lives and are involving them in the conversations to ensure successful solutions. Pharma are ready to play innovation with a new set of rules.

A prime example is GW Pharmaceuticals who have created both an innovative medication and a revolutionary process for gaining trust for this product. Previously, there had been no viable medication for epilepsy; while cannabidiol (CBD) oil has been found to be a successful treatment option, there was inconsistency in the quality of the oil available. The company developed Epidiolex: the first FDA approved CBD medication for epileptic patients.

We were going to have to do something radical

There is a scepticism of CBD in the industry, and Julie Baker, Senior Marketing Director, EPIDIOLEX, Greenwich Biosciences, a GW Pharmaceuticals PLC company, explains their innovative approach to overcoming this: “We realised that if we wanted to convince doctors that we could be trusted, we were going to have to do something radical. Trust is not something that is easily earned by pharmaceutical companies. So, we decided that we were going to throw open the doors and let the doctors investigate every inch of the growing and manufacturing process.” Their ethos was complete transparency to gain trust.

The company launched ‘Growing Innovation’, a virtual reality experience that brings doctors into every inch of the manufacturing process. “Doctors were immersed not only as viewers, but as active participants, guided along their journey through the greenhouse with text and infographic pull-outs and expert voiceovers. It’s how they were able to step aboard the skids and ride through the plants: inspecting each and every row. And it’s how they were ultimately able to follow the plant on its journey from greenhouse all the way to becoming medicine”, Aaron Sidorov, SVP Creative Director, The Bloc, explains.

Roche are also innovating in new, game-changing ways, as demonstrated with the development of ‘Floodlight’, an app that collects data from multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and presents it as illuminated dots. “It was truly incredible. It was all about creating all new forms of data, connecting data in new ways that hadn’t been done before in a way that was anonymous, and creating iterations and versions of the platform that were open access, free, and usable by everyone – from physicians to patients and researchers”, says Sara Bamossy, Co-CEO, PITCH.

The app includes tests, such as drawing shapes, that can distinguish people with MS from those without, as well as varying levels of worsening MS. “We are moving from an era of traditional clinical trials, beyond registries and combining big data sets, to this new paradigm where we will take data from lots of different sources and use advanced analytics to find new insights into the data which we think will make a huge different for patients”, says Anne-Marie Li-Kwai-Cheung, Global Head, MS/Neuroscience Personalised Healthcare Programme, Roche. They hope that these data will enable them to carry out better R&D with the endpoint of creating more effective therapies for MS patients.

It was all about creating all new forms of data, connecting data in new ways that hadn’t been done before

Unique innovation for patient centricity can be seen from a spectrum of companies such as Aflac and their innovation ‘My Special Aflac Duck’: a social robot that can be a friend to children with cancer. Carol Cone, CEO and Founder, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, explains the innovation: “My Special Aflac Duck was created from a deep insight; we worked with medical experts and they said that children with cancer need more than medicine. They need emotional support.”

“We work directly with patient communities; we work with kids, we work with their parents, and we work with their doctors to take all of this complex medical information and translate it into things, like a duck, that are comforting”, explains creator Aaron Horowitz, Co-Founder and CEO, Sproutel. Patients are directly involved in shaping the innovation. Horowitz continues: “There’s an interactive app world, there’s technical innovations – we ended up filing four patents; it’s the first ever robot with a removeable plush fur that can be machine washed so that this can be sterilised and used in a hospital.”

Investment into innovation is coming at the right time to make a change in the industry. As these first-of-their-kind examples highlight, we are seeing innovation that has never been done before; the possibilities are endless. As pharma revolutionise their approach to facing challenges, resulting in a wide range of game-changing innovations across the industry, their next move will be highly anticipated.

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