Chasing Medical Nirvana

By Joseph Marks, Event Director at CPhI North America

Joseph Marks, Event Director at CPhI North America, explains how technology and human ingenuity continue to make healthcare

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Joseph Marks, Event Director at CPhI North America, explains how technology and human ingenuity continue to make healthcare more personal on many fronts.
In the 21st Century, technology and instantaneous communications have made the world a much smaller place. Geography is no longer a limit to communications, and nowhere is this potentially more impactful and important than in healthcare. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, nanotechnology, cloud-based data, 3D printing, wearable personal devices, personalized genomics – these technologies are the tip of a rapidly developing iceberg that pharma is starting to embrace, and are seeing provider and patient engagement, further driving innovation.
From genomic sequences, cell types and the brain to individuals, populations and our environments, we know more about the human condition than ever before. Our understanding of individual health needs, disease states and targeted therapeutic treatments, allied to innovations in both technology and thinking, are enabling us to live longer. We have more tools to meet our health needs. The depth of personal data available to providers and information around therapeutics available to patients means more informed consumers who have evolved to have an active interest in both the prevention and best responses to health issues.
CPhI events around the world have always been about bringing the biopharma and pharma supply chains together – to catch up, to share thoughts and ideas, to find out about the latest and great products, services and technologies, and to discover emerging trends that will drive the industry forwards. 2018 is no different, and we’re focused through the theme of CPhI North America Fostering Innovation in Drug Development and Manufacturing with visionary keynote speakers including The Medical Futurist Dr Bertalan Mesko, and Dr Jeremy Frank, Vice President of Digital Medicine Platform Development at Proteus Digital Health, showcasing the possibilities existing in future of healthcare and technology.
In line with our focus on innovation, we thought it would be interesting to look at some of the trends we might expect to see budding into the Pharma market. With the digitization of health, the supply chain has become much more integrated. Consumers have access to more information and, as a result, are likely to become more engaged in their own health and lifestyle management. Opportunities exist for Pharma companies to engage in a more holistic approach, integrating and customizing services for individuals. Here we look at just three of the many trends that are leveraging human ingenuity to advance technology to make healthcare truly personal.
Forewarned is forearmed
As the old saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure.’ Today, this adage rings truer than ever before. When the Human Genome Project was completed, the foundation of the development of personalized medical treatments was in place. In tandem with this, patient empowerment, made possible by the intersection of social media, wearable devices and ability to easily analyse big data, is evolving the narrative between health providers and patients.
Rather than going to see your doctor when you are sick, hopefully being prescribed an effective remedy, and taking it, we now have access to genomic data that is already helping to highlight individual susceptibilities with specific genetic markers that could adversely affect future health if not addressed. Pre-emptive actions have potential to prevent certain diseases, if certain lifestyle adjustments are made. We see this prevention approach mirrored as pharma companies develop therapeutics that can help prevent certain conditions occurring or, at the very least, alleviate severe symptoms.
This time, it’s (more) personal
Historically, drugs have been designed on a ‘one size fits all’ basis for consumption by, potentially, millions of patients with little consideration for their physiological and genetic variance. As medical data becomes more genetically granular, we could see the evolution of pharma to the point where drugs are produced on demand at the point of consultation or even at a pharmacy simply based on a patient’s data and the providers’ findings. For example, while a therapeutic treatment plan is being tailored to a patient, a 3D printer could be synthesizing powdered drugs, layer by layer, in the suggested composition and dose. In addition, comparing treatments that are effective based on disease type, physiological data and genomic profiles could make diagnosis and treatment efficacy potentially more potent and on a global scale.
Speaking of 3D printing, this technology lends itself particularly well to personalized medicine and customizable on-demand treatment plans. It’s likely that in the not-too-distant future, medicine could be printed on demand, providing greater flexibility for patients and providers. We’ve already seen the first ever FDA-approved 3D printed medicine Spiritam, a porous pill designed to treat epilepsy formulated from levetiracetam produced by New Jersey’s Aprecia. It was approved by the FDA in August 2015.
3D printed medicines offer a number of potential benefits. People suffering with several chronic conditions, for example, might no longer have to take a cocktail of drugs. Instead, they can fold all of their daily medications into a single 3D printed pill to the tailored to their exact needs. Another advantage is that medicines can be printed in appropriate batch sizes, containing several active ingredients, with its dosage personalized to age, gender, race, weight, genetic makeup and physiological profile. This has great potential to reduce the risk of incorrect dosing and adverse reactions.

The rise of AI
Although Artificial Intelligence has been a technology buzz word for around two decades, it’s only in the past several years that it has really began to actually appear in everyday life. AI, along with cognitive computing, enables us to rapidly process vast amounts of data. Potentially this will expedite the drug development process, enabling ‘cognitive trials’ to be run instantaneously, rather than taking months or even years in trails, and potentially reducing the need for animal testing. The time savings and associated cost savings will be game changing, and patients will be able to receive treatment much quicker.
Another element of AI focuses on personal technology. Wearable technologies that monitor personal physiology such as heart rate and sleep patterns, for example, are already widespread, and there are plans to add greater functionality to these devices. For example, Fitbit has developed chronic condition management tools that it is planning to integrate into its devices, and the company is planning to submit digital health tools focusing on arrhythmia and sleep apnea detection for FDA clearance this year as it seeks to align itself more closely with health providers. The data Fitbit devices generate is significant. Its smartwatches have helped the company “amass a considerable trove of de-identified (anonymous) fitness data. Fitbit claims to have 105 billion hours of heart rate data, 6 billion nights of sleep and 200 billion minutes of exercise tracked.”1
As AI continues to expand into the consumer space, in addition to highly functional wearable devices we could see further developments for health applications that promote informed decision-making. The use of body sensors, for example, body microchips, ‘digital tattoos’, nano-robots and the other devices able to obtain patient data and share in real-time to healthcare professionals, potentially alerting them to problems and enabling a heads up on appropriate treatments. We are seeing wearable technology evolve to the point where it can enable healthcare providers to better support patients beyond the confines of medical facilities, which can lead to better health outcomes and, ultimately, lower medical costs.
Join the conversation
Of course, we’re really only scratching the surface here when discussing the breadth and depth of innovative thinking that is advancing healthcare services, products, platforms and technologies that can be leveraged, ultimately, throughout the pharma and biopharma supply chains, from laboratory bench to production to consumers. Drug development, drug delivery and bioprocessing – the three key focus tracks within CPhI North America this year – all stand to benefit from optimized timelines, improved targeting and on-demand generation trends, reducing time to market, enabling leaner operations and sharing enhanced knowledge up and down the supply chain. One thing is certain: the pace of innovation is not slowing down.
CPhI North America takes place from 24th to 26th April 2018, at The Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, PA, USA. For more information, and to join the conversation around innovation at CPhI North America, go to