‘Better together?’

Dan Weaden is Head of Strategy for Havas Lynx London. In addition to musing on the future of healthcare and tech, he has 14 years of experience shaping brand and campaign strategies that are ‘on point’ – defining compelling messages, relevant to the audience, delivered through a unique brand experience.

Better together? by Dan Weaden

Let’s face it, the old approach to partnerships in healthcare was broken. In those days partnerships came with a big ‘P’. Large global pharma companies partnering with established technology powerhouses. High investment, high risk. Hoping on a wing and a prayer that, this time, you’ve backed the right technology partner – the winning horse in the race for the next big tech breakthrough.

Of course, there have been successes, for example Pfizer’s recent collaboration with IBM Watson into Parkinson’s, but there were also arguably some dramatic failures.

Thankfully, and not before time, pharma is waking up to the impact the millennial generation is already having in healthcare. In particular, that millennial HCPs (mHCPs) are the driving catalyst to a change in the partnership model.

Why? you ask. For starters, one of the overriding traits of mHCPs is their willingness to collaborate.  Understandable really, when you think that they were born into an ultra-connected world – Googling at 10, on Facebook at 12 and smartphone savvy at 15. It’s in their nature.

A second trait, is an ambition and drive to improve the healthcare system with reform and innovation rather than only treat sick patients. They seek to disrupt to be able to provide better healthcare. Graduating medical students are even by-passing practice completely to go straight into business, policy, digital health, or other pursuits outside of the clinical realm. (Doximity, a professional network for physicians, reported in 2011 that only 68% of Stanford medical students go on to pursue clinical residency.)

Their motivation is to turn the tap off, not plug the leaking bucket.

Boosted by advances and access to technology, data and funding, the truly innovative breakthroughs are coming from mHCPs and their tech start-ups – for example Opthotech’s innovation and advancement for the treatment of AMD.

Again, pharma is behind the curve – other industries have been embracing this approach to innovation for some time. Even a company with the capabilities, brainpower and prowess as Google Ventures, has investments in more than 300 start-ups.  Interestingly, the bio tech and life sciences field made up 31% of Google Ventures investments by the end of 2015 and continues to grow.

Pharma is only now realising the benefits of venture capitalist type investment in small, focused, entrepreneurial business for advancements rather than large scale investment in partnerships or in-house capabilities – Novartis and Merck have established dedicated start-up investment programmes, whilst Bayer’s ‘Grants4Apps’ initiative offers 50,000 euros and support for successful applications.

What next?

I was inspired to see the TED talk by Dr James Bradner, then of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and his open-source model of cancer drug discovery. His team discovered a new molecule with the potential to treat a rare cancer. But rather than putting up the shutters, he opened up to accelerate the process – published a paper at the earliest prototype stage, shared the chemical identity, guidance on how to make it and even sent out free molecule samples. It worked. The insights, application and findings from a wider collaborative network far exceeded what they could achieve as a lab in isolation.

More recently, at the launch event of our recent whitepaper into millennial HCPs, the audience of colleagues, clients, and esteemed guests each played the Sea Quest Hero game – a downloadable app, which captures valuable data as players use their navigation skills to work through games. In just two minutes, users can generate the same amount of data that scientists would take five hours to collect in similar, lab-based research.  Collectively, we contributed 1190 hours of research.

The result in both instances will be new treatments and better patient outcomes, quicker.

My challenge to pharma is to get ahead of the curve. To see where the shape of ‘partnership’ is going, and be a step ahead of the game.

So, here’s a clue – the future of ‘partnership’ in healthcare is with the crowd. Groups of motivated individuals (even empowered patients and carers) using their collective experiences and brainpower to solve healthcare problems. Open-source, crowd-sourcing healthcare and hackathons, with our connected, collaborative and driven mHCPs at the heart of it.

The future of partnership in healthcare has a small ‘p’.