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Beyond the pill: How to go beyond the fad

Beyond the pill (BTP) strategies have become as trendy as the Kardashians and as ambitious as Captain Kirk.  Yet the bright future of Rx technological enhancements paired with an ecosystem of services is still more of a dream than a commercial reality, with a variety of failed initiatives littering the industry.

The stall-out is partly due to the fad phenomenon, where a fringe task force is assembled to pursue a BTP “initiative” (the word “initiative” is almost a kiss of death!) instead of placing it at the heart of the business with committed resources. It is also due to a lack of BTP focus. For instance, it’s important to determine: How far beyond the pill? In which direction? These and other essential scope questions are sometimes overlooked in the enthusiasm to launch HMS Beyond The Pill. Finally, BTP strategies require beyond-the-paradigm thinking, including fresh measurement frameworks to test and validate new value propositions.

How far beyond the pill?

The crew of Star Trek ‘s U.S.S. Enterprise could explore space beyond our known frontiers because it made for great TV, but biopharma companies can ill-afford to roam aimlessly. Should BTP be treated as a transformational effort across the entire organization, changing business practices as GSK has re-configured its approach to customer engagement? Or should they be focused on product enhancements that wrap technologies around compounds, similar to Otsuka’s pursuit of sensor-enabled pills? Companies need to decide whether the ambition is truly blue-ocean or anchored by a therapy/product focus.

This also begs questions around time horizons for returns and vehicles of commercialization. Some players have opted for the partnership model, setting up corporate “speedboats” like Calico or establishing long-term partnerships with IBM Watson. Others put BTP at the heart of its existing commercial organization. Jain identifies the derailers and drivers of BTP success in a Harvard Business Review article (How Pharma Can Offer More Than Pills, July 2015) including leadership, regulatory, clinical, partnership, (outside) talent and capital considerations.

We advise clients to first address these questions before launching themselves into rounds of research to support their BTP quest.

What flavor of BTP?

BTP comes in different flavors. A sponsoring organization must first decide on the vectors or territories it wishes to pursue, and those it wishes to systematically exclude from its commercial ambitions. McKinsey (McKinsey Quarterly 2012: Beyond the pill: Creating medical value through technology enablement) has dimensionalized the main sources of BTP value as follows:

  • Patient adherence
  • Chronic disease management
  • Closed-loop monitoring
  • Drug-test combinations
  • Data transparency

Which of these are the most promising avenues for generating fresh sources of value and associated revenue? The themes of trust and value proliferate in many organizations charting a BTP path. But finding and articulating value for whom is paramount. Will BTP cement professional relationships, or are they primarily intended to deliver patient benefits? Who is the intended recipient of BTP innovation?

Discovery phases that analyze analogs can refine the focus and flavor of the BTP strategies worth pursuing.

Beyond the paradigm measurement frameworks

The pursuit of groundbreaking BTP strategies demands non-traditional measurement approaches. First establish a disciplined system for identifying and screening promising BTP innovations. Innovation approaches from other industries can help gain foresight into which new sources of value will make a difference in the future. GfK’s FutureWave is one such approach that combines visionary conversations with an analysis of analogs and trends from inside and outside the industry, providing inspiration for innovations that can make a difference in three to five-plus years.

Second, don’t just test the concept. Test the market with multiple stakeholders, the value/price point (especially if the BTP innovation will reshape established reimbursement protocols), prototype the innovation (again and again in a series of rapid refinements), and don’t skimp on human factors testing to satisfy regulatory demands.

BTP Slide
If you want to boldly go where no biopharma company has gone before, embrace the discipline and structure suggested in this short article. After all, vagueness is the enemy of action.

This article was co-authored by Justin Edge and Madhunika Raghavan.

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