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Business and Technology Insights

When Will Pharma Pop the IoT Pill

 
June 14, 2016

Have you heard about the glucose-sensing contact lens? Developed jointly by Google and Novartis, the lens, through a tiny chip and micro sensor, can measure glucose levels in tears, and transmit the reading to mobile devices. With support from endocrinologists, ophthalmologists, and leading clinical partners, Google has already conducted clinical studies, and is currently exploring full-scale studies, to comply with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements.

Whoever thought the Internet of Things (IoT) wasnt of much relevance to the pharmaceutical domain was sadly mistaken. IoT for Life Sciences has arrived. And is here to stay.

According to Evren Eryurek, Chief Technology Officer, GE Healthcare, IoT isnt just about creating newer, smarter systems in a tech-enabled world. Its about connecting clinical, financial and operational data, to solve healthcares biggest challenges.

The IoT has potential to positively impact pharmas value chain. From drug research to development, consumption, and monitoring, IoT-driven smart and progressive medical technology facilitates better health monitoring at lower costs, drives smarter real life decisions, prevents diseases, reduces treatment and recovery time, and improves overall patient experience. For example, based on a patients genome, the IoT can enable personalized treatment, targeted specifically to the patients needs. IoT-driven remote health monitoring systems can collect vital patient data such as weight and blood sugar level, and transmit the data to doctors for analysis. Patients then dont need to visit hospitals for routine check-ups. They can enjoy quality medical care from the comfort of their homes.

But thats not all. Sensors on smart Pill Bottles can count and detect pill removal from the bottle, transforming the bottle into a smart drug administrator with medication reminder alerts provided in the form of phone calls and text messages, on-bottle lights, and chimes. The technology, currently being piloted by AdhereTech, has the potential to drive patient adherence to prescribed dosage, ultimately resulting in significant improvement in the quality of patient life. The company is also anonymously aggregating dosage compliance data, to help pharmaceutical companies and medical practitioners get a clearer picture of dosage compliance. Moving beyond the bottle, another pharma company, has gone a step further with smart, sensor enabled pills that can alert doctors on dosage compliance.

As we all are aware, any potential opportunity also comes with its own challenges. And the IoT is no exception. Data security, privacy, complex infrastructure and environment management, connectivity and power are important aspects to consider. While these issues can be resolved with process fixes, the biggest challenge is patient confidence and mindset change. Patients will not use sensors, without first knowing their consequences and side effects. User safety is vital when we discuss a technological advancement in any industry sector, and even more in life sciences. Thus patient safety and efficacy of the IoT-powered sensor are some important aspects from both regulatory and consumer perspectives. Any IoT-driven solution will have to be approved by regulatory agencies before being made commercially available.

While building patient confidence and driving mindset change is more of a communication challenge, there are also issues to be resolved, from the testing perspective. The IoT ecosystem, characterized by complex infrastructure, diverse real-time scenarios, and interconnectivity of smart devices, calls for robust validation, to ensure that devices dont just work perfectly, but are also in sync with each other. Besides putting devices through functional, security, compatibility, performance and usability testing, QA teams must understand the implications of IoTs complex environment, and assign paramount importance to data security and privacy.

To summarize, the Internet of Things offers exciting opportunities for the life sciences industry. Intelligent devices will allow faster analysis of real-time data and will help companies in identifying problems sooner. Organizations will face the challenge of connecting various intelligent devices for data consolidation and analysis, and maintaining security and privacy of the consolidated data. Overcoming these challenges demands a superior QA function that can help pharma companies successfully adopt the IoT, and as a result, improve patient experience significantly.

Deepu is a Presales Consultant for the Life Sciences vertical and is a part of TCS Assurance Services Unit. With over 4.5 years of experience in the IT industry, he has been involved in many large proposals and has experience in providing customized and cost effective testing solutions for major Life Sciences customers across geographies. A certified ISTQB testing professional, he is quality driven and involved in solution activities of multiple life sciences customers addressing their requirements and demonstrating an understanding of the industry trends, business concepts, etc. in the solution formulated.