If you are a drug sponsor or manufacturer (or soon to be) you may benefit from developments in the “telemedicine” and direct-to-patient (DTP) market.
Not quite interested at this point? Perhaps you should be.
“Selling DTP allows for larger margins and bigger markets,” says Cathy Tie, founder and CEO, Locke Bio.
“You don't have to pay all the middle people to get your product out there. It’s a great proposition. You gain more control.”
Launching your own patient-facing brand (or extending your current brand’s business) and beginning to service patients directly, starts, familiarly enough, with a website:
One that fronts a web of networks in the background that facilitates “the entire flow of asynchronous or synchronous patient-intake forms, clinical protocols and drug prescribing, and bypasses the healthcare bloat between manufacturer and patient.”
“Essentially,” says Tie, “you can turn an antiquated process for the patient – going to the doctor and then the pharmacy – into your tech-driven e-commerce.”
The digital proposition, says Tie, starts with a digital “storefront” meeting all the “special procedures for telehealth,” establishing a network of doctors (licensed in all 50 U.S. states and throughout Canada) and a network of pharmacies, forming partnerships with online-merchant relationships to facilitate payment transactions, and covering the regulatory aspects of selling your drugs to consumers online.
For example, Locke Bio utilizes LegitScript, a compliance entity that ensures licenses of doctors and pharmacies are valid in specific geographies. For a drug sponsor or their manufacturer, there’s no worry about hiring doctors, says Tie.
Nor are there worries on the data-privacy front: the “platform” your storefront resides on “is compliant in multiple ways.”
Regarding those merchants – think Mastercard/Visa/Amex, and external banks to underwrite online transactions – the “list of requirements ensuring compliance from a payment processing standpoint are addressed.”
A full-service outsourcing option, you might say. Where have we heard that before?
An Uber For Doctors
Employing the “telemedicine model,” you'll directly interface with patients via your branded website.
Prospective patients follow an orderly intake flow (indicate symptoms, record medical and prescription histories, etc.), and can select one of your products specifically – only yours are sold on the dedicated site – and also indicate a desired dosage or length of prescription they’d prefer.
On the back end, a doctor (or nurse practitioner) in the corresponding geographic region, uses their clinical judgment to decide if your drug is appropriate for each patient, and can prescribe it or deny the incoming script accordingly.
“All the scripts are then fulfilled through the pharmacy with a direct relationship to you, the manufacturer of the generic or branded drug,” says Tie. There’s a financial arrangement for supplying the drugs to your pharmacy, and for the pharmacy distributing them directly to the consumer.
“It’s like an Uber for doctors,” says Tie.”
Doctors are staffed on different telehealth platforms or for different brands. Once that patient completes the intake form, the appropriate doctor reviews all the patient’s information in real time, and responds directly.
There are different clinical protocols associated with specific brands and therapeutic areas. Doctors can approve or deny prescriptions quickly, and send those prescriptions directly to the pharmacy fulfillment center with the direct relationship to the drug manufacturer.
On the one hand, you the drug sponsor (or your CDMO) just needs to supply the drug.
On the other, you establish a direct relationship with your customers – a form of “patient-centric” strategy not possible until now.
Some Gray Areas
How does the patient with a migraine or allergy find your branded website in the first place? Or turn that around: How do you find that “growing market” and drive consumers to you?
Tie says manufacturers can employ both digital and non-digital marketing, but for me this remains a potentially difficult nut to crack. Will it require the hiring of marketing/advertising/branding professionals? How about a social media presence?
There is also the complication of the direct relationship to a patient’s insurance provider.
And can we be sure there are enough doctors and nurse practitioners out there who will sign up for the digital office job?
… these are important questions, perhaps not fully answerable as we move into this future.
Brave New World
I ask Tie whether tech giants like Amazon, with its own pharmacy, or Google’s healthcare initiatives, or already established sites such as hims and Roman, are the early competition in this digital movement.
She offers an emphatic, “No.”
“This space is early, especially in terms of providing infrastructure,” she says.
“Efforts at Amazon, for example, are different. Those are online prescription fulfillment platforms.”
Meaning: The manufacturer has no control where the script is written or whose drug is dispensed -- yours or that of many potential competitors. It’s a standard fulfillment, as if you were to go to a CVS or Walgreens.
“What we are talking about is providing a platform for any sized company with approved drugs that can be branded and launched DTP,” she clarifies.
“There’s been no platform like this provided to manufacturers, because it's traditionally a complex workflow for online prescribing and fulfillment, particularly for a variety of therapeutic areas.”
Tie is determined to grow the telemedicine space by “continuously working with companies in the pharmaceutical supply chain as well as e-commerce companies to bridge the digital gap, lower the barrier to entry for creating brands, and bypassing the middle players.”
New solutions provide the manufacturer an opportunity to reach consumers directly, oversee the processes of physician prescribing, clinical protocol procedures, and, ultimately, making sure your drugs are appropriately dispensed and shipped to the patient.
Yes, that also seems like a lot of responsibility.