Pharma & Biotech Tap into Mobile Apps

Posted by on Sep 21, 2012 in Blog | 4 Comments

Drug companies are piloting Apps on both iPhones and iPads.  One of the most interesting is a form of disease-specific Personal Health Record. These can collect patient-specific data about disease episodes, medications, dosing and compliance. They have the opportunity to become tools through which drug manufacturers can drive, or at least influence compliance. It is a little too early to say if these Apps will successfully drive compliance.  However if they do, then they are a very interesting new competitive tool that all drug companies need to be aware of, as they would own the patient data, have direct access to the patient through the App and potentially significantly increase sales.

A CI-Strategy survey of the top 100 pharma and biotech companies in September 2012 shows that these companies are testing mobile Apps with a number of launches in 2011 and 2012 and, presumably, many more in the pipeline.

To date, only 30%, or 30 companies out of the 100 surveyed have Apps in the Apple Apps Store. Both big and mid-sized manufacturers have Apps. Some Apps are sponsored by country subsidiaries of US and European firms, such as in Australia, South Korea and Japan, implying that either the local management in these countries has got the go-ahead to be test pilots, or have gone it alone being more entrepreneurial than their US and European counterparts.

The 30 companies with Apps had launched 101 Apps at the time of this survey. Nearly two thirds have only launched one or two Apps. The largest number of Apps sponsored by any one single company is nine – Merck and Sanofi.

Some 20% are reported to be in multiple languages.

All are free whether for the iPhone or iPad. The iPhone is the most popular platform accounting for 75% of all Apps, 50% are on the iPad and 25% are on both platforms.

These Apps are targeted at either consumers (patients), or professionals (providers). Nearly two thirds are aimed at consumers, while one third at professionals.

The most interesting insights to come out of this survey are around the target usage of these Apps.

Nearly 40% of the Apps is aimed at consumers have functionality similar to Personal Health Records (PHR), but specialized for a specific disease state – migraine, hemophilia, psoriasis, diabetes, baby nutrition. The intent is for the user (patient or care giver) to enter details of the patient’s condition over time (instances of migraines or outbreaks of psoriasis), as well as their intensity and other relevant details. In many of these Apps, users can also enter details of therapy compliance (pills taken and when).

PHRs have not taken off to date. Attempts by both Google and Microsoft to get into this market a few years back failed badly. However, it makes tremendous sense for drug manufacturers to try to get their customers to use these disease specific PHR Apps. With drug compliance levels often dropping to 30% after the first year, if drug companies can use these Apps to drive compliance, such as by sending out reminders to get refills if they see patients falling off their regimen, these Apps will more than pay for the time and effort to build and maintain them.

However, one has to question why patients would use these disease specific PHRs without an incentive. Having your phone remind you every morning to take your pill will soon become annoying and easily ignored. The segment of the market that could give incentives is the health plans as better compliance should lead to healthier plan members and more data should help them drive wellness. But health plans have yet to develop Apps with this functionality.  So for the time being, it is up to drug companies to develop clear benefits to Apps users around regularly filling in their personal disease and medication data and having these Apps remind them to take their medication.  Perhaps drug companies could offer special electronic coupon redeemable at pharmacies, or links to disease specific crowd sourcing websites like

Other consumer App functionality is aimed at helping patients get fitter or lose weight, while others provide education on specific diseases, or where to find the company’s product. There are also Apps that help patients self-diagnose or provide updates on the environment, like levels of UV or flu. These all help to build brand image for specific companies or drugs.

In the professional segment, the main application is education, accounting for half the Apps, with the second being dosing and risk calculators. However much of this information is likely to be available via independent Apps like Epocrates, which is already widely used by physicians. Admittedly, full access to Epocrates costs $200 plus a year, but it would seem a small price for a professional to pay to have all the information he or she needs via a single App. The third area of Apps for professionals is an up to date list of congresses.  This too is available through a number of different Apps so it would seem that the issue the drug sponsored Apps to professions may have is that they compete against Apps from either independent publishers like Epocrates or WebMD¸ or other drug companies.

There would seem to be real competitive value in consumer PHR-like Apps if drug companies can find ways to keep consumers using them. However, the functionality of many of the other Apps would seem to be nice-to-have with the value more around building brand image rather than revenue generation.

It is very early days for the drug company sponsored mobile Apps and it will be very interesting to see how their functionality evolves.

by Mike Ratcliffe


  1. eh
    September 24, 2012

    Very interesting findings – have you also seen this recent social media game created game by Boehringer Ingelheim ? I wonder who else will follow suit:

    • mikeratcliffe
      September 24, 2012

      I have, but I’m not sure I understand exactly what its goals are. The trailer talks about “education,” but I assume its more. Since it will not be launched until 2013, I have only the trailer to go on. If anyone has any more insight I’d be very interested.

  2. Only 30% of Top 100 Pharma and Biotech have Apps… « Science Intelligence and InfoPros
    October 1, 2012

    [...] Ratcliffe, Mike. Pharma & Biotech tap into Mobile Apps. CI Strategy, 21 September 2012, Available from: [...]


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