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Will Digital Therapeutics Replace Drugs?

Even though DTx can certainly aim to replace drugs in some specific cases, the more likely scenario is improved cooperation between the two.

Why should pharma companies care about digital therapeutics?

Digital therapeutics’ moment in the sun does not appear to be ending anytime soon. In the recent years, pharma has taken an interest in the digital therapeutics space. Pandemic hit has only accelerated this trend and 2021 appears to be a big year for digital therapeutics in pharma. Practically almost every major pharma company is getting involved in digital therapeutics, whether standalone or ‘around-the-pill’. Digital therapeutics offer a great opportunity to amplify pharma’s ability to personalise therapies and optimise patients experience and outcome.

A digital therapeutic product such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) could be combined with a drug to improve the drug’s effect, and thus optimise patients outcomes and create a whole slew of opportunities. Digital health companies can also bring capabilities in areas that many pharma companies traditionally do not have such as human-centred design, digital product design and development, big data and artificial intelligence, wearables and sensors, digital product validation, and so on. Such capabilities will probably prove essential for pharma as healthcare evolves toward a digital future.

What do you see as the biggest impact of digital therapeutics on the pharma industry?

Many people ask whether digital therapeutics will replace drugs—and whether big pharma should be afraid. The simple answer is that DTx will not replace drugs, except in a very few instances such as mental health, pain management, ADHD, and so on. The most probable scenarios is that the two of them will work together to improve patients outcomes. Digital therapeutic products are combined with a drug to improve the overall patients’ outcomes: an algorithm that could predict disease progression and help adjust dosing, a solution that provides mental support for patient with chronic disease.

However, pharmaceutical have a long way to go before they fully integrate digital therapeutics into their pipeline. This is new territory with few precedents, and the strategies for building successful alliances remain uncertain.

How has COVID-19 changed the belief in what digital therapeutics can do for patients?

I believe this is now well documented but I will mention two specific areas.

First, the digital adoption spiked overnight as the entire healthcare industry had to quickly pivot to virtual care. Both patients and doctors are positive to this new post-pandemic digital arena. For instance, we can see that for telehealth and virtual care: 78 % of Doctors believe virtual care was helpful and 77 % of healthcare consumers experience same or better access to care during the pandemic.

Second, the prevalence of mental health conditions had been relatively stable before 2020. However, this trend changed with the pandemic. DTx can provide solutions to mitigate this trend.

During our Digital Therapeutics and Pharma Summit this September, Hicham will be sharing more about: Digital therapeutics opportunities, threats and challenges for pharmaceutical companies.


Hicham Naim, Global Program Head Integrated and Personalised Care at Takeda is a Clinical Pharmacist by training, he has a Doctorate Degree in Pharmacy and an MBA. He is also Certified Customer Experience Professional. Hicham has over 20 years hands-on experience in the healthcare and life sciences industries from strategy to implementation. He started his career as a clinical pharmacist in the early 2000s before working in pharmaceutical and management consulting industries. Hicham is now the Global Head of Integrated & Personalised Care Program at Takeda, Digital Advisory Board. Previous to that, Hicham was leading Strategy and Business Operations for Europe and Canada, and Head of Customer Experience Strategy and Operations. Hicham is also a Mentor of several digital therapeutics start ups.

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