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IoT and life sciences: Tracing those little pills

The world of life sciences and pharmaceuticals has taken on greater importance as we all live longer and more complicated lives. As science and medicine have progressed, a whole range of treatments have become available to treat common ailments and improve patients’ lives, and as a result, many of us rely on these treatments to maintain our health — a trend that likely will not abate soon. And while we still have not cured the common cold, the world of modern medicine continues to amaze. Yet, there is still room to improve patient outcomes — and that is where technology like the internet of things comes in handy. From taking advantage of IoT in the classic supply chain realm of manufacturing and distribution, to the more personal side of pharmaceuticals, there are some great use cases emerging.

Where are all those pills and who made them?

Traceability is one of the focal points of the pharmaceutical supply chain — not only because of regulations, but because it is a way of protecting intellectual property and keeping highly specialized drugs off the black or gray markets. This is not a nice-to-have, but a need-to-have. We are talking about a supply chain that is providing a wide range of medicines, but all are impacting our bodies in a variety of ways. It is also a heavily regulated industry as governments have strong incentives to ensure the safety and health of their citizens. And the supply chains transverse multiple countries, each of which has its own rules around how companies make, package, label and transport drugs. So, when it comes to being able to understand where a product is at all times throughout the supply chain, being able to add greater digital tracking is essential to securing the supply chain. Whether it is simply adding more IoT sensors to a pallet and production facilities, or even getting down to the individual pill, there is a need for greater digital visibility. Manufacturers, such as Pfizer, Bayer, Novartis, Lily and others, will be able to track where all their products are within the supply chain at any moment. More importantly, they would be able to store and view a wealth of data on these products, being able to identify where they were manufactured, what path they took to get from production to consumption, and quickly identify root causes if there are recalls or other issues. Not being able to identify the root cause of a problem in our food supply chain can create enormous disruptions. But the same issue related to products that in some cases are used to keep people alive has even greater repercussions.

Making a house call without leaving the office

The path toward prescriptions often starts with our doctors assessing our condition and determining the best treatment. Today, that often requires visits to a doctor’s office, but what happens when we have greater connectivity? Rather than go to a doctor’s office, hospital or minute clinic, what if we could be diagnosed via a connected home? Our smartphones already have sensors that can detect a pulse and a camera for basic imaging. We use wearables, like Fitbits or smartwatches, to further track activity and biometrics. And new, connected technology comes to the market each day that could take the ability to digitally sense a person’s well-being even further. This real-time data relayed to our doctors would provide an overview of our health or illness that would, in turn, allow for certain medication to be suggested and prescribed. Could remote health monitoring also lead to remote pharmaceutical prescriptions? We may be far from having the degree of connectivity to provide such a view of individuals, but as more devices in our homes become connected, we have more connected wearables and even our infrastructure becomes more connected, the opportunity is abounding for more data about our health gets collected. Life science could seek to tap into this mountain of data to better dispense with medications.

Take two of these and call me in the morning

The last mile delivery — no, not for Amazon orders, but for consumption of medicine. While we are used medicines being prescribed to us, do we always follow the instructions? No. Now imagine a world where that medicine is “smart” and connected. Companies such as Novartis and Proteus, which are already testing connected medicine and digestables, would be able to understand how the medicine interacts with your body, but also truly track whether you are property taking it. Are you following the rules of taking it on a full stomach? Taking it twice a day? Also, is the proper person who was prescribed the drugs taking them? Your medical team would have vital usage data, not only that you are taking the medicines as prescribed, but that it is interacting with your system the way they would like it to.

When it comes to IoT and life sciences, the opportunities for bringing digital insight into the production, distribution and usage of medicine holds great promise. However, there are some major privacy and data issues that must be taken into consideration. Unlike the data associated with what kind of shoes we like or whether we like wheat bread rather than multigrain, this information strikes at the core of us as humans — our well-being. How would this data be used by the likes of insurance companies? Could they adjust their coverage based on this data?

While the use cases for IoT in life sciences are intriguing and exciting, they must be approached with a healthy dose of caution. Remember that the most important aspect of medicine is to do no harm.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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