Sunday Business Post: Prognosis is good for remote medication monitoring

A medtech company’s special bin for patients who self-inject medications at home is one of a range of ‘digital therapeutics’ that could help improve health outcomes for people with illnesses like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

Article by Leanna Byrne

In November last year, medtech company HealthBeacon announced it was looking to raise €5 million, to bring its total funding to €8 million. By now, it is €2.5 million into its funding and will launch into another 11 markets by the end of 2018.

These kind of investments are common for companies with the next blockbuster drug or game changing medical device, but HealthBeacon though only four years old, finds itself in one of the hottest new areas in the health sector: Digital Therapeutics. Digital therapeutics, or “digiceuticals,” as some call them have become a Holy Grail in some quarters of Silicon Valley, where investors see the chance to deliver medicine through your smartphone.

How it works is that the app or platform helps treat diseases by modifying patient behaviour and providing remote monitoring to improve long-term health outcomes.

HealthBeacon has developed a special bin for patients who self-inject medications at home. The bin is digitally connected to its technology platform, which helps patients keep to their medication schedule with digital reminders. Equally, healthcare professionals will know whether or not their patients are keeping on track with their meds. “There is no real way of knowing whether someone took their medications other than by asking them,” said Jim Joyce, chief executive of HealthBeacon.

The key difference between digital therapeutics and wellness apps is that HealthBeacon tailors its treatment programmes to specific ailments, like cancer or rheumatoid arthritis. Since patient behaviour is important in preventing and limiting the severity of these illnesses, these digital health programmes, combined with human coaching and interaction, can make a significant difference in health outcomes.

“The whole issue of people doing what the doctor said is pretty well known. If people don’t, then it costs the system a lot of money and it can compromise a lot of people’s health,” said Joyce.

Originally from Boston, Joyce first came to Ireland to work in the pharma industry before he went out on his own in 2006 to start health services company Point of Care. The company specialised in medical and infusion care and worked through a network of community care clinics. Joyce spent 8 years building up Point of Care, where he is still a director. But Point of Care’s work led him to notice the patients who were on injectable medications and were administering their own medication at home.

“The idea for HealthBeacon was that we took this medical waste bin and turned it into a digital healthcare assistant. We encased a traditional waste bin and can give information about the place and time to take your medication. If you take it, we know from the disposal of the injection into the box. If you don’t take it, that information goes to your healthcare provider,” said Joyce.

Joyce met Kieran Daly, co-founder of HealthBeacon, when he was chief executive at Shimmer and asked him to take a look at his idea. The next step was to get regulated and to test the product with early pilots in pharma companies in Ireland. Next came global pilots in ten markets, which led to big contracts with pharma companies.

“We’re now at a stage where we’ve got the product pretty well penetrated in the Irish setting. We’ve launched it into eight different countries, from Canada to throughout Europe. Then we’ll be into another 11 markets by the end of 2018 as per the agreements that we have, including the US,” said Joyce.

The €5 million funding round is expected to be closed by March, while HealthBeacon’s FDA approval is expected to come in Q1 this year.  The company, which employs 20 staff in Dublin, also has offices in Boston and Montreal and will add another 20 staff across these locations.

“Getting the US market launch is probably the number one resource. We’ve got lots of ideas for new products that we want to start working on. We want to move beyond just injectable medications into pills and some other areas,” said Joyce.

HealthBeacon is also planning to enter Mexico and Brazil by the first half of this year, with a long-term focus on Latin America.

But even though Joyce believes the only way to hit critical numbers is to look outside Ireland, he views what companies are now doing in the Irish medtech industry as very exciting. “I definitely see more activity in medical technology and the digital health area. It’s still kind of emerging. I see lots of interesting companies. It’s a good time,” said Joyce. “We were able to get really deep market penetration in Ireland, in order to show people the product worked, which would have been harder if we were in Britain or the US.”

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