Apple And Google, The Next Big Pharma

The big news today is that Apple is reportedly secretly developing a dermal sensor for measuring blood glucose and the management of diabetes. It’s seems to be a sensor that works with the Apple Watch to continuously and painlessly monitor glucose levels.  Similarly, David Shaywitz reports in Forbes that Alphabet’s  (Google) new wearable is ‘significant’.  And in a world of statistics and wordsmithing, significant seems to have real meaning for a marketplace that has been driven by emotion and limited outcomes data.  Further, the Google /Novartis glucose measuring contact lens also tickles our fancy for innovation and breakthrough.

Now those with diabetes have long worried about ‘the needle’ and almost constant pricks than have come to be linked with this condition.  So a dermal monitor or contact lens could truly be a breakthrough.  From data acquisition to durability (a one week batter life) that Google innovation might also drive the shift for wearables from an ‘athletic option’ to ‘clinical imperative’.

It’s in all the papers.

But what really strikes me is the source of innovation and how it seems to come from ‘expectedly unexpected’ sources like Google and Apple.  We’re beyond the days when we’re shocked that a life science innovation doesn’t come from big pharma.  Yet and interestingly, when a Google or Amazon or Apple enter the market with a ‘significant’ innovation, the reaction is more a nod in acknowledgment than a significant surprise.  In dramatic contrast to these tech innovations, we find the pharm ‘big news’ headlines are more along the lines of soaring drug costs and executive behavior.

 Today’s model of innovation is a far cry from the ‘molasses hierarchy’ of only a few short years ago.  And it’s important to point out that much of pharma must be credited for significant advances, including areas like genomics and oncology.  And everyone seems to have their accelerator or center of excellence. Yet, in my experience, they are sometimes more a senior management imperative or a check in the box than something that actually moves fast or is focused on excellence.  For me, it seems that some of that molasses is still part of the mindset and methodology that might be responsible for the slumber. The wake up calls are coming from a wide variety of industries like retail and defined by the long empty corridors of malls.

I wonder if the innovations of Google and Apple are another wake up call for the life science industry who often times have relied on the snooze function of line extensions and extended-release drugs as the source of income and innovation.


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