It may have been slow in getting started but the pharmaceutical industry is now embracing new technologies, notably through smart phone apps, and adopting a more holistic approach to healthcare.

This is the view laid out in Progressions: Building Pharma 3.0, Ernst & Young's annual global pharmaceutical report. It notes that drugmakers are "dramatically increasing their investments in new and innovative offerings to meet the demands of a patient-empowered, data-driven, outcomes-focused future in healthcare". In the last year alone, pharmaceutical company investment in smart phone apps, educational websites, social media platforms, wireless devices and other programmess increased 78%, "as companies embrace a role that goes far beyond developing and manufacturing products". 

Still, while many of these initiatives "involve collaborating in new ways with non-pharmaceutical companies", investments by the latter are outpacing those made by drugmakers. Non-pharma players have publicly committed at least $20 billion in experiments with new business models, "an investment level several multiples larger than the allocations made by the pharmaceutical industry", the report says. This is "challenging industry members to either increase their level of investment or risk diminished relevance".

Initiatives are being driven by investments in mobile health technology, particularly smart phone apps, E&Y claims. Between 2006 and 2009, 16% of these initiatives were in the mobile health space and in 2010 accounted for one out of every two new projects. Smart phone apps, previously focused primarily on diabetes management tools,  expanded rapidly into another 13 disease areas last year, and include tools to help "track vaccination schedules, manage infusions for treatment of hemophilia and find cancer clinical trials within 150 miles of their location".

Pharma needs to develop diverse capabilities, such as mining insights from "vast pools of dissimilar health data to rural distribution networks in emerging markets and wireless communication platforms," says Patrick Flochel, EMEIA life sciences leader at E&Y. He added that "no single company has everything that it will take...and in today's resource-strapped business climate, companies will benefit by leveraging investments that other companies have already made, rather than reinventing every wheel". 

Mr Flochel concludes by saying that "'not invented here' was once an admission of inadequacy in this industry [but] it will be a source of pride. Collaboration - radical collaboration, and lots of it -- is the future".