Next-Generation Medicine: Digital Therapeutics

Share on Facebook
Share on Google+
Share on LinkedIn

Just last week I told you about the new version of its watch by Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), which offers a bunch of health features, such as an EKG. The watch though is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to how technology is changing medicine.

One area that really has me excited is a new generation of digital medicines that rely on software as a key component in managing or even curing a disease. These medicines are distinct from wellness apps that help people maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Digiceuticals”, as these digital therapeutics are often called, are generally validated through clinical trials, just like conventional medicines, and are increasingly catching the attention of cost-conscious health systems around the world trying to cope with a rising number of patients. For instance, the consultancy McKinsey says that digiceuticals could save the German healthcare system two billion euros ($2.363 billion) annually.

What Are Digital Therapeutics?

So what exactly are digiceuticals? They can be a lot of things…

For example, some complement traditional treatment by helping patients manage their disease, including informing them when and how much medication to take. And some offer alternative treatments to drugs, such as sensory stimuli delivered through a tablet computer to manage insomnia or depression.

Another example of the latter is Tinnitracks, an app developed by Hamburg-based start-up Sonormed, which can alleviate tinnitus for sufferers. It retrains the ear to reduce the volume of the permanent noise that characterizes tinnitus. Such remedies are definitely needed since there are really no drug treatments for ear-related diseases, such as hearing loss or tinnitus.

Very broadly speaking, digital therapeutics usually target conditions that are poorly addressed by our current healthcare system, such as chronic diseases or neurological disorders. In addition, they can often deliver treatment more cheaply than traditional therapy by reducing demands on doctors’ time.

Digital therapeutics have made a lot of progress over the past decade, as technology has been harnessed to supplement or even potentially replace traditional clinical therapy. More evidence is emerging to demonstrate their value in clinical terms.

For instance, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a mobile application to help treat alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine addiction, citing clinical trials that showed 40% of patients using the app abstained for a three-month period, compared with just 17.6% of those who used standard therapy alone.