It’s Friday when I start writing this and I confess I am working from home. Ok, really, I am hiding out a bit after a week of total networking.  As an IP attorney, my view of the JP Morgan healthcare conference is from the periphery of events that grow up around the conference.  You might wonder what my goal is at these events.  Basically, it’s two-fold:  Meet people in the industry and learn as much as I can.  This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t mind connecting up with new clients, but that’s not at the forefront. I don’t think most people show up at JPM week looking for legal help.

Did I meet these goals? Sure thing!  I met folks from start-ups to big pharma, from med device and diagnostic companies, digital health, small molecule and biologic therapeutics, diagnostic companies, CROs and CMOs, investment funds and banks.  I spoke with consultants of all types, students from universities, government representatives, healthcare providers and payers.  It was a melting pot from Silicon Valley the East Coast of the US and states in between and a hodgepodge of countries (UK, China, Lithuania and many others).

This left my brain in a whirlwind and with a bunch of unanswered questions.

What do drug pricing and digital health have to do with each other?

Drug pricing, wow, this one is a mood killer.  On one side of the equation was drug industry defending pricing against value and addressing tough unmet needs and small populations.  On the flip side, the general populace has a different view, namely if drugs don’t cost that much to produce, why do they cost so much at the pharmacy?  The argument about the long R&D pipeline and high failure rate doesn’t play too well.  This dilemma raises 2 rather unrelated questions for the future.

First, for digital health therapeutics (such as the one launched by Pear and more to come), how will these be priced and how will consumers react?  Will they wonder just how much software code could cost? Will they compare it to the free or 99 cent apps in the App Store?

Second, why is it consumers will pay high prices for TVs, video systems, cars, and even at the lower end, coffee and bottled water, yet they don’t apply the same rationale to healthcare?  Do we as a population put a value on maintaining health, or is it too long-range unless you are in immediate pain or experiencing unpleasant symptoms?

Having heard the many innovations in therapeutics (from small molecule to biologics and gene therapies) and the rocketing development of digital health apps, is there a way for a merger of these two approaches to be more than just education and reminders?  Can we make digital health apps, as they might say it on the consumer-side of the marketing world, delight and amaze the user in a way that users will take responsibility for and stay engaged with their daily health decisions?

Are we on the road to nowhere?

Jump-started by Former Vice President Joe Biden’s exclamation at the Start-up Health Festival “What the hell is wrong with us?”  His point being that we have siloes of information and systems that can’t talk to each other.  Yes, we heard a lot about electronic medical records, and exciting new apps.  But how will these play together?  Can we reach a system of truly sharing data?

There is a mixed response to these questions.  On the sharing data issue, there is general agreement that data generated from publicly-funded projects should be freely shared.  On data generated through internal company efforts, the solutions are less clear.  Some will argue that it is the methods of using all of the data that can remain proprietary, but the data itself should be shared.  Others are less forthcoming on the pooling of data resources.

Addressing the compatibility of systems, I haven’t heard many arguments against compatibility.  But as to which platform(s) should be the chosen ones, therein lies the rub.  Most favor their own platform or system, and bringing these disparate systems together appears to be aspirational at best.  Perhaps it will be like many technology systems, eventually competition will sway the crowd toward one predominate player.  Whether this domination selects the “best” system, the one most compatible, most feasible or most suited to support future development remains an open question.

Forge ahead in 2018!

Don’t get the wrong impression.  I am not discouraged by these unanswered questions.  Yes, JPM week along with many other forums over the past year have pointed to the expanse of work yet to be done.  Yet, that space that lies ahead is also the sparks to set off new innovation and new problem solving. Meeting so many people with new ideas, start-ups and those within the industry pushing new ideas ahead provides the hope and the excitement to see 2018 go forward.

And, as an attorney, thanks to all who allowed me to mingle in their midst for the week: @Start-up Health, @IndieBio, @BiotechAssociations, @WomeninBio, @SimonKucher, @MIT, @WuXi, @ChinaMedtech.