Moving the needle in 2019

Published: 12-Dec-2018

By now, says 3M’s Dr Steven Wick, it’s no secret that technological advances are changing the landscape of drug delivery

Traditionally, drug delivery methods were ostensibly designed without considering the patient experience. Now, product developers and engineers are significantly more aware of the challenges facing patients.

However, for patients to actually benefit, pharmaceutical companies and drug delivery designers must work more collaboratively to bring new innovations to market. In 2019, I believe we’ll move the needle even further in the right direction.

The pharma/drug delivery partnership

The pharmaceutical industry has a real opportunity to make a difference; but, there is a need to start the drug delivery conversation earlier. The status quo saw pharma pursuing oral solid dosage delivery — if it was technically feasible — as the simplest and lowest-cost solution, irrespective of patient and caregiver needs or the practicality of the application.

When pharmaceutical companies truly examine the usage scenarios for a product and consider how to best match a delivery system with the patient profile, the solution is not always the first (often oral) — or even second (injectable) — choice. This realisation can be daunting for pharma companies that have little to no experience with alternative delivery systems.

In these situations, working with a partner that is seasoned in the development and manufacturing of niche delivery methods is critical to the success of the project, and can even make the regulatory path much smoother. By working in partnership with drug delivery providers, pharmaceutical companies can quickly determine whether an alternative delivery form is technically feasible for a drug.

In light of the crowded and competitive pharma landscape, companies must not only deliver drugs that effectively treat patients’ illnesses, but also prioritise the patient experience, their behaviours and preferences, thereby addressing compliance. Patient-centricity is one of the keys to unlocking value in the future.

If a patient is not compliant with prescribed medications, it can be very costly to the payer. In the inhalation space, for example, this problem is very real. In fact, a 2008 research report showed that up to 94% of patients make mistakes when using their inhalers … and these were the dry powder inhalers that were intended to be easier to use.1 Additionally, up to 60% of patients don’t adhere to their medication.2

Rather than try to change that patient behaviour, I believe we need to integrate with patient behaviour in a more intuitive and value-added fashion. We need to understand needs, barriers, feelings, behaviours and experiences to innovate for better outcomes.

New technologies, such as the 3M Intelligent Control Inhaler, which is currently in development and not available for commercial sale, is breath-actuated so that patients do not have to co-ordinate their inhalation with triggering the device. It can provide feedback and tips on the user’s technique to encourage and promote correct use. The device can also send reminders to a patient to help empower patient adherence.

The pharmaceutical companies who embrace the new patient-centric mindset in drug design will reap rewards in the future as they drive better outcomes and establish increased trust with patients, caregivers and, ultimately, payers. By bringing drug development and drug delivery together early in the process, we will design pharmaceutical solutions that patients can naturally weave into their lives ... and that are no longer a burden to accommodate.

The year ahead

In 2019, we are likely to see even more innovation across the drug delivery space, including an acceleration of patient-centric drug delivery technologies directed at improving the therapeutic benefit of drug products.

Whether simply bolt-on digital enhancements of respiratory delivery devices or sophisticated self-administered autoinjector devices, the emergence of digital integration within drug delivery is real and will be the catalyst for a transformational change in the way patients, physicians and payers interact with pharmaceutical products in the future.

Drug product safety and efficacy will become linked to both the drug and the formulation, as well as the delivery technology through which the respective drug is delivered to its site of action within the body and how the patient interacts with the drug delivery technology.

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the drug delivery industry. I am proud of our efforts to make life better for patients. We’ve made great strides in 2018 and I believe that that momentum will continue to grow in 2019 and beyond.


  1. F. Lavorini, et al., “Effect of Incorrect Use of Dry Powder Inhalers on Management of Patients with Asthma and COPD,” Respir. Med. 102(4), 593–604 (2008).
  2. R.D. Restrepo, et al., “Medication Adherence Issues in Patients Treated for COPD,” Int. J. Chron. Obstruct. Pulmon. Dis3(3), 371–384 (2008).

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