“Digital Health’s Godfather” and Takeda Digital Health Ventures Operating Partner Don Jones on the past and future of digital health in the age of AI

Blog takeda digital health ventures operating partner don jones on the past and future of digital health in the age of ai

In the latest installment of our BrightInsight Digital Health C-Suite Series, we spoke with Don Jones, Operating Partner at Takeda Digital Health Ventures, and founder and chair at IMPACT Virtual First Healthcare, about Takeda’s investing approach as it relates to digital and Gen AI, the importance of having a digital health platform, and insights from his decades of experience in the space. Here’s a recap of the discussion. You can watch the interview here, and all interviews in the 2024 JPM Digital Health C-suite series here.

Takeda’s approach to digital

Takeda Digital Ventures is one of two venture funds at the Japanese pharma giant, focused on virtual-first care delivery, meaning specialty care providers devoted to delivering care to patients where they are. "We're eliminating bricks and mortar out of healthcare delivery as much as possible." Currently engaged in addiction medicine, psychiatry, emergency medicine, oncology, heart failure medicine, and rheumatology, the venture shop prioritizes expansion within those nine areas, and also into other, as-yet-untapped specialties. Another focus is finding and integrating technologies that enable further virtual care and services.

That starts with finding patients who can benefit from therapies and making them aware of the potential benefits, moves to enabling physicians in prescribing and ordering the therapy, and moves through the patient starting the treatment, to coordinating taking the medication, and providing patient support services. "Getting all of that lined up so that the therapy actually happens, the patient gets the benefit from it, and, frankly, the pharmaceutical company gets the recurring sales."

Takeda’s view of Gen AI

Apart from their utility in drug discovery, Takeda sees generative AI technologies as enablers for the core mission of providing virtual care. As noted above, in the short-term that’s about solving basic problems that aren’t necessarily related to the therapy itself, such as automating administrative functions like pre-authorizations, or facilitating the interaction between provider and patient with auto-recording and coding, "essentially taking the provider off the computer."

Takeda’s long-term view of Gen AI involves mining longitudinal medical records and claims data across all of a patient’s providers, with an eye toward optimizing the therapeutic options they’re presented with.

Where is AI technology taking us?

Engaging patients in new ways is the name of the game when it comes to applied AI and large language learning models – essentially creating "a medical assistant in their pocket" by digesting the patient’s own knowledge of their treatment path, the questions that patient asks their provider, and their medical records. That helps the patient decide whether they need to see their provider, what to ask once there and the reasons for asking, and how those questions relate to relevant data such as lab results, patient experience, symptoms, and other factors.

The importance of platforms

The need to have a digital health platform for pharma companies is growing in tandem with the complexity of the therapies. "It's becoming important that pharma companies get involved with the care management that goes along with the therapy – something that, perhaps, they didn't spend as much time on before." That means more focus on helping physicians in the care management process. "When you think about care management, and what does the patient actually have to do to take this drug, how do the caregivers participate and help the patient take and manage and adhere to a drug process? These are the parts or the things that I think the digital tools are going to have to help support in the future."

The "Godfather of Digital Health" on past and future in the space

Before the term digital health was coined, when the term of art was "wireless health," one of the biggest obstacles was making people understand exactly what it was. "When we first started working on this, people were asking, 'What is this? What are you trying to do?' It was really foreign. I think it probably took a decade before it came to the point where we no longer had to convince people."

But even today, aspects of the healthcare system are still fairly backwards, "now more and more to their own detriment."

"Meaning if they don't have a digital presence, or way of reacting or interacting with patients on a digital basis, they run the risk of actually losing a chunk of their business."

Digital often means more than just clinical things. "It means convenience, it means access. It means saving time. It often means saving money. It means making things easier. It means making communications easier. ... A lot of organizations that don't figure out how to put digital solutions around their [therapies] are going to lose out to people who say, 'I'm going to go the Amazon way and just push a button and have things show up,' and whether that's their therapies or their clinical care, they're going to make personal switches in their life to easier care-delivery options."

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