Digital therapies to complement pharmaceutical treatment

Orion’s digital therapies development projects play a key role in the MASSE project led by Aalto University. The purpose of the project is to create global exports of digital health innovations. The ultimate goal is to bring relief to millions of people.

Aalto University’s MASSE project, led by Professor Paul Lillrank, brings together academic research and business-driven innovation. The project focuses on the care pathways in long-term illnesses and how they could be improved and scaled up with mass-production efficiency involving several care providers.

“Orion is conducting a project parallel to MASSE, in which we are developing digital therapeutics (DTx) suitable for extensive care processes so that they can be optimised for individual patient needs while building evidence for the payer why the compensation for such therapies can and should be justified,” says Sammeli Liikkanen, Director of Digital Medicine at Orion.

Orion is providing EUR 5 million of MASSE’s total budget of EUR 7.5 million. The project is co-funded by Business Finland. The goal is to build a network of excellence in business innovation and academic research to produce products and services for export into global markets.

“Business Finland plays a decisive role in the development of digital therapeutics. We have the resources to help accelerate and expand ongoing projects. Ultimately, the purpose is to create new Finnish success stories in the medical export industry,” Liikkanen says.

Helping hundreds of millions of people every day

Orion runs R&D projects in three areas of digital therapeutics as part of MASSE: asthma and COPD treatments, personalised control of Parkinson’s disease and management of chronic pain.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer from these chronic illnesses. Orion’s therapies could bring much needed relief to their daily lives.

A device attached to an inhaler combined with a mobile app helps asthma and COPD patients administer medication at the right time. The service supports the success of the treatment.

In pain management, evidence-based methods based on physiotherapy and clinical psychotherapy can be used. Virtual reality tools can be effective in helping patients ‘unlearn’ their chronic pain.

Patients with chronic pain often have few effective treatments at their disposal.

“In the worst case, patients end up in a vicious circle that is very difficult to break. If we can offer patients a solution for pain management that can be used anywhere, anytime, it is a clear win-win for the patient as well as society at large,” Liikkanen says.

Markets are open for digital therapeutics

Digital therapeutics are based on medical research and many of them complement pharmaceutical therapies.

“Germany passed a national digital health law at the end of 2019 that lays down the rules and processes by which the cost of digital therapeutics is refunded by the national healthcare system.”

Orion is among the spearheading developers in the selected fields of digital therapeutics in the world at the moment. These initiatives could grow into a significant business for the company.

“The areas that Orion is currently focusing on in its R&D are in line with the DTx logic. In the future, more and more chemical pharmaceuticals will be paired with a digital therapy element,” Liikkanen predicts.

Two worlds of R&D expertise combine

In the MASSE project companies collaborate on innovation. Orion is teaming up with several partners in each of its projects. Their contributions include mobile app development, testing and integration in the care pathways.

“These are unique partnerships that combine expertise in digital service solutions, service design and rapid product development with clinical and scientifically robust development. We are bringing together the best of both worlds, the start-up dynamic and medical expertise.”

The development of digital therapeutics differs quite significantly from traditional drug development. The timeline of a pharmaceutical innovation to a marketable product can easily take 15 years and cost hundreds of millions of euros.

DTx projects last no longer than a few years. Development is an ongoing process, which continues after the service has been launched.

Digital care solutions can be continually improved based on the feedback collected from the users and other data. The development costs of digital therapeutics are seldom more than a few tens of millions of euros.

Text: Jukka Nortio

January 13, 2021