Revamping chronic disease management with customized, gamified digital treatments across multiple therapeutic areas. Interview with Dr. Saemundur Oddsson, Co-Founder at Sidekick Health.

Lifestyle-related illnesses are growing global epidemics, which affect an increasingly large number of people in the world. Personal behaviour led often by emotions and environment and not reason and logic often plays an important role for these diseases burden. Digital therapeutics embedded in behaviour science are transforming chronic care. Personalized evidence-based treatments that appeal also to one’s heart and trigger the right emotional commitment empower individuals to stay healthy or navigate easier and thrive through their unique health journeys. Together with Dr. Saemundur Oddsson, Co-Founder at Sidekick Health, we explore how the company’s unique 360-degree gamified digital therapeutics approach tailored to chronic patients’ lifestyle and medical care leads to improved health outcomes and treatment adherence across 40 therapeutic areas, their value proposition to pharma companies, health insurers and providers, the importance of understanding behaviour economics and what makes the company being recognized as DTx leaders.

Worldwide hundreds of millions of patients suffer from lifestyle-related chronic diseases and their comorbidities and millions are at risk. Cardiovascular diseases, cancers, COPD & asthma, and diabetes are just a few of the illnesses responsible for a high and growing economic burden in terms of disability, production loss, and premature mortality. And according to World Health Organization 71% of all deaths globally each year are related to chronic diseases.

How can we change this harsh reality? Can leveraging digital innovative solutions in the care pathway positively impact population overall wellbeing?

Digital therapeutics and personalized behaviour programmes lead a new chapter in patient-centric chronic care. Utilizing A.I., science behind gaming, reward systems, personalized behaviour modification, and clinical evidence drive better engagement, help embrace new healthier habits, improve adherence, and nicely impact the real-world everyday moments of people.

The pandemic has shed bright light on the importance of care outside the traditional clinical settings and has accelerated the demand for and adoption of remote patient monitoring, telehealth, and digital decentralized clinical trial solutions. (What are the proposed benefits of DDCT market, a market that is expected to reach $9.13 billion in 2026?) This “new normal” has also presented pharma and health insurers with the opportunity to design novel commercial models and establish successful partnerships with digital health innovators.

For the insurers building digital health ecosystems unlock great value to improve their member experience, bring the lifestyle changes needed for one to feel better and have long lasting results, consequently lower the healthcare cost for each member. By partnering with DTx companies, pharma can combine their medicine with the right and personalized lifestyle interventions, thus creating strong adherence that leads to positive healthcare outcomes. It also helps pharma companies gather real-world data and evidence that a drug is working to justify reimbursement.

What are the key factors in creating an engaging and personalized patient experience that removes barriers to health behaviour change? How will digital solutions change the way clinical trials will be conducted in the future? What leads to a successful Pharma & DTx, payor & DTx partnership?

In a candid conversation with Dr. Saemundur Oddsson, Co-Founder at Sidekick Health, we dive into this interesting and powerful combination of a drug and digital companion to drive better health outcomes, the company’s business model and the main drivers of larger acceptance and adoption of a digital health solution, as well as the market trends and the company’s future plans.

Enjoy the interview!

Research2Guidance: As a short introduction, could you please share Sidekick Health’s story.

Dr. Oddsson: Sidekick Health is a data-driven and research-focused tech company that revamps chronic disease management with customized, gamified digital treatments across multiple therapeutic areas. We originally started in the Nordics, but today, we have offices both in Berlin and in the US.

The company was founded by two medical doctors, myself and Dr. Thorgeirsson, who had years of experience in treating patients with lifestyle-related illnesses. During our time in practice, we felt that there was a void within the treatment of chronic diseases and that the system was not built to impact health holistically. While obsessing over fine-tuning medication, we were ignoring a real path to prevention that could enhance the quality of people’s lives and overall population health outcomes. When exploring ways to change that, we realized that clinical cases showed true improvement to health when there is a tailored and comprehensive approach that tackles diet, physical activity, stress levels, support of medication adherence, and patient education.

Our team was able to pioneer digital treatments by combining behavioral science with advanced engagement techniques, including gamification and artificial intelligence. We have built a patient-centric platform covering a multitude of therapeutic areas. All our programs are clinically validated and comply with regulatory standards. We also have remote patient monitoring features that we can switch on if required. This combination has led to very strong engagement and industry-leading retention metrics, treatment adherence, lower cost of care, and positive health outcomes.

Sidekick’s effectiveness is demonstrated by the fact that patients have seen a 40% reduction in perceived problems related to their condition and a 30% higher program adherence compared to standard care.

With this track record, we have been able to secure partnerships with leading pharmaceutical companies and top payors.

Research2Guidance: The results you have shared are fantastic. How do you stand out from your key competitors?

Dr. Oddsson: At Sidekick Health, we have designed a unique and comprehensive 360-degree digital healthcare pathway that can be layered and tailored to run as a prevention tool across multiple therapeutic areas, as well as to provide support and empower patients who already suffer from chronic illnesses.

We have identified an opportunity to deploy our clinically validated, gamified digital therapeutics platform in over 40 therapeutic areas and we now have 100 treatment modules. From a technological standpoint, we have created what we call ‘adaptive care pathways’ that allow for the personalization of each program, leading to improved health outcomes and increased adherence.

Our therapeutic portfolio covers many of the major disease categories, including cardiovascular, metabolic, and immunology diseases as well as inflammation and oncology. While Sidekick is able to positively impact the health of those suffering from a standalone health condition, we are also very proud to be able to support those suffering from multiple chronic conditions as well. It is widely accepted that people who suffer from one health condition often suffer from multiple conditions, but yet, the solutions available often don’t take this into account, making Sidekick a standout solution on the market. In fact, the Sidekick Health platform has been rated in the top 0.1% in quality by the industry’s leading rating company Orcha.

Research2Guidance: It seems like you are leading the way to personalized and scalable health programs for lifestyle chronic disease management. Can you elaborate a bit more on your service offering?

Dr. Oddsson: Yes, we are. Our platform provides a variety of features that are based on each individual disease or condition. We offer a lot of personalization in the support one can get with our action-driven content and programs, triggering a positive feedback loop of improved health behavior. Our AI technology learns from the user’s previous interactions and rewards positive behavior, such as management of nutrition, sleep, and medication adherence. We also have a remote monitoring element, as well as self-monitoring nudges that, for example, help to improve physical activities and stress levels that can deteriorate any chronic disease condition. Patients can connect with a coach, community managers, and get peer support from others on a similar health journey.

As of today, we have collected over 50 million valuable data points that provide us with a deep understanding of behavioral trends, further empowering us to design customized actionable insights.

I am proud to say that Sidekick Health is recognized as a digital therapeutic leader.

Research2Guidance: This is quite an impressive broad portfolio. What is your business model and how do you ensure your commercial success?

Dr. Oddsson: Today, our business model is B2B. It is tailored to provide value to our pharma partners and the payors we work with. Yet, at the end of the day, it all started with our desire to improve health outcomes and empower patients, so we are patient-centric. It is all about the patient.

We ensure our commercial success through our partnerships. To operate in the B2B world is a strategic decision. It gives us leverage in terms of scalability and distribution channels that pharma has been optimizing for the last 150 years. These organizations are good at getting treatments in the hands of patients through healthcare providers. We do not commercialize through directly targeting healthcare providers, as the market is not mature enough at this point. However, it is growing fast. Through our pharma and payor partnerships, we work with healthcare providers all over the world, meaning our treatments reach and are used by a vast global audience.

Digital therapies know no borders. We have built a platform that is scalable, easy to translate, and localized.

Research2Guidance: It makes sense. Partnerships with global pharma and payors present a great opportunity to expand market reach and grow business. B2C business models cannot offer such scalability at this value.

Dr. Oddsson: Yes, our focus has been on developing and clinically validating the best digital treatments that are out there. We believe building partnerships with pharma and payors is a strong business case to scale.

Of course, if a patient would like to have access to one of our programs, the most common way to do so would be through their insurance provider or combined with a drug that one receives from a pharma company. But we have been expanding that. At present, in many countries, if you go to patient organizations, you can get access to treatment via Sidekick.

In fact, anybody can go to the app store and download our app, but the full experience for consumers isn’t fully integrated into the platform. At this stage, while it is possible to simply download the app, it will not connect you to the disease-specific programs, reward system, or a coach. Looking into the future there are opportunities when it comes to a direct B2C module, especially with the rise of reimbursement, e.g. DiGA.

Research2Guidance: How has Covid-19 impacted your business?

Dr. Oddsson: At Sidekick Health, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the demand for a platform like ours and the solutions it provides. There is a lot of interest in connecting the healthcare provider to a patient to solve problems like monitoring heart failure phases at home. We assist with this and most importantly, our solution reduces the need for patients to visit the hospital. Many of our most vulnerable patients have benefited from this model.

Research2Guidance: Which are your most popular digital programs?

Dr. Oddsson: Pfizer is one of our partners, and our partnership is designed to significantly improve the lives of people and empower them to better manage their own health. Our partnership covers five therapeutic areas within inflammation and immunology. The need for digital therapeutics within different types of oncology is growing very fast and we have a strong record within cardiovascular diseases.

Research2Guidance: What is your value proposition? Can you share some partnership use cases?

Dr. Oddsson: We have strategic partnerships with many of the Top 10 pharma companies. Just one example, in June 2020, we announced our collaboration with Pfizer encompassing a multimillion-dollar deal to launch a digital medication management and lifestyle platform across Europe.

Our value proposition to pharma is very strong.

Robust clinical validation. We have a proven track record of improving health outcomes and adherence that is relevant for pharma companies and their respective markets. This is done through studies conducted with pharma and our own research collaborations.

Creating value from data. We help pharma companies gain real-world insights and evidence on the efficacy of a treatment. These data sets are not readily available, but we have found a way to work with pharma while complying with all the necessary regulatory frameworks. In the bracket of creating value from data, there are quite a few use cases, e.g.

  • Differentiating treatments from competitors & securing a certain competitive advantage – by combining Sidekick Health with their pharma offering.
  • Generating predictive analytics – to predict symptoms or deterioration and to help the healthcare provider make informed decisions relating to dosage and patient management.
  • Understanding the use of medication in new indications – through clinical decentralized trials which have become very popular.
  • Reimbursement – through the combination of Sidekick Health and the drug, which could provide evidence of strong health economics. Or seeking a direct DTx reimbursement. Many of our partners are looking into this direction as well.

Licence for DTx use. When augmenting pharmacotherapy of medications on the market, Sidekick opens access to its digital care programs for a fixed fee per market, including localization and translation, followed by the activation of a predefined number of licenses. This approach is linked to the reduction of total cost of care.

To payors our value proposition is robust, too.

Today, we are working closely with one of the top three payors in the US. Our integrated chronic disease management platform is unlocking tremendous value on a few fronts, including, improving adherence which ultimately leads to better patient outcomes, reducing the need for hospital care which significantly impacts the financial performance of the payor.

Payors need digitalization of their services. Their large group of care managers need the tools to effectively fulfill their goal of improving the health outcomes and well-being of their members.

Research2Guidance: You have stressed several times the importance of having robust clinical validation. This month, we have released our latest report “The Digital Decentralized Clinical Trial (DDCTs) Solutions Market 2018 – 2026” which showcases that the DDCT solutions market will grow significantly to reach $9.13 billion in 2026. In your opinion, how will digital solutions change the way clinical trials will be conducted in the future?

Dr. Oddsson: Yes, the digital decentralized clinical trial (DDCT) solutions market is a very hot topic. At Sidekick Health, we have amazing advisors that come from leading CROs, and we have been looking into the DDCT market.

Digital solutions can augment and accelerate clinical trials from many angles, from recruitment and patient engagement to data collection and monitoring. A digital approach is also important when it comes to diversity and ethnicity. It can reduce the cost of conducting clinical trials while also offering convenience. As for some clinical trials, one should not need to show up at the facility to answer the questions. In my opinion, digital solutions are really going to shake up the way trials are handled in the future.

Research2Guidance: You are recognized as digital therapeutic (DTx) leaders. What are the challenges of scaling DTx across different countries?

Dr. Oddsson: In order to host our digital therapeutics platform across multiple geographies, we partner with very large global organizations, leading pharma companies, and top payors. To establish these close collaborations, one needs to engage with the right stakeholders and be ready to show real data. At Sidekick Health, we understand the importance of quality clinical research and we have clinical validation across a spectrum of therapeutic areas and health outcomes.

Securing a partnership is great. Yet, when it comes to scaling, one needs to be able to manage all the different countries that the partnership leads to. It is important to be able to deliver on the opportunities when they arise, be it on technology, diseases, teams, or languages. I believe we have the competence to deal with these challenges.

In the case of pharma, they have been very successful in distributing molecules and drugs, but distributing a digital therapy is not the same. Therefore, the learning curve can be very steep. I must say, our partners are very innovative and intelligent people who see that our platform can further support their therapies to truly impact patients’ health outcomes. Of course, they are also facing challenges internally, as these companies are conservative in many ways. So, essentially, we are also aligned with different stakeholders to help them transform from within.

We are really only looking at the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential here.

Research2Guidance: We are living in interesting times. Are there any market trends that excite you?

Dr. Oddsson: What Sidekick Health is all about is improving patient health outcomes and bringing value to people’s lives. Trends like the rise of value-based care and the awareness and the realization of the market opportunity when it comes to patients’ health outcomes, is something that makes me happy. When we started this journey more than eight years ago, things were more traditional in this sense. Now, we have fantastic stakeholders, like pharma partners and payors with whom we share the same vision, and we work together on our common goal. Things are also accelerating when it comes to regulatory approvals and the reimbursement for digital treatments, which is also very exciting.

Research2Guidance: What is the future of data-driven precision medicine?

Dr. Oddsson: The future of data-driven precision medicine is very bright, but there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. We have just started grasping the enormous opportunity when it comes to proving outcomes through precision medicine, for example, by combining genome data sets.

At Sidekick Health, we have an oncology partnership where drug molecules are being used to target specific mutations, and patients with these specific mutations benefit from different personalized lifestyle changes. The empowerment and motivation in this case are precision-driven.

Research2Guidance: What are the main drivers of large acceptance and adoption of the digital health service offering?

Dr. Oddsson: I think distribution is key when it comes to scaling a business and expanding our presence with different digital therapeutic treatments and programs worldwide. There are many products that have reached a certain level of clinical validation, but have then failed to take the next steps. Part of our strategy is to shape our value proposition in a way that we can work with pharma on a global scale and payors across countries which will give us unparalleled access to patients.

When it comes to adoption, especially for programs/treatments that focus on lifestyle-related illnesses, the key is to engage more with the emotional side of the brain and trigger positive health behaviors. We know that when it comes to lifestyle decisions, people are more driven by emotions than logic; this is a fact.

Many years ago, as a doctor, the tipping point for me was with one of my own patients whose health was getting worse. I was doing my job, telling him that if he does not improve his lifestyle and take his medication correctly, he will increase the likelihood of another heart attack by 80%. I was doing ‘the right’ thing, giving facts and figures and promising him a very abstract reward – ‘a decreased likelihood of complication’. Yet, I was not getting through to him. After the session, I looked outside my window, and I saw him lighting a cigarette. It was then that I realized that patients are much more engaged with their smartphones than with me.

Eight years ago, when we started this journey, Dr. Thorgeirsson and I came up with this unique approach on how we can engage people with low health literacy and low health motivation, and how to successfully do it digitally.

Sidekick Health’s digital therapeutic treatments have this element of gamification that engages the more emotional part of the brain. There are a lot of solutions out there created by bioengineers for other engineers, but that is a tiny fraction of the population. We took a distinct approach and that is a key when it comes to our method and success.

Research2Guidance: What is ahead of Sidekick Health?

Dr. Oddsson: Sidekick Health is on a great trajectory.

In front of us, there is a growing pipeline of digital treatments, which will allow us to be the partner of choice for disease management to payors, healthcare providers, and pharma. And with that, we can capture enormous value for the healthcare industry.

We have already secured agreements with leading pharma companies and top payors, which allows us to expand significantly worldwide. We have ambitious plans to double our team to 200 people. Together, we will continue to innovate and venture into more area-specific digital treatment programs. Ultimately, Sidekick Health is positioned as the partner of choice for pharma companies. We allow them to provide more niche programs by combining different types of digital treatments with their medicines, showing strong real-world evidence of improving health, and adding value to their patients’ plans. Payors can also reduce health costs and transform the standard of care by partnering with us and using our platform for symptom management and prevention of chronic diseases.

Research2Guidance: Dr. Oddsson, thank you very much for this great conversation. Wishing you and your team all the best and a lot of success!

ABOUT Sidekick Health

Sidekick Health is a digital therapeutics (DTx) innovator, which operates a digital care platform providing support to people with chronic illnesses at every stage of their treatment journey by delivering healthcare into people’s homes via a smartphone app. Sidekick combines clinically-tested and proven methodology with gamification, behavioral economics, and artificial intelligence (AI) to create clinically-validated, personalized digital treatments that enable patients to make long-lasting changes to their behavior and help them to adhere to medical treatment, triggering positive health outcomes. As part of its ongoing work to improve patient health, Sidekick operates a B2B2C model in partnership with some of the biggest names in pharmaceuticals and healthcare, including Pfizer and Bayer, to augment pharmacotherapy, develop integrated combination therapeutics consisting of a drug (Rx) and a DTx, as well as to create standalone prescription DTx (PDT). The company has also partnered with the largest healthcare insurers in the US to support the 5% multi-chronic population that drives 50% of healthcare costs, aiming to help them manage their symptoms, provide regular remote patient monitoring, and prevent serious illness and hospital visits. To learn more, please visit: www.sidekickhealth.com

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