New Frontier: How Digital Therapeutics Serve as Doctor-Prescribed Software

An Executive Perspective on Digital Therapeutics, by Natalie Dakers.


In recent years, adding “tech” to your industry has become all the rage. Fintech. Cleantech. Agritech. And guess what? The marriage of technology and medicine (a.k.a. digital therapeutics) is coming to a doctor’s office near you.


Technology is disrupting almost every sector, and medicine is next in line. This revolution is taking the world by storm with billions of dollars – to the tune of $14 billion-plus – invested in digital health, including digital therapeutics.


Whereas digital health describes all technologies for health and wellness (like your fitness tracking watch), what sets digital therapeutics apart is that it is evidence-based and goes down a regulatory pathway. It can best be described as software – prescribed by a doctor – that prevents, manages and treats medical disorders or diseases. For example, algorithms that activate different neurological regions in the brain to treat dementia or depression. Digital programs to prevent the onset of diabetes. Video games utilizing adaptive sensory stimulus software to treat ADHD.


When you think about the many chronic conditions and diseases currently lacking effective treatments, the opportunities for digital therapeutics to change medicine and patient care are endless. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, obesity, you name it. In the near future, digital therapeutics may well become a gold standard for treating patients.


That said, where is Canada on this front? Health and biosciences are one of the six priority areas that Canada has decided to focus its innovation efforts to support the well-being of our people and bring greater prosperity to our country. In fact, in fall 2018 Canada created a vision to double the size of the health and biosciences sector – both in exports and companies – by 2025. This means we’d have to create 150 companies per year to feed that kind of growth in the next six years. Think about the capital and people required to make that work.


Unfortunately, we are slow to saddle up and take part in the innovation race, as there is not enough capital and talent to go around. Pioneering companies in other parts of the world are leading the way in health and biosciences. We had best take note to embrace this new frontier in digital therapeutics or risk being left behind on that front, too.


The good news? We can heed the lessons learned from those who have already ventured into this space. And use these lessons as a springboard to catch up. Here are a few things for Canadian entrepreneurs to think about if they want to create a digital therapeutic:


  • Your ticket to success is making sure that your clinical trials provide compelling evidence of your impact claims. And, fortunately, these trials are shorter and cheaper than for traditional therapeutics or pharmaceuticals.
  • Your business model is just as important as your software. Figure out how to go to market, who’s willing to pay and what outcomes you expect.
  • Attract both tech and life science investors to strengthen the success of your venture.
  • Your team of medical scientists and software developers must understand each other’s needs and work well together.
  • Be thoughtful about protecting your intellectual property.


In summary, the convergence of medicine and technology is coming fast and furious, and these therapies are being embraced by regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. There are many opportunities we could take better advantage of, and niches we could get into, that could be globally competitive. And we are well poised to move into this area given our strong digital capabilities and strong drug development – the two just need to come together.


Canada, it’s time to embrace the future of medicine because it is already here.


Natalie Dakers, Founding President & CEO, Accel-Rx


First published in Business in Vancouver’s Digital Health Magazine, September 10, 2019.