Can “Digital Therapeutics” Be as Good as Drugs?

What if an app could replace a pill? That’s the big question behind an emerging trend known as “digital therapeutics.” The idea: software that can improve a person’s health as much as a drug can, but without the same cost and side-effects.

Digital therapeutics, or “digiceuticals,” as some call them, have become a Holy Grail in some quarters of Silicon Valley, where investors see the chance to deliver medicine through your smartphone. Andreessen Horowitz, the venture firm, even predicts digital drugs will become “the third phase” of medicine, meaning the successor to the chemical and protein drugs we have now, but without the billion-dollar cost of bringing one to market.

“It’s going to seem backwards and even barbaric that our solution to everything was just giving out pills,” partner Vijay Pande wrote on the investment company’s blog.

But defining exactly what a digital therapeutic actually is can be as elusive as finding the famous chalice. “It’s still a fluid space that everyone is trying to categorize,” says Peter Hames, the British CEO of a startup called Big Health, which offers an online therapy program for insomnia suffers called sleep.io that it claims can replace “pills or potions” with visualization exercises.

By Christina Farr | MIT Technology Review

Illustration Credit: Simon Landrein

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