From starting life as a thinking-out-loud remark, Talking Medicines has become an international social intelligence provider to global drugs companies, with its unique AI-backed insight into patient experiences of their medicines proving invaluable to the pharma sector. CEO Jo Halliday speaks to Health Tech World about the datatech’s development and vision
“It was all quite accidental,” says Jo Halliday, recalling her journey into redefining the patient voice on medicines on a global scale.
“Myself and a colleague were having a conversation about how good it would be if we could use technology to help patients understand their medication better. But it was just a chat, there were no plans, we were just thinking out loud.
“By chance, we were having a meeting with a pharma client later that day and told them about our discussion, about how good it would be if a patient could scan a packet of medicine with their phone and understand how and why they should be taking them.
“Then they said ‘If you develop it, we’ll be your first client’. So that was it, really.”
And from there, Glasgow-based Talking Medicines was born, with Jo working alongside co-founders Dr Scott Crae and Dr Elizabeth Fairley, to bring their aim of capturing and analysing patient experience of their medicines to life.
Initially established in 2013 as a consultancy to help collate such information, it is now set to become a globally-significant datatech after making its move into AI earlier this year with the launch of its groundbreaking PatientMetRx platform.
Providing social intelligence to many of the world’s leading drugs brands on a scale and depth previously unattainable, PatientMetRx combines machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to analyse a number of sources – including social media, forums and blogs – mapped to a curated database of 130,000 regulated global medicines.
It distils what patients are saying online into measurable data insights to provide pharmaceutical companies with a systematic way of measuring patient experience of medicines.
Delivered via digital dashboard, PatientMetRx provides pharma companies with a Patient Confidence Score to benchmark each medicine. Tracking this score, says Talking Medicines, can help them to accurately measure marketing campaigns, increase market competitiveness and deliver better health outcomes for patients.
Having been selected as part of Tech Nation’s Applied AI 2.0 Growth Programme, as well as one of the DIT’s First 100 digital health companies, Talking Medicines has also secured significant financial support for its growth.
Backed by funding to date of £2.5m – including its latest round of £1.1m last November – the business is now geared for scaleup, with years of work in understanding the market and its needs now paying dividends.
“The company has changed quite a lot over the years, but we’ve been very consistent with our patient-centric approach and commitment to how we can use technology to serve them better,” says Jo.
“In the early days, we were more of a business consultancy than a datatech, it’s difficult to scale using someone else’s technology, but we saw the bigger opportunity around data for pharma companies – what people were saying about their medicines was a blind spot.
“But those early years of revenue generating meant that we could then completely pivot, and we’ve been supported by investment in doing that. We’ve done the deep R&D and have seen the scale of opportunity.
“We’re now really clear on where the rocketship is going and what we want to achieve.”
And the destination, says Jo, is to lead on a global scale, advancing its progress to date to become known as the world’s organiser of patient intelligence by medicine.
“There is huge potential for us in the commercial market, but we also want to become the resource for patients to get the information they need about their medicines,” she says.
“We want to be the place for pharma companies and other health techs to help give the gold standard in patient experience. What are patients saying about their medicines? We want to be the source of that information.”
And in gathering the information, Talking Medicines has been careful to ensure its approach is ethical and gathers from a full cross-section of society so its data is truly representative.
“The patient voice is huge and encompasses all ages. We hear all the time that older people may not be on social media, or concerns around gender and social demographic, but we collect data from many places where people are talking, that could be from blogs or forums,” says Jo.
“We want to give back to patients through doing this, in the longer term we will help to achieve better patient outcomes and we’re very aware of that part of the equation, that is very important to us.
“It’s also really important that we’re transparent and ethical in what we’re doing. There are no formal standards around data collection, although pharma companies are clearly very demanding in their standards, but for us to have long-term sustainability, we are addressing that now.
“We have put measures in place throughout our time in business to ensure our ethics and transparency, because it’s the right thing to do but also in preparation for what regulation at some point might look like.
“We’ve just appointed a head of data quality to help us continue to deliver that, and that’s another commitment – alongside the commitment to our patients – that will always be there, however the business grows from here.”