Incremental innovation may sound small, but it’s big in emerging markets

Todd Chermak
Posted: 11/14/2017

When we think of innovation we generally think of that ‘light bulb’ moment of change. But according to a report by Bain & Company, 70 percent of all innovation is incremental

Incremental innovation is a series of small improvements made to existing products, services and processes that add value and give people a reason to choose them over competitors.

Take Spotify. The digital music service was built on existing core technologies – MP3 music files, smart phones and 3G data technology. They didn’t invent anything new, but they did have the ingenious idea to combine these into a portable music, podcast and video streaming service that has over 100 million monthly users worldwide. Spotify revolutionized the way people listen to music by creating something that people value. This meaningful innovation clearly makes a difference to people’s lives, which is why it’s been so successful.  

Creating meaningful improvement

To create meaningful improvements in medicine, companies must understand the needs of the people using their products. This approach is known as insight-driven innovation and is common in industries like consumer goods, where people have freedom and choice over the products they purchase and the services they use.

It is less common in pharmaceuticals where the popular view of innovation is to discover and develop new molecules, with less time spent on innovating around existing medicines. But, there is great opportunity to improve medicines, especially with those that no longer have patent protection.

More than 90 percent of medicines in emerging markets are off patent, which is why it’s even more critical to keep finding ways of improving them, whether that’s new combinations, new ways to deliver and package medicines or new services that improve health.  

In vitro fertilization

Innovation can also mean finding new indications. We recently did this with oral dydrogesterone, a medicine that is more than 50 years old. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 10 percent of couples worldwide are affected by infertility at any given time.

When women undergo in vitro fertilization, they take progesterone to prepare their uterus. The current standard of care is micronized vaginal progesterone, which is administered vaginally and associated with side effects that include irritation and discharge.

We wanted to know if oral dydrogesterone – a simple pill – could work just as well. Earlier this year, we published results in Human Reproduction showing just this. These results are helping gain regulatory approval for a new indication for oral dydrogesterone, ultimately giving women in emerging markets access to a more convenient treatment option.

Innovating for emerging markets

Incremental innovations have an important role in emerging markets due to the unique healthcare environment, including the high percentage of people who pay for healthcare out-of-pocket and the variable quality of medicine. The quality of medicines is especially important to make sure people get medicines that work, which is why they tend to gravitate towards brands and companies they trust.

For these reasons, branded medicines are popular in emerging markets and contribute a significant proportion of the healthcare environment. Branded medicines are off-patent generic medicines sold under a brand name. They offer value to people – whether that’s quality, reliability, new flavors, better packaging – something that makes them choose the branded version over a pure generic.

This is where incremental innovation can have a real impact. For example, one way to innovate a medicine is to increase user-friendliness and therefore improve patient adherence. From various studies we know that patient non-adherence to treatment is a big reason for treatment failure and can lead to poor patient outcomes.

Doctor and patient

Case: Allergic rhinitis

We found this to be the case with nasal sprays used to treat allergic rhinitis, a condition that affects millions of people around the world. Most nasal sprays contain preservatives to protect the medicine from bacterial infection.

But these preservatives can also cause irritation which often leads to treatment failure as the patient stops using the spray.

To address this problem in Colombia, we launched a nasal spray with a unique proprietary filter to keep bacteria out. This allowed us to remove preservatives from the solution, thus reducing irritation. It has been very well received by patients – adherence increased from 50 percent to 95 percent.

Making a difference in emerging markets

By using local insights and anticipating the needs of people, doctors and pharmacists, we can continue to deliver meaningful improvements in medicines in emerging markets. These medicines don’t always have to be disruptive to have an impact.

Often simple insight-driven innovations can solve unmet needs. And when put into practice, these innovations can benefit the millions of people that live in emerging markets.

Todd Chermak
Posted: 11/14/2017

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