Apps pathetic: Drug industry mobile techs underperforming

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Pharma: can make tablets; can't make apps people download to tablets
Pharma: can make tablets; can't make apps people download to tablets

Related tags Bristol-myers squibb Big pharma

Hardly anybody downloads Big Pharma apps according to a new report that suggests drugmakers seeking greater mHealth engagement should ditch the product-focused model and seek expert help.

A typical Big Pharma firm has, on average, a portfolio of 65 mobile phone applications available in the Apple App Store and Google Play yet, since 2008, the top 11 largest drug companies have clocked up only 6.6m downloads.

To put this in context, chart topping game app "Flappy bird" – think Super Mario but with a bird that flaps​ – was downloaded more than 50m times​ during the 12 or so months it was available.

And, while annoyingly addictive flap-em-ups may not be a fair comparison, Big Pharma’s download stats still look unimpressive compared with those of mHealth apps, which attract an estimated 300,000 new users every day​.

Keep taking the tablets?

Research2Guidance's Ralf Jahns, who is author of a new report on drug industry mhealth engagement, agrees that Big Pharma apps are underperforming.

He told that: “95% of them can't claim that they [Big Pharma apps] are successful based on their reach and usage​.”

The most successful apps are for managing chronic conditions, medical reference and medical education​” he continued, adding that in terms of downloads “there is no category which stands out​.”

Sanofi is both the most prolific app developer and leader in terms of downloads ahead of similarly enthusiastic Big Pharma peers GSK, Merck & Co, Bayer and Novartis.

However, according to Jahns’ research, the French drugmaker’s success is based on just three of its 100 plus apps, without which the download figures and return on development investment would be “disappointing​.”

At the other end of the scale Bristol Myers Squibb and Roche have created the fewest apps and seen the fewest downloads. Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Abbott and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) have also published less than the 65 app average and achieved a below average number of downloads.

There are several reasons for this underperformance according to Jahns, who suggested that things like targeting local markets, focusing on products rather than on the provision of information and a lack of design uniformity are limiting download rates.

Niche players like Roche or Bristol-Myers Squibb use apps to support their core products. They have a higher share of apps that target healthcare professionals and which sometimes require doctor’s identification​.”

Worth the effort?

Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic have already set guidelines on drug industry use of mobile apps (here​ and here​) which, coupled with the less than impressive performance of Big Pharma apps so far, prompted us to ask Jahns if they are worth developing at all.

He told us that: “There are a lot of great mobile ‘use cases’ for pharma companies. The question is whether or not they should be the one to identify, develop and publish the apps” adding that “based on past performance we think they should more focus of offering attractive business models for app developers to work together​.”

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