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Is inbound marketing coming to healthcare?

Feb 08, 2011

Imagine a future in which new medicines and treatment options come to you, instead of you or your doctor needing to go to them.

The Wall Street Journal today discussed the existence of "alcoholism genes" and what the future might bring:

"Imagine this scenario: You go to your doctor and say, 'I'm drinking and I need help.' The doctor can do a blood test and if you qualify, you can get tablets the next day and they're very likely to be effective. You don't even have to detox first. If you do not qualify, you don't waste your time with the medicine."

I believe this is a part of a larger trend that will radically change the world's healthcare system. With a nod to my friends at Hubspot, I'll refer to this future phenomenon as "inbound marketing comes to healthcare."

First, some background. The cost of mapping your genes is falling rapidly. Today, you can get your genes mapped and analyzed for $10k. In 3 to 5 years, that price will fall to $1k. Harvard Medical School Professor George Church, one of the great pioneers in this field, observed recently to one of my partners that, "people will spend $10k per year on insurance but over a 70+ year lifespan are not yet comfortable spending $10k for their genome to be sequenced."

As the process gets cheaper and the data and analytics gets better, that will change. I'd be shocked if you, dear reader, did not have an analytical report in 5 years about your personal genome and insight into its health implications.

And that gets me to the concept of inbound marketing. Inbound Marketing (as captured nicely in the book by Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan), is the notion that the new era of marketing is about pull, not push. Rather than producers pushing their products onto consumers, consumers have the tools and means to show up at the producer's door "inbound" and identify their needs and interests.

It's become very clear how this technique applies to products. Consumers research their needs by searching this huge information database in the cloud (a.k.a. Google), find what products and services might serve their needs and proactively contact and, eventually, purchase those products.

This technique is why companies invest so much money in search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) - a business that has grown to tens of billions of dollars and fueled Google's meteoric rise as one of the most successful companies and global brands in business history. Businesses are redirecting their tens of billions of "push" marketing dollars into other mechanisms that set themselves up to be found by intelligent, informed consumers.

Now, let's go back to healthcare. Imagine that in 5 to 10 years that tens, or even hundreds, of millions of people have their genomic data stored in the cloud. Imagine that this data can be indexed, analyzed, parsed, sliced and diced. And imagine that it is very, very secure.

What might happen with that kind of large-scale genomic data available in that format? Inbound marketing. Rather than pharmaceutical companies pushing drugs through their large sales force, they can access this database and alert consumers as to what drugs might fit what genomic profile. Rather than hunt for clinical trial candidates in hospitals throughout the world, drug companies can email the relevant 1000 patients that precisely fit the indication they would like to test.

Let's make this very personal. My father-in-law recently died of ALS. His older brother also died of ALS a number of years ago. Thus, there is a reasonable chance that my wife's family has some genetic predisposition to ALS. In today's healthcare environment, where genomic information is expensive and sitting in silos, there is nothing much we can do about it but wait and worry. But someday in the future, perhaps as soon as 10 years from now, we will have the opportunity to opt-in to a service that will alert us via email or text when ALS drugs that might address this particular issue enter clinical trials. Or perhaps even approved by the FDA. We might all register our genomic data into this service so that we can receive alerts and information about any range of insights or treatments that might be relevant to our personal make-up.

This is "personalized medicine" in the extreme.

One of our portfolio companies, Predictive BioSciences, is pioneering a urine biomarker technique - pee in a cup, and Predictive will tell you if you have cancer. In the future, we might all be swabbing our cheeks, peeing in cups, and pricking our fingers to tell us much, much more. And when that information is available to our trillion-dollar healthcare infrastructure, imagine the possibilities.

Jeffrey Bussgang is general partner at venture capital firm Flybridge Capital Partners. Follow him on Twitter.

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