Pharma giant Bayer moves deeper into digital health with new business unit

Pharma giant Bayer is launching a precision health unit as it ramps up its investment in consumer-facing digital health tools.

The company will prioritize developing products that enable people to take greater control of their own personal health through digital solutions that facilitate more informed choices based on personal insights and novel delivery mechanisms, the company said in a press release.

The new precision health unit business unit represents Bayer's "next step in digital health," according to David Evendon-Challis, head of R&D and chief scientific officer for the consumer health division of Bayer, and will add digital tools and services alongside the company's diagnostics and physical products.

Technology advancements have enabled a wave of new digital products such as diagnostics, apps and therapeutics to help consumers predict, prevent and better manage their health, Bayer executives said. The company is eyeing opportunities to close the gap between monitoring, awareness and diagnosis with digital health tools on one end and education, treatment and prevention on the other.

The new Bayer Precision Health group will work to identify digital and digital-supported consumer healthcare opportunities, executives said, and the division will be embedded within the business and made up of leaders with diverse responsibilities and expertise.

The company didn't specify what products or healthcare sectors it will focus on but said it will aim to address "unmet needs in its core categories" to develop "evidence-based precision health products to market that offer end-to-end self-care."

RELATED: Ada Health reels in $90M in Bayer-led series B for AI-powered symptom checker

Bayer plans to work with startups and other digital health providers as well as upskill its existing digital capabilities.

"With global leadership in the core categories people turn to for self-care, from cardiovascular and digestive health to pain management and immunity, Bayer will offer a wide range of precision health products and services," Evendon-Challis said in a statement.

Consumers are consistently looking for health solutions that go beyond traditional product formats like pills or creams, noted Patricia Corsi, chief marketing, digital and information officer at Bayer's consumer health division. 

The new division marks the latest example of pharma giants moving deeper into digital health. Digital health represents a big market opportunity for Bayer, which reported sales of roughly $53 billion in 2022. The company has been ramping up its investments in digital technology through partnerships and expanding its own capabilities. 

The pharma company teamed up with medical chatbot maker Ada Health to embed its AI-based symptom assessment into several of its brands to help customers better understand their symptoms and how they could be treated. Bayer's venture arm, Leaps by Bayer, also led Ada Health's hefty $90 million series B funding round.

Bayer also partnered with Huma Therapeutics to launch a heart disease screening tool on the Bayer Aspirin website. The online assessment aims to help users determine the risk that they’ll develop cardiovascular disease within the next 10 years without blood tests or physical examination. The assessment tool then urges consumers to take those results to their healthcare providers to kick-start a preventive care regimen if needed, Fierce Medtech's Andrea Park reported.

“Digital health products are a perfect addition to the treatments we have offered for decades,” said Aquil Harjivan, R&D Head – Digital Health for the Consumer Health division of Bayer. “We believe the best of precision health will be driven by partnerships so we look forward to working with the most innovative, evidence-driven companies committed to transforming everyday health.”

In a video, Heiko Schipper, president of Bayer's consumer health division, said the future of self-care is increasingly precision health. "We believe we can help consumers move from reactive to proactive aging, with individualized insights about their biological age at all stages of life," he said.

Schipper pointed to Bayer's work with Edifice Health, a company that uses state-of-the-art ‘omics’ platforms and advanced artificial intelligence to generate a biomarker composite score for systemic chronic inflammation, a core driver of many age-related diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disease.

"Edifice's] health insights present an incredible opportunity when paired with our nutritionals portfolio. In a proof-of-concept clinical study, one of our science-based products has shown the ability to reverse biological age by about one and a half years versus a placebo presenting the chance to change the game in healthy aging," he said. "Think about what that is worth. What proactive steps would you take if you had the insights and tools available to turn back the biological clock? This is the promise of precision health; shifting the paradigm from sick care to health care."