App “as effective as the contraceptive pill”

A revolutionary form of contraception, especially available over-the-counter, has been long awaited. This year alone we have seen trials in male contraceptive injections and demands for numerous OTC contraceptive pills. Drastic change and action have long been in high demand.

What started out as a hobby project for Elina Berglund Scherwitzl has now become approved as the world’s first contraceptive app. The nuclear physicist, who had been working on the team that discovered the Higgs boson, felt finished with hormonal contraceptives and their physical and mental pitfalls, but was not yet ready to have a baby.

With a wealth of data skills, Elina was determined to find an alternative form of contraception. “Like many women I had tried many different contraception options since my teenage years and hadn’t really found a solution that fit me,” she explained. “It was in my quest for an effective natural alternative that I discovered that you can see when you’re fertile by your temperature, and for me that was really a revelation.”

Using complex mathematics and data analysis, Elina began developing an algorithm designed to be so accurate that it could identify exactly when in her cycle she would ovulate. This then enabled planning for when she would need to use protection, to a much higher degree of certainty than natural planning methods, which many women with timely periods are able to use.

These results proved to be so accurate that, together with her husband, fellow physicist, Raoul Scherwitzl, Elina set about founding her own business, Natural Cycles.

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Natural Cycles is an app designed to help women around the world with their fertility and contraception needs, allowing them to collect their own temperature datasets and closely monitor their cycle trends in the process.

Launched in 2014, the app now has some 300,000 users, who pay a monthly or annual fee for the service. Following several medical trials, the app became the first tech-based device on the planet to be formally certified for use as contraception, in February this year. It gained approval for use across the EU after getting the green light from the German inspection and certification organisation Tuv Sud.

The start-up now markets itself as being “as effective as the pill” following one of the largest clinical studies in contraception involving more than 4,000 women, published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care.

The researchers, which included the co-founding couple, found that 7% of women who used the app in a “typical” way (allowing for some human error) got pregnant, compared to 9% taking the pill and less than 1% using IUD coils. “Just like the pill we need some effort from the user on a daily basis. But we really hope to be the default alternative if you don’t want to use hormonal contraception or IUDs,” Elina commented.

While the product is only currently certified in the EU, where its users are concentrated in the UK and the Nordics, it is available worldwide and, despite its earlier controversies, has attracted users in some 160 countries.

OTC hearing aids: Awaiting US Senate vote

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Cheaply priced reading glasses have long been available to buy without prescription in supermarkets and pharmacies. While there is an available OTC product for some living with farsightedness, there is still yet to be an approved inexpensive over-the-counter equivalent for those living with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

Medicare and most private insurance plans in the US do not cover prescription hearing aids, which cost around $2,400 for one device. Owing to this, it is thought that many people with hearing loss go without hearing aids because they cannot afford the devices.

This could be changing soon, as the House of Representatives has passed legislation that would create a new class of hearing aids that could be sold OTC.

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“We get inquiries every day from people who cannot afford hearing aids,” said Nancy Macklin, a spokeswoman for the Hearing Loss Association of America. According to a 2016 study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine, just 14% of those with hearing loss use a hearing aid.

While there are several types of less expensive non-prescription personal sound amplification devices on the market, the devices are not regulated by any government entity for safety or quality standards and are used to aid people with normal hearing but wish to amplify sound.

Recent advances in technology have made the concept of less-expensive, OTC hearing aids very possible. The potential switch is part of the FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017, which the House passed Wednesday with a voice vote. The bill received widespread bipartisan support, but the Senate has yet to announce a timeline for holding a vote on the bill.

The arrival of OTC hearing aids can’t come soon enough for an ageing population that is continually growing. As Baby Boomers age and Generation X hits middle age, the number of people with mild to moderate hearing loss is increasing rapidly.

NHC North America Conference: Day 2

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Here’s the second and final blog review of our recent regional North American OTC Conference, which took place last week at The Westin Governor Morris hotel in Morristown, New Jersey.

Our first speaker on Day 2, Bernie Simone, Head of Rx-to-OTC Switches NA, Sanofi, discussed the growth engine for consumer healthcare and improved consumer self-care relating to Rx-to-OTC Switch, and highlighted how 43% of OTC industry sales are associated with a Switch, with almost half of proposed Switches failing. Bernie also explained the concern that Switch will no longer be possible if the medical community does not approve, and so it is imperative that we as an industry think of new initiatives to involve communities in the earlier stages of the Switch process in order to identify viable and novel Switch candidates.

Following Bernie on stage was Chuck Jolly from Baker Donelsen, who reviewed legal risk amelioration strategies that can be adopted by marketers to safeguard their practices, leading us into our first networking hour of the day.

Vidhu Dev, VP, Rx-to-OTC Switch & R&D, GSK, then gave us an informative outlook on Switch overseas and the likely future challenges and successes, before focusing back on the local US market – for example, the US OTC allergy market has continued Switch activity, is highly competitive and dominant. Vidhu also identified possible categories for OTC switch candidates, such as antifungals, anti-diabetics and cough & cold, and the evolving role of the pharmacist will be integral in making this possible.

Our panel then took to the stage, debating the establishment of collaborative relationships with payer, retail and CPG entities to put the consumer first and deliver superior outcomes.

Shannon Huneke of UHC, Colleen Lindholz of Kroger & Chris Jobes of J&J came together to discuss their collaboration in the healthcare ecosystem. Together they discussed their marriage of information on consumer insight and their segmentation of this, and how this equips them in the battle against industry challenges, and transforms the behavioural science behind consumer healthcare. The panel also mapped the patient’s journey through their condition, with each journey presenting an opportunity to translate individual patient requirements. They concluded by asserting that we can’t get where we want to be in healthcare without partnerships – and if we can create a healthier population, we all win!

Our unplugged panel session continued as Christina Speck, Head of Brand Partnerships & Sponsorships, Aetna, and Brian Doherty, Executive VP, Managing Director, Ogilvy CommonHealth, joined forces to discuss partnerships, technology and engaging healthcare consumers in the real world. Together Christina and Brian discussed consumers living in a digital age, with Christina mainly focusing on Aetna’s partnership with Apple products and apps. Christina highlighted how healthcare and well-care are not exactly fun (but they should be!), which is where the combination of technology creates a vision for this, connecting clinical and well-care, and demystifying healthcare communications.

Our panel discussions certainly gave some food for thought in time for lunch, with many delegates taking the time to discuss and debate the key learnings with industry peers. Returning from lunch, we saw Walmart executives Alex Hurd, Senior Director of Health & Wellness Transformation, and Jamie Grace, Senior Director & Merchandise Manager, explore the role of retail in providing access to high quality care at lower costs.

John Delfs from The Foundation for Health Smart Consumers shared with the audience the need to empower consumers through motivation and collaboration with HCPs, and was followed by Randy Vogenberg from the National Institute of Collaborative Healthcare, who gave us an insight into access trends for OTCs, delving into innovation, incubation and implementation.

Mary Alice Lawless, from our conference partners, EverythingHEALTH, then took to the stage to identify and analyse new strategies for unlocking the next generation of Rx-to-OTC Switch, before an esteemed panel of moderators debated the next steps in consumer healthcare transformation. Panellists included Joseph McGovern of EverythingHEALTH, Andrea Leondard-Segal, former FDA Director of the Division of Nonprescription Clinical Evaluation, Helmut Albrecht, President of H2A-Associates, and Dennis Tze, Biograph Inc. Together they asked whether we should provide case studies for the Switch industry, questioning how we can enhance changes in Switch through branding and digital.

Overall our first North American conference was a real success, with a fantastic turn out, excellent insights, a riveting display of speakers and plenty of industry knowledge. We certainly hope to see you next year and thank you all for joining us in this first time North American conference experience!

NHC North America Conference: Day 1

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Here we bring you a review of our first regional North American OTC Conference, which took place last week in Morristown, New Jersey, America’s central business hub for consumer healthcare.

Nicholas Hall opened proceedings with his Keynote address and annual report, reviewing recent successes in the US market, and noting a particularly successful cough and cold season. He also delved into the seven market drivers leading the current growth in OTC, the most popular being consumption by women and the ageing population.

This was followed by a gloves-off panel discussion, hosted by Mike Tarino, Principal of Tiltas Solutions. Mike was joined by Sandra Morris, former Senior Benefits Manager at Procter & Gamble, Mike Thompson, President & CEO at National Alliance of Healthcare and Dennis Marco, Managing Partner of Hamilton Public Affairs. The panel discussed and challenged what the administration of Trump meant for consumer healthcare and OTCs. Tarino highlighted drastic changes impacting US healthcare, with the costs for a family of four seeing a near US$20,000 increase in the past 16 years.

Ed Rowland provided an update on Boots UK and implications for the Walgreens Boots Alliance in the US, exploring the differences in UK and US marketing. Scott Emerson, Founder & CEO of the Emerson Group, shortly followed with a presentation on Innovation and how it isn’t quite what you think! Scott asserted that we need to think about what it is consumers are looking for in their products. Brands need to question their white space and ask ‘is it truly white space?’ when it comes to being innovative in branding. Scott also stressed that we must not be afraid to be patient when it comes to launching new products.

Finally, seeing us into our lunch hour, Geoff Betrus, Senior Director Shopper Solutions and Lynn Hall, Senior Director of Health and Wellness Solutions, both of J&J, explored consumer healthcare and retail partnerships, and how these can be integrated to deliver new consumer solutions. Geoff explored the current diabetes epidemic, emphasising the importance of Diabetes wellcare and how education for diabetic patients / carers is vital in understanding how to live with the disease. Lynn addressed the need for marketers to help people change their behaviour and attitudes towards their well being, and how this is something that can be achieved through motivation enhancement – that is to say by enhancing our abilities and creating opportunities.

After an informative morning, our delegates once again congregated for an afternoon of presentations focusing on reaching new heights in consumer healthcare. The afternoon session began with Monica Wood, VP Global Consumer Healthcare and Member Insights for Herbalife Nutrition, detailing key learnings for OTC companies in benchmarking the direct selling industry to generate sales. Monica was swiftly followed by Tine Hansen-Turton, who discussed the value proposition of convenient care and how retail-based healthcare clinics can build a culture of consumer-driven healthcare.

After a brief networking break and injection of caffeine, Thierry Garrier, Director of Marketing, Dietary Supplements NA at DSM, presented some of the new technological advances in consumer healthcare, such as bone density scanners, blood cholesterol testing and lutein vision health, an area of tremendous growth. Thierry also showed us Vitascan, a finger prick blood test which gives results in ten minutes on a smart phone! Certainly food for thought in an industry constantly searching for the latest unique selling point!

Our closing presentation from Patrick Spear, President & CEO for trade association Global Market Development Centre, analysed how health & wellness can be packaged as a retail strategy, allowing marketers to meet consumer expectations. Patrick discussed the difference between the ‘consumer’ and the ‘shopper’, emphasising that the consumer holds the ambition but the shopper holds the reality of the purchase. Patrick also analysed some of the ‘disruptive innovations’ in the OTC industry; products such as wearables, which 70% of millennials now own. Patrick insisted that we must navigate towards health & awareness in the industry, enhancing transparency by connecting, collaborating, creating and using commerce.

Q1 2017: Early analysis of the global OTC performance

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Nicholas Hall’s global OTC database, DB6, has just published its latest figures relating to the Q1 2017 performance of the OTC market, and below are some standout trends based on early analysis of the data. Over the coming weeks, our OTC INSIGHT research teams will be compiling the latest trend info at a regional and Top 20 country level, and we’ll alert you as soon as this analysis has been uploaded to the OTC DASHBOARD website.

1. Russia returns to higher growth (+18.2% MAT Q1 2017 vs +11.3% full-year 2016)

A key factor in the slightly improved performance of the global OTC market in the 12 months to end-March 2017 (+4.5%) vs full-year 2016 (+4.3%) was higher growth in Russia. While a modest upturn in the world’s No.1 OTC market, USA, was offset by decelerating growth for both No.2 market China and No.3 market Japan, it was the European countries – largely No.5 Russia, but also No.4 Germany – that accounted for the improved performance of the global OTC market in Q1 2017.

2. CCA growth at the heart of Europe’s revived fortunes in Q1 2017

Global CCA sales were up 4.7% in 2016, thanks to a strong end to the year, and this trend continued into the first quarter of 2017, with growth accelerating to 6.3% in the MAT Q1 2017 period. Europe was largely behind this upsurge, with CCA growth in Western Europe showing a marked improvement (+3.8%), while Central & Eastern Europe was the biggest source of dynamism (+17.8%), led by Russia and Poland. This trend extended to the rest of the northern hemisphere, with North America also reporting higher CCA growth (+4.4%) in the MAT Q1 2017 period, with Canada especially vibrant (+6.9%).

3. Global Top 5 stays the same, but J&J may overtake Sanofi by mid-year

While the Top 5 global OTC marketers – GSK, Bayer, Sanofi, J&J and Pfizer – remain fixed in position and adrift from the rest of the competition, the battle for the No.3 spot between Sanofi (+3.8%) and J&J (+4.1%) continues to intensify. On current trends, it looks as though J&J may overtake Sanofi by the end of Q2 2017, and we will confirm the outcome of this battle later in the year.

In the meantime, please check your weekly briefings and OTC DASHBOARD‘s Charts & Graphs archive for more early analysis of the Q1 2017 results over the coming weeks.

6 Predictions on Amazon as the New Wellness Destination

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How Amazon plans to connect all the dots of health

The news about Amazon intending to acquire Whole Foods is no surprise as media rumors have been spreading around in recent weeks. So while most attention is focused on the deal per se, there are some retail strategy fundamentals to consider for the future of Amazon as the new wellness destination.

1) All started by capturing the online platform for health and wellness

There is no doubt that Amazon has increased its business of health and wellness business via online sales of vitamins, supplements, and other wellness products. Although still a relatively small share of all Amazon sales, it is growing fast. Check out this infographic from OneClick Retail. I did a search on probiotics supplements and it turned over 10,000 results! Amazon follows a two prong strategy. On one side, Amazon is allowing hundreds, if not thousands, of small and medium size companies to sell to consumers in a very convenient and direct manner, and most importantly, cost effective. And this is precisely one of the reasons why many smaller players have seen their sales boom against the lower growth rates of bigger established brands from large multinational companies.

2) Launching their own brand in wellness

Amazon is not shy and knowing that health and wellness is now a super hot area to invest in consumer goods, they decided to launch their own line of supplements Elements aiming to capture this fast rising category in fast moving consumer goods. Although the current line consists of a few options, I would not be surprised if this is expanded.

3) The power of the cloud

Amazon is one of the largest providers of cloud services. As such, they have expanded their cloud services to medical practices allowing physicians to set up store fronts to be able to sell their “doctor” brands of vitamins and supplements directly to their patients. As consumers become more concerned about the quality and safety of supplements, many physicians who practice in the wellness space are seeing a good opportunity to boost their income as reimbursement from payers decrease. Moreover, the power of the cloud will allow Amazon one day to be able to store electronic health records (EHRs) and personal health records (PHRs) from wearables and medical monitoring and tracking devices in one convenient place to achieve and effective and less costly healthcare link between practitioners and consumers.

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4) The retailing of health and wellness clinics

Watch out Walgreens and CVS! The move of Amazon to acquire Whole Foods confirms a trend of grocery retailers to establish their own health and wellness clinics. One example is Hy-Vee, a humble yet growing employee-owned grocery chain in the Midwest US that expanded its Retail Health Clinics this year in partnership with some of the leading health systems in the US such as Mayo Clinic. Back in 2015 Whole Foods had announced the possibility of opening up a retail medical clinic within Whole Foods, but it has not fully materialized. Amazon may potentially reinvigorate the wellness spirit within Whole Foods.

5) Amazon as the new pharmacy

Last month Amazon hinted the intention to possibly play in the online pharmacy business in a news report that has raised eyebrows as it can disrupt the traditional model of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Amazon can easily do this quicker if it focuses first on over-the-counter drugs (OTCs), vitamins and supplements while meeting regulatory requirements for prescription (Rx) drugs dispensing.

6) The future vision: Amazon seeks to close the loop of health and wellness

Imagine this: Amazon is a comprehensive and holistic health and wellness destination where consumers will be able to drive and purchase their health. The connected dots of consumer health consist of:

  • Convenient online sales, including mobile
  • Own brand with certified quality, safety and efficacy
  • Artificial intelligence – Echo (Alexa) to provide guidance on health issues supported by their partnership with WebMD
  • Brick-and-mortar presence as health and wellness destination capitalizing on Whole Foods name
  • Virtual pharmacist and healthcare practitioner for consultation and guidance (telemedicine)
  • Integration of health in the cloud – consumers will be able to access all their health records in one convenient place with no hassle

In one word, a beautiful integration of consumer health!

Ali Health via Alibaba is already doing this in China so it will be interesting to see how the two e-commerce titans compete in the world of health and wellness.

Monica Feldman is a Consumer Health Strategist, Group Director of Client Services at Nicholas Hall & Co and a leading voice on global trends related to over-the-counter (OTC) products for preventive health, self-care and the extension of health span.

Apple deal with device maker sign of more to come?

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Apple announced at its recent WorldWide Developers Conference in California that it would soon be offering users the chance to monitor their glucose levels. The company has partnered with medical device maker Dexcom and will link the company’s glucose monitoring device with the Apple Watch.

For some time now, Apple has been positioning itself as a dedicated health and fitness provider through the Apple Watch series. However, while Apple has previously marketed itself towards lifestyle and fitness fanatics, it has yet to enter the medical device sector.

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Apple has also previously been reported to be hiring a small team of biomechanical engineers to develop sensors that monitor the body’s blood sugar levels. The team are said to be working on non-invasive sensors that do no require users to prick their skin for blood testing.

Apple is also now home to our new OTC DASHBOARD app. To download it from the Apple Store now, click here.