Pharmacies in the Philippines are typically mom-and-pop-style operations that run on pen and paper. This means that no one – from the drug firms to the government – has a clear view of what goes on between pharmacists and their customers.
On a larger scale, it also means that national health programmes and policies are based on surveys and estimates instead of real-time information.
A Singapore startup called mClinica has stepped up to change this reality. In June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Philippines adopted a regulation mandating the use of a platform developed by mClinica, which will digitise prescriptions to create a national health database.
Pharmacists photograph each prescription they fill and upload it to the Electronic Drug Safety System (eDSS), which uses artificial intelligence to digitise the data and store it in the cloud. More than 23 million prescriptions are digitised each month, said mClinica.
A combination of the team’s expertise and a hugely successful pilot study convinced the Philippine authorities to adopt the company’s product, mClinica’s founder Farouk Meralli told The Business Times.
The eight-month pilot in 2016 digitised 49,103 prescriptions from 53 private pharmacies in Metro Manila.
From the data gathered about tuberculosis medications, mClinica found that more than one in three patients were using monotherapy (a single drug for treatment) instead of the recommended combination therapy.
Worse still, more than one in five patients bought a single tablet on their visit to the pharmacy, even though the standard of care is to be on continuous antibiotic treatment for six months.
Monotherapy and the failure to complete a full course of antibiotics are both factors that contribute to treatment failure and antimicrobial resistance, said mClinica.
The data explains why the Philippines has one of the highest burdens of tuberculosis in the world, and one of the highest rates of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.
mClinica’s offering goes beyond just digitalising prescriptions and analysing them, said Mr Meralli.
It has three main products that create an ecosystem connecting all stakeholders in the industry: statistical data platform SnapRx (white-labelled the eDSS in the Philippines), education and networking platform SwipeRx, and patient programme platform Connect.
Pharma companies pay mClinica to have their sponsored education programmes on SwipeRx. Mr Meralli said: “Pharmacists require a certain amount of education to renew their licences. We partner with pretty much every pharmacy organisation in South-east Asia so that pharmacists can access this education on our platform.”
Revenue is also generated from pharma firms and health organisations that sponsor patient education programmes on Connect.
Mr Meralli said: “Pharma companies are interested in that because if we can make the patient take the entire course of medicine, then the pharma companies sell more. So it’s the right business thing to do, but it’s also the right social thing to do.”
The company’s partners and clients include the University of Oxford, the World Health Organization, Pfizer, Bayer HealthCare and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company.
Since raising US$6.3 million in Series A funding in 2017 led by Silicon Valley’s Patamar Capital, mClinica has grown from reaching just 1,500 pharmacy professionals in the Philippines and Indonesia to more than 100,000 in six countries.
In Indonesia, it reaches one in three pharmacists; in Vietnam, it reaches one in four. In Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia, over 10,000 pharmacists are on its platforms.
The startup is looking to raise an additional round of funds in early 2019 to drive its expansion in existing markets and to enter Myanmar.
Mr Meralli said the firm’s growth will be driven by SwipeRx, which he described as a “WeChat meets LinkedIn”. Besides receiving sponsored accredited education, pharmacists can scan through job ads posted by companies, connect with other professionals, and look for drug information.