The Next Data Goldmine in Southeast Asia? The Drugstore
How one start-up has received $6.3 million to mine data from pharmacies
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Across Southeast Asia, many pharmacies continue to operate as independent outlets or mom-and-pop stores—leaving the industry largely fragmented and valuable patient data wasted.
But mClinica—a Singapore-based health tech start-up, which originated in the Philippines—is trying to solve this problem by connecting pharmacies, patients, and pharmaceutical companies in one online platform using mobile technology.
“In the markets that we are in, there has always been a consistent lack of information between the pharmacy and the patient, which is what we call the last mile data,” says Jon Lin, director and CFO of mClinica. “In Southeast Asia, the availability of last mile data in the healthcare space is non-existent, even though it is arguably the most important.”
He says that this isn’t surprising as many of the pharmacies that exist in emerging markets seldom invest in IT infrastructure. Hence, the platform is not client-facing, rather, Lin explains three things that the platform offers to pharmacies:
First, it allows pharmacies to engage with other members of the community.
Second, it digitizes many paper-based processes, allowing pharmacies to manage their own data better. Third, pharmacists can enroll patients on sponsored disease management programs where they can get discounts on medicines, receive information on what they have bought, and be reminded when it is time to repurchase. Patients only need to register by giving their mobile number to any pharmacy in the mClinica network.
He reiterates that the company does not capture any patient-identifiable data. “Protection of patient privacy is a key principle of mClinica,” he says. “Furthermore, each user who engages with our platform is fully informed about the details of each of the programs.”
Their core markets are in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia, which translates to about 5,000 pharmacies connected on the platform, with a potential reach of 70 million patients, according to founder and CEO Farouk Meralli in an interview with Bloomberg Philippines.
“With the rising wave of smartphone penetration and the enablement of cloud storage and computing, pharmacists now literally have a powerful computer in their hands,” Lin says.
And with this platform comes a treasure trove of patient data—from purchase data to the long-term behavior of patients on a particular medicine to broader public health issues, such as emerging epidemics.
Says Lin, “The data we collect can help track how diseases are growing and spreading in a country, and serve to act as a guide for the public sector’s budget process on healthcare-related spending.”
He cites data in Indonesia, which showed that 5% of patients were prescribed with combinations of medicines that had high-risk interactions that could cause complications, such as renal failure and liver conditions. In Vietnam, data indicated a double-digit rise in diabetes treatment within a key city in less than one year.
“Now through mClinica’s platform, governments, NGOs, and pharmaceutical companies can reach pharmacies at scale, can run programs to patients to reduce the price of medicine or improve health literacy, and also obtain new sources of new public health data,” says Lin.
In February, mClinica raised $6.3 million in Series A funding to expand operations globally, the company said in a statement. It was led by Silicon Valley-based Unitus Impact and joined by London-based Global Innovation Fund, Indonesia’s MDI Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst from the United States. Existing investors 500 Startups, IMJ Investment Partners, and Kickstart Ventures also participated in the round.
“Our goal is to rapidly transform the availability and quality of global health data in a matter of months, not decades,” Meralli says in the statement.