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Cofounding Partner/Editor-in-Chief
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PharmaVOICE Editors' Blog

Monday, March 26, 2012

Where's the "Angry Birds" for Pharma?

If you aren't familiar with Angry Birds, you have successfully avoided one of the biggest crazes in game apps. But if you're like everyone else, you've either played it, or you at least know people who have played it. The most recent version, Angry Birds Space surpassed 10 million downloads in its first 3 days, on top of 700 million total downloads for the franchise to date. That's an impressive adoption rate any way you measure it.

The Life Sciences industry has been quite active creating hundreds of apps for HCPs, sales reps, and adult patients. You can see a fairly comprehensive list on Pocket.MD, organized by sponsor company, category, condition, and device. The apps run the gamut from HCP reference apps to monitoring and disease management apps. Lots of diagnostics, personal logs, and calculator apps. My cursory search for game apps in this space came up wanting. No blockbuster "Angry Birds" for pharma yet, but that doesn't mean a good game app doesn't exist. It may just not have exploded onto the scene yet. Please leave a comment if you know of a healthcare game app that has hit the big time. I'll continue searching, and I'm hoping you can help.

I believe there is a huge underserved niche just waiting to be filled. Here's what I'm hoping to discover, or see emerge in 2012. Imagine an app that was as fun as Angry Birds, sponsored by a pharma company. I envision a game app for serious children's diseases, such as Leukemia or Juvenile Diabetes. The app would allow the child (and parents, siblings, & friends) to better understand the basics of the disease, and how it is treated. The game would work best if it is not a literal interpretation of the disease and treatment. No medical-grade illustrations of blood cells needed.

Imagine a herioc adventure, where the player battles the enemy (Leukemia cells). Certain aspects of the disease and treatment may be embedded into the game mechanics and design, such as a cartoony Luko Beast (the enemy), a Super Amazing Keemo Attack lauched from a steampunk-themed catapult, and a Totally Rad Ray blasted from a Star-Warsian gizmo. (Five minutes of noodling is in no way going to produce a great concept, so don't put too much stock into these specific examples).

The levels in the game could mirror the stages of treatment, from diagnosis (finding the enemy), to initial treatment (attacking the enemy), to maintenance (keeping the enemy from returning).

Obviously, you can't expect 10 million downloads (or 700 million) as with Angry Birds. However, knowing that some diseases have millions of sufferers, plus their friends and family, and you can see there are ample populations of people who could benefit from an app that speaks to the level of the young patient. In playing, the child may feel like they have some control over the outcome of their disease in the game (by progressing through levels), and in real life (by taking their medicine and going to all scheduled treatments).

The opportunities for collaboration between research organizations (Leukemia Research Foundation), Pharma companies (makers of chemotherapy drugs), and healthcare providers would be substantial.

A successful app would not only help subdue the fears of a scared child, it could also improve awareness of the disease, influence acceptance among the patient's peers, and aid in fundraising for research foundations.

In order for the initiative to work, the game must be well-designed, engaging, and not a retread of another game. It absolutely cannot be a thinly-veiled marketing piece for a drug brand. The execution of the game itself is paramount. Therefore, an accomplished game app developer (for iOS and Android) would likely have to be brought in.

If it costs $150,000 to develop an exceptional game app, with the appropriate partners promoting the app, it could be a huge success for all stakeholders. A few hundred thousand downloads would drive a lot of awareness and understanding across the disease spectrum.

What do you think? Is there a place for game apps in healthcare? Have I missed some popular game apps?What are your ideas for a breakthrough mobile game app for Pharma?


PharmaGuy said...

The real "angry birds" are over at PhRMA. See "Pharma & Fun, Not Oxymoronic? Here Comes Gamification!" post on Pharma Marketing Blog:

Dan Limbach, PharmaVOICE said...

Thanks for the heads-up John. Syrum ( has still not gone live. Maybe BI is caught up in feature creep, or the game has some wicked bugs. Either way, they may have tried to over complicate the game. Angry Birds is very simple, which is part of the reason it is so successful. You launch stuff at other stuff. The playing field changes, but the mechanics are very consistent. Pharma should model a simple, yet successful game before trying something more complicated.

Fabio Gratton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fabio Gratton said...

Great points Dan -- and glad you found of use! For years I've been saying that "games" are one of the biggest "missed opportunity" in pharma communications -- not just in the mobile channel, but across the board. In fact, we saw the area of gaming in healthcare as so potentially big that we went as far as launching an entire division of our company dedicated to this specialty in 2002 - ( You are spot on to say that the greatest opportunity is for games intended to educate children living with chronic or life-threatening conditions. As a matter of fact, our biggest "success" was a simcity-style game we created for Medtronic Minimed called Pump Expeditions (; no longer live). This was created for children living with Juvenile diabetes and their parents/caregivers. In the 4 years it was live we knew for a fact that it was helping families make important decisions about whether or not their children were ready to use an insulin pump. Having a tool that could provide this level of insight literally changed hundreds of families' lives for the better. In the mobile space, there are, like you mentioned, very few attempts to create such games. I have tagged a few of them here: The most elaborate (and successful) of these ("Health Seeker") is not really created directly by pharma, but via a grant to Manny Hernandez's Diabetes Hands Foundation. Frankly, if that's what it takes it's certainly a valid approach! Generally speaking, there is nothing at the level that we would expect given how enormous the field of gaming is. And certainly nothing even close to games like Angry Birds or Draw Something -- neither of which are terribly complicated to develop. Your assertion that "there is a huge underserved niche just waiting to be filled" is a major understatement -- and I am grateful to see that someone is pointing this out to the industry. Furthermore, I will be bold enough to say that it would not take $150,000 to create a very good game. 50% of whatever effort, unfortunately, would go towards the time & resources required to navigate this type of project through the internal regulatory hallways of companies. I would even be willing to contribute some of our own company's time & effort "at loss" or "at cost" to any pharma company that is willing to take on this challenge with us. Areas ripe for tackling: Hemophilia, Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Anemia, ADHD, Leukemia, Juvenile Diabetes, and Asthma -- just to name a few. What do you think the odds are that someone would ever take me up on this challenge?

Anonymous said...

Been an occasional Angry Birds player for months. A healthcare/pharma version might be fun!

Dan Limbach, PharmaVOICE said...

Fabio, thanks for the great input. You make a good point about how much effort would go toward navigating the regulatory issues, which traditional games do not have to deal with. If you don't get any offers to develop an app with a pharma company, perhaps we could put our heads together and partner on something that could prove that mobile games could reach a large audience, be truly fun to play, and help people.

Fabio Gratton said...

Nada, Dan. Zip nada.

Flogistix said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Yasir Khalid said...

Upset Parrots is very easy, which is aspect of the purpose it is so effective. You release things at other things. The stage changes, but the techniques are very reliable. Pharmaceutical should design a easy, yet effective activity before trying something more complex.

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