HealthBeacon Interview: Driving Better Outcomes
Jim Joyce
Jim Joyce

Jim Joyce is CEO and Co-founder of Health Beacon and is a serial healthcare and technology entrepreneur. He previously founded award winning Dublin based, Point of Care Health Services and is also Director of HealthXL, a global platform for digital health collaboration. With extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry, prior roles include General Manager at Schering Plough Pharmaceuticals Ireland (now Merck) and varied roles at Schering Plough. Cantor Fitzgerald will shortly be launching a tax relief investment opportunity in HealthBeacon, through the Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme (EIIS), completing a €4m raise.

What is your background and how did you become involved in medical technology?
I’m originally from Boston and came to Ireland over 14 years ago to run Schering Plough (Merck) Pharmaceuticals as their General Manager. After successfully launching a new Irish division for the company, I identified a market for improving patient care for those with long term chronic conditions and left to launch my first company, Point of Care. Point of Care went on to become one of the largest patient services companies in the country working with both the HSE and large pharmaceutical companies and it was later acquired by Uniphar, a UK and Ireland pharmaceutical distributor.  From my work with both Point of Care and within the pharma industry, I saw an opportunity to leverage technology in the home that could support patients on injectable medications, a $50 billion-dollar market, and four years ago launched HealthBeacon, with the mission to build smart tools to manage medications.

Where did the concept for HealthBeacon come from?
I have to credit the years spent helping patients with chronic medical conditions – this is where the idea for creating a smart sharps bin came from. I was originally trying to figure out a way to manage waste disposal and costs and fumbled my way to an idea that can fundamentally change the pharmaceutical industry.

For the last 15 years, I have been effectively working on the same problem “how to manage patients with chronic conditions outside of hospitals and clinics in their home”, initially as a pharmaceutical executive, then as a CEO of a patient services company and now as a builder of health technology. We knew that patients struggle to comply with their medications, with one and two patients quitting chronic therapy within the first 12 months. One of the most common delivery methods for chronic medications is self-injection. In brainstorming how to support both patients and pharma clients, we realised that every patient needs a sharps bin in the home. We said to ourselves “what if we made these sharps bins smart and allowed them to check whether their medications have been taken or not. This would give us powerful insight to target patient intervention and create a whole new market.”

I had met our co-founder Kieran Daly a few years previously when he was CEO of Shimmer and asked him to take a look at the technology aspects of what I wanted to do. We knew that any IoT (Internet of Things) device we built would need to fit into the patient’s life in a discrete, low friction and elegant kind of way. Then we asked the same tool to be able to get data back to the clinician in a way that made it easy for the carers to understand the data.

After going a few rounds as mad scientists, we found a practical solution that helped patients take their medications on schedule. We could see the data impact immediately as we increased a patient’s probability that they would remain on treatment, and by remaining on treatment we could drive better outcomes.

How does the Smart technology work?
HealthBeacon is a smart sharps bin for patients who need to take self-injected medications at home. Often, people with chronic diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, or Crohn’s Disease are prescribed medications that require injections. In our design, we took an existing home sharps bin, encased it in technology to make it smart, and thereby created for the first time, a connected medicine platform. An SMS reminder message gently encourages patients to administer their medications on time, as prescribed. The built-in technology tracks images of medication dropping into the bin and provides correlating information about patient compliance in reports that can be shared with the patient’s care team.  The HealthBeacon was designed to provide patients with an elegant, safe and connected way to dispose of their used injectors.

What is meant by patient empowerment?
I believe patient empowerment stems from opportunities for patients with long term illnesses to have an element of control over their care, and to maintain their lifestyle in a meaningful, non-disruptive way. The previous product was little more than a waste receptacle designed to be visible, with clearly marked hazard and danger warnings. Our research showed that patients found those bins to be stigmatising and intimidating. With a patient’s comfort in mind, we sought to create a powerful tool that patients would be happy to have in their home, while still meeting regulatory safety requirements. HealthBeacon has a patient acceptance rate of 96% and has 100% patient satisfaction.

HealthBeacon was created to aid in an unmet patient need. Through patient support programmes and using nurse derived feedback, we identified a serious issue with medication adherence in the home. This could be a patient struggling to adjust to treatment outside the medical facility, or simply having a lifestyle where their health wasn’t their first priority. We sought to empower these patients by adding technology that allowed them to control their treatment, while supporting them in a meaningful way. A sharps bin is required as part of an injectable medication treatment, and HealthBeacon identified both challenges and opportunities for the patient experience.

Why do you think Ireland is such an important hub for high-end technology?
Ireland has done an excellent job attracting top global technology companies, as well as top pharmaceutical and medtech companies. The presence of these big companies combined with a tightly knit culture within healthcare and technology make it a great testing ground for emerging technology. Our own experience really brings this home, when we wanted to pilot our initial technology we were able to quickly speak with the local divisions of big US pharmaceutical companies to secure pilots and feedback. As we designed out our technology we were able to incorporate real time feedback from patients and clinicians and tightly manage the launching of both our technology and our company. Financing and funding options for early stage companies were available to us from Enterprise Ireland, Angel Investors and EIIS investor programmes that allowed us to both finance and de-risk the early stages of the project before taking it into new markets and to larger customers.

What do you believe drives HealthBeacon’s success?
The market is not only new for us, it is, indeed, completely novel. Connected medicine is still very early in the growth cycle. The self-injectable market has been estimated at €50 billion. Although competitive in services, the technology element of the market is just beginning and HealthBeacon is one of the leading developers of technology solutions globally in this space. At present, there is no connectivity in a patient’s home waste disposal bin.

By analysing the impact of using a smart disposal bin, it has become clear to us that this is best utilised as a platform technology and it has many new and significant applications including increased safety via validated disposal, integration of consumption patterns into patient’s medical records and of consumption data across healthcare networks.

What do you find are the biggest challenges in launching a medical technology product whether in Europe or globally?
Our core challenge has been to build a simple elegant product that patients and clinicians would accept and that could also be globally scalable and applicable. This required us to carefully focus on both the design of the product, and of an organisation,  that could bring such a unique product to market. From a technical perspective, we needed to build physical hardware, software and phone applications that plugged into a global cellular network so the information from each device could be seamlessly collected and analysed.

What’s next for HealthBeacon?
We are in a huge growth phase. We have opened negotiations with 4-5 new pharma partners for some of the biggest high-value drugs in the world. We anticipate launching an additional seven countries with our existing partners in the next three quarters. In addition to the growth of the HealthBeacon, we are also in product development cycles with additional medication adherence tools.

Tell us something about Jim Joyce that people might not expect?
I am married to a Venetian and have two children who speak both Italian and English with Irish accents. While not originally from Ireland, I am part of Boston’s big Irish-American community and grew up with over 50 first cousins from the McLaughlin side of the family all living in the Boston area.

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