Meet the AI Start-Up Using Your Health Data To Help Drug Companies Target Ads
By Joe Williams, Senior Reporter
One would be hard pressed to find someone who’s never seen a commercial touting the benefits of a prescription drug.
The oft-parodied ads often feature attractive, abundantly happy individuals making the most of life after being cured of an ailment — all while a narrator rattles off a list of potential side effects, ranging from diarrhea to suicidal thoughts.
While they have always been controversial, these marketing efforts were thrust further into the spotlight when President Donald Trump’s administration tried to force pharmaceutical companies to disclose pricing in their ads — one the industry succeeded in halting.
But while annoying to some, the commercials could end up saving someone’s life. At least, that’s what DeepIntent CEO and founder Chris Paquette hopes.
On Thursday, the company is launching a new, artificial intelligence-backed platform that aims to better inform how drugmakers spend their advertising dollars. It essentially allows the firms to target with much higher accuracy the individuals that may suffer from the diseases their drugs treat.
“We have to be aligned with what’s best for the consumer or the patient,” Paquette told Business Insider in an exclusive interview. “These campaigns are actually saving lives and that’s the whole point of what we’re doing.”
The product was in beta testing with several large, undisclosed pharmaceutical companies. DeepIntent’s website touts AstraZeneca, Bayer, Merck, and GlaxoSmithKline as clients, among others. Overall, it works with seven of the top 10 largest drugmakers, according to Paquette.
He said the tool is so powerful because the proprietary technology deidentifies patient data on the front end — meaning no one is able to access sensitive information like name or age — so all the information being provided to help guide targeted advertising dollars is compliant with federal privacy laws.
Finding patients and reaching them ‘wherever they may be’
To get the information, DeepIntent partners with healthcare data aggregators that amass information from, among other things, the prescriptions that are billed to insurance companies. That all gets analyzed, using AI, to determine trends that then informs marketing spend.
Hypothetically, DeepIntent could figure out that, say, 45-year-old men who live in southern states and watch late-night television have higher rates of Type 2 diabetes. Those findings could then inform where a drug company that sells medication to treat that disease should purchase advertisements.
The startup places ads across any digitally connected device — so The New York Times, CNN, Hulu, and others.
“We’re kind of inventory-agnostic,” said Paquette. “That’s the beauty of the platform is that we’re able to find at scale, the patients that look most likely to be a specific target audience and reach them wherever they may be.”
The company says its platform can be up to 60% more effective than traditional methods. It bases that metric on insights including audience quality, which can tie back how effective it was in reaching the right audience in a federally compliant manner.
Using the solution, DeepIntent said a top 10 pharmaceutical company — which it declined to disclose for client privacy reasons — pushing a new drug to the market saw a 50% increase in ads reaching patients with the desired disease profile.
“This process not only honors patient privacy, but it provides the ability to deliver that really relevant information to inform and improve patient health,” he added.
Making patients more active in the medical journey
Paquette was a data scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering before launching DeepIntent. Part of the inspiration for initially working on the proprietary algorithms that the company is run on came from his youth.
Paquette’s father was misdiagnosed twice before being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. By providing more targeted information to patients, he said they can be more informed before going to see a doctor, and they can become more active participants in the medical journey.
Since 2016, the company has mainly focused on connecting treatments to manufacturers and doctors. It essentially helped supply the armies of sales representatives that drug companies employ with information to better sell products to healthcare providers.
DeepIntent currently employs 71 people, and roughly 60% are engineers. Revenue has grown threefold each year for the past three years, and Paquette said it’s poised for the same type of growth this year, with “no reason to think that momentum will slow next year.”
Read the Press Release to learn more about this announcement