We have all been there: An advertisement on television or a pop-up on Facebook beckons us to try the latest “visit-free,” “delivered to your door” treatment for a medical condition. This new model of targeted, direct-to-home commercialization of drugs is radically altering the pharmaceutical industry. The change is perhaps best illustrated by the tremendous success of Hims, Inc., which is responsible for ForHims.com and ForHers.com.
You want oral contraceptive medications without an appointment? There’s Nurx or Pill Club. Going through menopause? Try Rory. Need medical help to quit smoking? Zero has you covered. Get migraines? Cove can get you anti-emetics and even triptan medications in minutes. More groundbreaking and potentially disruptive to the existing healthcare model, however, is the rise of companies that offer custom-compounded, direct-to-consumer medicine.
These companies appeal to consumer demand for personalization, in addition to convenience and discretion. For example, Curology.com compounds its own prescription acne formulations in-house for individual patients. ForHers.com and ClearifiRx.com offer compounded treatments for skin lightening from third party compounding pharmacies. While still limited to offering previously approved active pharmaceutical ingredients, these companies have the potential to seriously upend the traditional prescription drug sales model through lower prices and novel formulations.
So why are all of these services emerging now? While compounding has always been a potential threat to repurposed or specialized innovation in the pharmaceutical space, statutory limitations on traditional compounding pharmacies related to batch formulating and interstate commerce rendered them competitive only in theory. However, a number of factors have coalesced over the last decade to allow these traditional compounding pharmacies, often referred to as “503As” because of the federal statute that regulates them, to thrive.
First, there is now substantial demand for these services. Our society has undergone seismic shifts in both our technological capacity, and also our expectations of various industries we interact with. We want our bedding to be customized to us, our shavers and toothbrushes sent to our doors and our television preferences noted and adjusted monthly by subscription services. We want Smile Direct Club to send us personalized aligners without seeing a dentist. It seems obvious, therefore, that medicine was unlikely to remain a sanctified industry insulated from this demand for consumer convenience and personalization.
Usama Syed is a dermatology resident at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He received his medical degree from Imperial College London, United Kingdom and a first class honors bachelor of sciences from the Imperial College London Business School. Prior to dermatology residency, he completed a year-long postdoctoral research fellowship at Mount Sinai Hospital where he focused on the use of mobile applications in healthcare.
Raymond Miller is a partner and vice chair of the Health Sciences Department of Pepper Hamilton LLP, resident in the Pittsburgh office. A registered patent attorney, Mr. Miller focuses his practice on identifying, protecting, securing and maximizing the value of clients’ intellectual property. Mr. Miller is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of University Technology Managers, Inc. and the American Intellectual Property Law Association.
Brandon Kirsch is a dermatologist and lawyer. In addition to a busy clinical practice, Dr. Kirsch is the President and Chief Executive Officer at ClearifiRx.com, a dermatologist led online platform providing personalized prescriptions to treat skin conditions. Dr. Kirsch was previously an Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Colorado and Medical Director and Vice President of Clinical Development at Brickell Biotech, Inc.