The ability to make cost-effective exploratory efforts is a powerful enabler of innovation, as Peter Sims has highlighted in Little Bets (my Wall Street Journal review here, implications for pharma discussed here and here), and the need for successful start-ups to rapidly collect data and adjust course is more the rule than the exception, as John Mullins and Randy Komisar thoughtfully discuss in Getting to Plan B (listen to this interesting podcast of Komisar at Stanford).
Unfortunately, drug development is far less conducive to this sort of exploration; as I've discussed elsewhere, the cycle times tend to be far too long, and the costs are way too high. As a result, it's a lot more difficult to change things on the fly, and to rapidly pivot in response to a new appreciation of customer need.
Not surprisingly, there's been a lot of interest in ways to streamline the drug development process. One especially attractive way is to identify new uses for existing drugs (as these have already been carefully vetted), an approach I've previously argued might be especially amenable to a crowdsourcing model. More detailed patient segmentation -- more comprehensive phenotyping -- could also be helpful, as many clinical studies could be smaller and in many cases shorter if you could more precisely target your intervention to the patients more likely to benefit, and thus boost your effect size. The development of new, highly predictive models, including in silico, preclinical (i.e. animal), and especially experimental measurements in healthy human volunteers, would be especially valuable, and would allow for more rapid iteration and optimization.
The challenge for consumer health companies, on the other hand, is somewhat different: the question for them is whether will they actually improve health, in a robust, measurable fashion, offering the disruptive innovation their founders usually promise, or will they essentially be the Vitamin Shoppes and Whole Foods Whole Body departments for tech-oriented Millennials, offering what I would characterize as generally benign placbos at extremely profitable margins.
My guess is that to the extent consumer health tech companies can make money delivering a vague notion of wellness, they will. For example, I can imagine MassiveHealth generating significant revenue by selling geographically-targeted advertisements from restaurants promoting healthy alternatives -- a business model that wouldn't require them to mess around with prickly medical product regulatory requirements.
I'm most excited, however, by the opportunity to bring consumer health products to bear in a serious way, and ask whether they can deliver measureable healthcare value, which I'd provisionally define as improving health while removing costs from the system within a five-year period -- a standard I cribbed from Stanford healthcare guru Arnold Milstein, and thus I dub the "Milstein Metric." (Milstein directs Stanford's innovative "Clinical Excellence Research Center," focused on developing better and cheaper health delivery models -- see here.)