Last week, some of our staff did a download from their trip to SXSW. We sent four people, looking at four different areas of tech and marketing, both inside and outside of pharma. Don’t worry, I’m already starting to lay the groundwork to go to next years conference.

Anyway, one of the themes they caught was that pharma isn’t going to solve the next wave of health problems, technology was. Pharma is chasing smaller problems affecting smaller populations (I mean, do you think if there was another penicillin around the corner? No. At this point, pharma is attacking people with a stiff case of the “Mondays”). What’s really going to turn around diabetes and heart failure is pretty much going to be food and exercise, right?  Pharma’s spent a long time trying to put something together that is as beneficial as vegetables and walking and can’t come close.

Pharma is really good at fixing diseases. Attacked by a germ or a virus or other living organism? Pharma is gonna fix that. They’re also good at squeezing the last 10% of value out of what your body used to do well: type-2 diabetes drugs are about getting more life out of your insulin and liver functions when they are on the ropes. But making your body better (unless you count steroids and HGH and the like, which I’d rather not)? That’s not something pharma is good at.

So the new focus will be technology, because technology can actually encourage you to fix yourself (or do the things that keep you from getting sick). For example, Wii Fit and the Kinnect? Tech that gets people off the couch. Wifi scale helps you track and monitor your weight and fat (you won’t try to fix what you can’t measure).

And that’s a good thing for us as people, because it reminds us that we have the power to keep ourselves from getting sick (to a greater extent than we used to), but what it also means is that we need to shift our focus.

Tech works because it does something neat: it only works because you can break good activities into something that is small, local and easy to measure. Weight? Yep. BMI? Yep. Exercise? Pretty much (though more and more studies are looking at the benefit of focusing on spurts of higher activity exercise instead of long strolls as being more beneficial to your heart and waist line, so until we crack that nut, its hard to measure). Take your meds? Yes! Check your blood sugars? Easy! All these things that make us healthier technology can make more interesting/fun/useful because they are small, local and easy to measure.

What does this mean for pharma? Big picture: Pharma thinks its in the chemistry game. It’s not. Pharma is in the health game. Tie drugs that keep you healthier longer with technology that does the same and you get a big win. Partner up and.or buy a small tech company that’s good at this (there are only a hundred of them, and most of them need the kind of help passing regulatory hurdles that you’ve mastered decades ago).

Yes, comments. Yes, @digital_pharma. Yes, yes, yes.

*Insight: stealing and versioning Errol Morris’ movie titles is always a good idea. Always.