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RED HOT Contributors


Pharma's digital moves in the first quarter of 2017


The first quarter of 2017 saw pharma’s visible participation in digital health steadily ramping up. From partnerships that augment digital diabetes care to infant sleep coaching collaborations, we’ve covered quite a range of pharma-focused news in Q1. Read on for our list of the digital undertakings of Roche, Takeda, UCB, Johnson & Johnson, and many more. 

Boehringer Ingelheim partnered with Inovalon, a data analytics company that provides cloud-based platforms to the healthcare industry to facilitate the shift from volume to value-based care, on behalf of Boehringer Ingelheim’s diabetes alliance with Eli Lilly. Leveraging Inovalon’s platform, the partnership will work to support outcomes-based contracting, taking clinical outcomes into real-world practice to improve patient care.

Johnson & Johnson was involved in a couple of different digital health deals during the quarter. At CES, the company announced a collaboration with Boston-based Rest Devices to develop a smart, personalized sleep coaching system for babies (and their parents, of course). The offering will consist of a wearable baby monitor called Mimo and a companion app called Nod.

Additionally, J&J subsidiary Janssen contracted with a Japanese company called Welby to develop a mobile app for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The app will be available on iOS and Android throughout Japan.

Digital respiratory health management company Propeller Health announced a collaboration with Novartis to develop a custom add-on sensor for the Swiss pharmaceutical company’s Breezhaler inhaler, which is used for Novartis’s portfolio of COPD treatments. The partnership will be focused in Europe. The add-on sensor will be developed to work with the capsule-based dry powder inhaler by passively recording and transmitting compliance data to provide information through the Propeller Digital Respiratory Therapy platform to users and their doctors about medication adherence and other factors affecting treatment. This marks Propeller’s fifth major pharma partnership. With existing agreements with Boehringer Ingelheim and GSK, Propeller’s collaboration with Novartis rounds out the portfolio to include three of the top five respiratory pharma companies for asthma and COPD.

Through a partnership the company instigated with Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Health System, Purdue Pharma is looking into how an iPhone and Apple Watch app can help people with chronic pain decrease their use of pain medication. Functioning as a digital add-on to Geisinger’s physical pain management clinics, the ResearchKit app will be used in a study that plans to enroll hundreds of patients and run for two years. More than 200 patients will be given Watches and iPhones to passively and actively track data ranging from physical activity and sleep to medication adherence and pain levels. The goal of the ResearchKit study is to track how pain impacts the patient’s life and how medication is being used to manage it, which will hopefully provide insights on when and how alternative methods of pain management could be integrated into the patient’s care.

Two stories this quarter involved pharma companies working with digital health startups in the diabetes space. Mountain View, California-based Glooko announced a partnership with Novo Nordisk to develop a digital diabetes management platform. The non-exclusive partnership, developed and branded by both companies, will combine Glooko’s digital capabilities and Novo Nordisk’s deep knowledge of diabetes. Glooko offers a mobile, cloud-based platform for people with diabetes to track and manage their condition, and the app syncs with data from most diabetes and exercise devices. 

MySugr also expanded its partnership with Roche, which it initiated in April of last year. The partnership includes hassle-free integration of Roche Accu-Chek meters with the mySugr app, and even allows users to get a free Roche meter when they download the app, either delivered to their door (in Europe) or picked up at a pharmacy (in the US). The expanded partnership makes mySugr work with next generation Roche meters and makes it easier for users to share data from mySugr with care providers via the Accu-Chek Connect Online platform.

Roche also worked with two health technology companies to deploy a wireless wearable system in a clinical trial on a drug for infants with spinal muscular atrophy. The study will use BioRadio, a wireless wearable data acquisition system from Great Lakes NeuroTechnologies that records respiratory and pulmonary data from infants in near real time. Vivonoetics’ VivoSense software works in collaboration with BioRadio to provide data analysis. The device will measure patterns of movement of the chest and abdominal wall, allowing for objective measures of pulmonary function.

Additionally, Roche subsidiary Genentech gave a $100,000 grant to a University of California, Riverside doctor to study the value of video visits for multiple sclerosis.

Three pharma companies engaged in wearable-related research over the course of the quarter. Global pharmaceutical company UCB launched Wellness4U, a health and wellness platform for people living with immunologic disorders which includes, as one aspect, an activity tracker pilot program. In the activity tracker pilot, which has been launched in Houston, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Louisville, Kentucky; and Los Angeles, California, patients receive a Garmin vivofit 2 activity tracker to measure daily steps and sleep. Patients can access the data, as well as educational materials and social support, through a Wellness4U online community platform. The pilot is aimed at patients with rheumatoid arthritis and has so far enrolled 50 patients.

UCB also completed the Parkinson’s study with startup MC10 that it began in 2014. The study used MC10’s adhesive sensors to collect movement data on Parkinson’s patients, combined with patient-reported outcomes and neurological assessments from clinicians. They collected data on patients both at home and in clinical settings.

Takeda Pharmaceuticals worked with startup Cognition Kit on a study to assess whether mobile apps and wearables with continuous monitoring capabilities can be used to glean new insights into major depressive disorder that could drive better treatment. Participants will be given an Apple Watch loaded with the cognitive assessment app designed by UK-based Cognition Kit, and the impact of the combined digital health tools will be compared to traditional neuropsychological testing methods and patient assessments.

Finally, Sanofi Consumer Healthcare, a division of the global pharmaceutical company, used wearable devices in a “social experiment” that forms part of the marketing efforts for Xyzal, its 24-hour allergy medication that recently became available over the counter. The company used wearables to track the sleep and activity of allergy sufferers in a small non-scientific test in order to demonstrate ways in which allergies can be disruptive to people’s lives.

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