'Digiceutical' Collaboration May Advance Treatments for Schizophrenia and Multiple Sclerosis

MARCH 09, 2018
Pharma likes digital health as of late. It's a big change compared to a few years back where a slew of companies stormed into the start-up landscape hoping to change healthcare forever. Pharma was too slow, and old school to make the changes needed in a rising technological revolution, or so it seemed.

The reality is that many of the initial innovations with digital health didn't pan out, the hype has died down (unless you're into artificial intelligence, then the sky's the limit), and pharma has finally come around to paying attention to the field. It could be argued they've been watching this whole time, seeing who would come out of the fires of initial investments and make something of themselves, then pharma would swoop down to collaborate, offer an acquisition, or use their services.
 
Well, in an era of survival of the fittest in this start-up eat tech era, Novartis has stepped into the fray to sign-up with a digital health company. Their most recent deal is with Pear Therapeutics, a company aimed at providing FDA-cleared software interventions for disease management.1 They fill a niche with software geared to be adjunctive to pharmacological therapy or devices. Ideally, these would be used in clinical trials or prescribed for patient care. So far, current products approved include reSET, for substance use disorder; and reSET-O (currently in FDA submission) for opioid use disorder. Others presently set for FDA review are THRIVE, for schizophrenia; and reCALL, for PTSD. But looking forward, Pear Therapeutics is targetting oncology, MDD, insomnia, MS, inflammatory conditions, respiratory conditions, and Parkinson's Disease.
 
So what does Novartis stand to gain from this agreement? Looking at Novartis' current product and pipeline of therapies, they are looking to engage Pears products in schizophrenia and MS, and primarily aiming to bring THRIVE to market.2 Given Novartis drugs for MS already in play, and Pears' interest, this is also a pretty good collaboration project. Jay Bradner, MD, president of Novartis BioMedical Research was quoted in the press release, announcing the collaboration, as saying “With widespread adoption of digital devices, prescription digital therapeutics could potentially play an important role in future treatment models for a range of diseases with high unmet medical need, used both alone and in combination with systemic agents.”
 
This all boils down to one thing: Drugs alone aren't going to be what makes a significant profit for pharma in the future. They recognize the role technology is playing in healthcare, and that other pharma companies are becoming invested in this field, along with unknown newcomers, such as Google and Apple, who are also looking to leverage their tech abilities in healthcare. Novartis has been keen to work together with these companies, and as seen with their collaboration with Verily (a Google offshoot health company), they are using their subsidiary Alcon to work on a new smart lens that can detect glucose from the eye. They have also partnered with Proteus Health, with ingestible pill sensors, that Otsuka has gotten recognization for with their recent Abilify MYCITE offering.3 
 
I think this may be rather interesting for the pharmacy field shortly for several reasons. The foremost reason is that we will soon have drugs todispense that are designed to work with a technological device or program to meet full clinical endpoints. That means our understanding of clinical trials no longer just includes the drug, pharmacological properties, and clinical disease treatments, but also how this tech works and comparators. The era of digiceuticals is coming, and it will be interesting to see what roles we play in it.

References
  1. Pear Therapeutics. . Accessed March 8, 2018.
  2. PEAR Therapeutics to Collaborate with Novartis to Develop Prescription Digital Therapeutics [news release]. Boston and San Francisco. March 1, 2018. . Accessed March 8, 2018.
  3. Proteus Digital Health. Partners. Available from https://www.proteus.com/company/partners/
 


Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an associate professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at TheDigitalApothecary.com, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.
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