Novartis' mobile health strategy poised to move from tracking to virtual care

By Jonah Comstock
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Iron InvadersWhile Novartis' recent partnership with Google and its longtime relationship with Proteus have indicated that the pharma company has an interest in digital health, a page on the company's website, added this summer, lays out its broad vision and explicit interest in mobile health specifically. The company even has a mobile health strategy lead, Michele Angelaccio, who holds the title of Associate Director US Mobile Health Strategy at Novartis Pharmaceuticals.

“We have a unique understanding of the challenges doctors and patients are facing, and can help guide startups in building and testing proposed solutions," Angelaccio says in the piece. "Partnering with these health technologists is the cornerstone of our mobile health strategy. It will continue to propel us forward as an innovator and it is the means by which mHealth will help us to meet our customers’ needs and solve some of the business challenges we’re facing." 

In the post, Novartis highlights tracking and monitoring of patients as one of the biggest opportunities in mobile health. They mention the now-discontinued VaxTrak, for instance, as well as Podhaler Pro, an inhaler training app for cystic fibrosis patients.

Novartis currently has 13 iPhone apps in the Apple App Store, nine of which are patient or consumer-facing. The list includes two games, "Sickel Cell Iron Invaders" and "Marley's World" which are designed to teach players about Sickle Cell disease and Multiple Sclerosis, respectively. It also includes MyNetManager and Clinical Trial Seek, two apps that launched last March.

The article also discusses a 2013 digital health challenge sponsored by Novartis, and ultimately won by home monitoring startup Sense.ly. They add that work is continuing to build on Sense.ly's platform, which is set to come out of beta later this year.

Novartis's interest in tracking as the primary vehicle for making the most of mobile health opportunities is displayed by the deals the company has been involved with over the last few years. It sponsored some major trials with Proteus Digital Health, a company that aims to track patients with ingestible sensors embedded in pills. This year, Novartis has also partnered with TicTrac to help multiple sclerosis patients engage in self-tracking and, in a high profile deal, signed on to license Google's smart contact lens to help people with diabetes track their blood glucose levels.

The article concludes, however, with the suggestion that the company is getting ready to go beyond just tracking to technologies that "could reach the market in the near future, including some that enable patients to undergo testing, diagnosis and treatment remotely." Perhaps the company's interest in Sense.ly, which reaches out to homebound patients with a virtual clinical avatar, points to the sorts of technology Novartis is pursuing.

“Through solutions like these, we intend to make a major change in the way care is delivered, and increase access to health services,” Angelaccio said.