Novartis, Qualcomm to launch $100M "beyond the pill" investment fund

By Jonah Comstock
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Qualcomm is already one of the biggest investors in digital health, according to Rock Health. Qualcomm is already one of the biggest investors in digital health, according to Rock Health.

Qualcomm and Novartis, which announced a partnership just last week for mobile-enabled clinical trials, will also be banding together to start an investment firm, the companies announced ahead of the JP Morgan Healthcare event this week. Qualcomm Ventures and Novartis will leverage up to $100 million to invest in "technologies, products or services that 'go beyond the pill' to benefit physicians and patients".

This deal represents a ramp-up in investment for Qualcomm, which was already the largest corporate investor in digital health in 2014, according to both Rock Health and StartUp Health. It has had 21 deals since 2011, according to Rock Health, and its portfolio includes digital health players like Fitbit, Practice Fusion, AliveCor, Telcare, Welltok, Sotera Wireless, AirStrip, and Noom.

Novartis's venture fund, on the other hand, has mostly focused on life sciences companies. When the pharma company has invested in digital health, it's been through licensing deals such as its 2010 deal with Proteus Digital Health and its licensing deal with Google earlier this year for a glucose-sensing contact lens technology. 

"The adoption of mobile technologies is already having a positive impact on healthcare practices and patient experiences around the world,” Nagraj Kashyap, senior vice president of Qualcomm Ventures, said in a statement. “Qualcomm has been actively investing in digital health since 2011, and we currently have 18 healthcare startups in our global portfolio. This joint investment company with Novartis will allow us to combine their expertise in healthcare solutions with our knowledge of mobile technologies to accelerate innovation in the field of digital medicine.”

Given the "beyond the pill" focus, we'll see activity from the new fund that's more focused on pharma-related technologies than Qualcomm Ventures' previous investments, yet with more of a mobile and digital health focus than Novartis has traditionally held.

Last week, Novartis selected Qualcomm Life as a partner for its global Trials of the Future program, in which Novartis is endeavoring to use more mobile technology in its clinical trials and to provide connectivity for future Novartis products. Novartis will use Qualcomm Life’s 2net platform and various connected devices to collect medical data directly from trial participants in their homes.

The first trial in the new partnership has already begun, evaluating the use of mobile devices for patients with chronic lung conditions. The trial is observational and doesn’t involve any Novartis products or other pharmaceuticals. According to Qualcomm, the study “leverages 2net mobile-enabled smartphones and 2net Hubs to seamlessly collect and aggregate biometric data from medical devices and transmits this data to the cloud-based 2net Platform, which securely sends the data to the study coordinator.”