Roche will use app to track Parkinson's symptoms in drug trial

By Jonah Comstock
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roche-stories-2015-08-10-2Roche Pharma Research and Early Development, a division of Roche Pharmaceuticals, has developed a new mobile app to measure Parkinson's disease symptoms. The app was developed in partnership with Max Little, a British mathametician at the head of the Parkinson's Voice Initiative, and it will actually be used in a drug development trial with Prothena Biosciences.

“The app is being used in a Phase I trial run by Prothena, in collaboration with Roche in Parkinson's disease," Anirvan Ghosh, Head of Neuroscience Discovery for pRED, said in a statement. "In clinical trials in this area, disease disability and impairment are traditionally measured by physician assessments using the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS). However, these are limited to the specific times that patients go for an appointment with their physicians. The app will enable continuous measurement of PD fluctuation every day and throughout the day. Ultimately, we hope the app can be used in future clinical development to enable more objective measures on response to treatment to complement doctor assessments.”

The app will be run on Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini phones, given to participants just for the study, and stripped of most other functionality. This will help to facilitate smartphone use in the elderly patient population. Patients will do six 30-second active tests a day on the app, as well as passive monitoring. The six tests consist of a voice test (saying "aaah" for as long as possible), a balance test (standing still), a gait test (walking 20 yards and turning around), a dexterity test (tapping buttons on the touch screen), a rest tremor test (holding the smartphone and counting down from 100), and a postural tremor test (the same as the rest test, but with the hand outstretched).

Investigators will keep watch on a dashboard to make sure each patient does their tests, and will be able to reach out to patients who neglect to do the active tests. The data collected will help investigators gauge the effectiveness of the treatment.

Mobile health provides a unique opportunity to measure Parkinson's symptoms more accurately and continuously than the clinical status quo, a gait test conducted during an office visit. For that reason, Parkinson's research is also the subject of one of the initial studies being conducted via Apple's ResearchKit.

Similar to the Roche app, the Parkinson's mPower study app, developed by Sage Bionetworks in partnership with University of Rochester, Beijing Institute of Geriatrics, and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, helps users track their symptoms using activities including a memory game, finger tapping, speaking, and walking. The app will also collect data from wearable devices. Although the app aims to further research in Parkinson disease, the researchers encourage people with or without Parkinson disease to download the app.

Also, in March, myHealthPal, a New York and London-based startup working on an app for measuring Parkinson's symptoms, raised $744,000 in a round led by Andrew MacKay (chairman of Yapp Brothers) and angel investor Will Armitage with participation  from Proxy Ventures. MyHealthPal is currently conducting a trial for the app with Parkinson’s patients at Mount Sinai Movement Disorder Clinic.