GlaxoSmithKline launches first pharma-led ResearchKit study

By Jonah Comstock
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GlaxoSmithKline has launched the ResearchKit app that it told Buzzfeed it was working on more than a year ago, making it the first pharma company to get a ResearchKit study off the ground. The study is called PARADE, which the company says stands for Patient Rheumatoid Arthritis Data in the Real World.

"We are the first in our industry to use Apple’s ResearchKit as part of our research, this time looking at the impact a patient’s disease has on their day-to-day life," the company wrote in a statement on its website. "We’re not testing a medicine right now. The medicines development process starts with learning from real patients by including their insights and health goals into our research. That’s exactly the information we hope to gather about rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating disease which can impact patients’ lives at many levels."

GSK is hoping to get 300 rheumatoid arthritis patients to download the app and use a combination of sensors and surveys to report on their joint pain, fatigue, and mood, as well as activity and quality of life. That 300 number isn't an upper limit, GSK explained in an email to MobiHealthNews, but rather an estimate of how many participants they can expect in a relatively short 12-week study timeline.

Evidently there's a lot to be learned about rheumatoid arthritis from app-based patient surveys: earlier this month, Pfizer sponsored a Brigham and Women's trial of a similar app

According to Bloomberg, the phone's motion sensor will be used for a guided wrist exercise that will give GSK a standardized assessment for range of motion. GSK is working with Medidata and Possible Mobile on the app.

In July of 2015, Buzzfeed broke the news that two pharma companies -- GSK and Purdue Pharmaceuticals -- were working on ResearchKit apps while two more -- Pfizer and Gilead -- went on record as not interested. At the time, we speculated that ResearchKit could be attractive to pharma because of the rise of precision medicine. Developing drugs for smaller groups of patients, and geographically dispersed populations at that, has the potential to be very costly. A framework like ResearchKit can help, both by drastically reducing the cost of a study and by eliminating its geographic limitations. 

On the other hand, ResearchKit has to prove that it's accurate and rigorous enough for pharma and that it doesn't create any data-skewing biases. So it's easy to see PARADE as a trial run ResearchKit for GSK, which might use it in the future for drug trials.

“Our goal is to engage with patients in a new way that integrates the research into their daily lives versus the traditional model that requires patients to travel to their doctors’ offices," GSK VP of Clinical Innovation Rob DiCicco said in a statement. "By making research as easy and accessible as possible for patients, we have the potential to disrupt the model for how we conduct research in the future and ultimately improve patient health.”