J&J's Janssen taps Japanese digital health company Welby for ADHD app

By Heather Mack
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Japanese digital health company Welby has collaborated with Janssen, a pharmaceutical division of Johnson & Johnson, to develop a mobile app for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The app will be available on iOS and Android throughout Japan.

Aozora, the task management app, was created by Welby and will be distributed by Janssen to people with ADHD who are prescribed medication. The app features medication reminders, goal-setting and schedule management tools. While the app tries to promote lifestyle changes by delivering “promises to reduce the number of careless mistakes,” medication adherence is a big goal of the app, and showcases Welby’s position as a top collaborator with pharmaceutical companies. Welby has 10 pharmaceutical clients, including Janssen and AstraZeneca, and makes apps and open data collection and aggregation platforms for doctors, health systems or pharma directly to manage conditions ranging from cancer to schizophrenia.

“We’re currently the only one in Japan with the go-ahead system like this. We provide the connectivity, the cloud-based platform and the access for doctors to monitor the use of devices for daily life or in clinics,” said Hideki Inoue, Welby’s Executive Officer for the Medical Solution Unit, in an interview with MobiHealthNews. "They approached us first, like most of our pharmaceutical partners. We provide the portal and the app, and they provide it to patients.”

The app is part of Janssen’s Healthy Mind program, an initiative to reduce stigma around mental health in the Asia Pacific region. The pharmaceutical company previously developed apps with Welby for use by patients with prostate cancer and chronic pain, and is looking to expand into more therapeutic areas.

While Welby and the app itself are limited to the Asia Pacific region, the impact is notable in its own way. The company takes a unique approach to digital health tools by working directly with large, global pharmaceutical companies for distribution in Japan. Welby, which was founded in 2011, is licensed as a medical device company but has also been involved in a few different areas of health technology. The company makes an open platform for personal health records and data aggregation (similar to Validic’s, without the multinational reach), which can connect to medical devices, activity trackers and manual-input data from lab tests or prescriptions.

“The situation in Japan is different than the US, especially for the mobile area,” he said. “We have most of the foreign pharmaceutical companies, and most are looking at developing a mobile app in Japan, but there are very few companies who can do that.”

Plus, interoperability between information systems is not as not as advanced in Japan as it is in the US, Inoue said, which is why full use of the platform isn’t quite happening yet.

“We make a good visualization of the report, and doctors can connect to the portal or the cloud, but most of the communication happens by a patient bringing in the report themselves either printed out or on the mobile,” said Inoue. “With a daily app, the aim is to really improve patient engagement and adherence by allowing the patient to clearly communicate symptoms and log them, which is really challenging to do in a regular five-minute appointment every few weeks.”
 
The company started out selling its products to health systems to improve patient health records, then moved on to pharmaceutical companies in the last couple of years. The idea of using an app for daily monitoring of chronic conditions and medication management is still emerging in Japan, Inoue said, as few health technology companies have the qualifications to work with pharmaceutical or medical device companies.

In addition to working with as many pharmaceutical companies and health systems, Welby also wants to grow its clinical research partnership network, Inoue said. They don’t plan to expand out of Japan for now, but do envision expanding their role in healthcare overall.  

“We see a huge opportunity, if we can figure out how to use real world data in healthcare,” said Inoue. “We are looking in every area we can that needs the most innovation to bring our solutions and improve care. Once we prove these solutions in Japan, on some of our biggest health concerns like aging, then we will see how they can be used in other countries.”