Roundup: Digital health pharma news from Q3 2017

By Jonah Comstock
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Pharma companies were fairly active in digital health in the third quarter of 2017, especially in the areas of diabetes and respiratory disease. Read on for a round-up of notable events.

Diabetes management

Abbott Diabetes Care had a big quarter for its Freestyle Libre system, both in the United States and abroad. First, in July, Abbott and Bigfoot Biomedical entered into an agreement to develop and commercialize diabetes management systems, integrating Abbott's FreeStyle Libre glucose-sensing technology with Bigfoot's insulin delivery solutions. Under the agreement, Abbott will supply glucose measurement sensors for all of Bigfoot's insulin delivery systems in the U.S. as the exclusive sensors for those systems.

In September, Abbott got two pieces of good news about Freestyle Libre: the UK’s National Health Service Business Services Authority approved the system for reimbursement effective November 1 and the FDA cleared a version of the system. As well as finally bringing the system, which is already available in 39 other countries, home to the US where Abbott is based, the approval also represents a first for continuous glucose monitoring, as it doesn't require the user to use a fingerstick, even for calibration.

Abbott wasn't the only pharma company to make strides around diabetes care. Roche continued to serve as the European distributor for novel CGM company Senseonics and also entered into a research partnership with Senseonics and TypeZero to launch three European clinical trials of a combined closed-loop artificial pancreas system. The research is backed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through its International Diabetes Closed Loop (IDCL) Trial program.

Sanofi partnered with Innovation Health — an insurance company jointly run by Inova and Aetna — to launch a pilot program examining the impact of digital health strategies to improve care for Type 2 diabetes patients. The program will tap One Drop, a diabetes self-management app and Bluetooth blood sugar monitor, and Gocap, a mobile-friendly device and insulin dose management platform that emphasizes physician involvement, in an effort to improve medication adherence and patient outcomes.

Finally, Novo Nordisk teamed up with Glooko to launch Cornerstones4Care Powered by Glooko, an app melding Novo Nordisk’s knowledge of diabetes and personalized patient support with Glooko’s digital platform and data analytics know-how. The idea behind the app is to provide, for people with diabetes, a means of measuring and tracking their blood glucose, activity and meals in one place. Using Glooko’s technology, a user can sync their blood glucose and activity data from most available diabetes and exercise devices.

Respiratory diseases

AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline continued to work with smart inhaler companies to apply remote monitoring and connected devices to the treatment of respiratory diseases. 

Adherium, a digital health company that focuses in improving medication adherence and patient outcomes, received FDA clearance for a new inhaler monitoring device for AstraZeneca’s Symbicort aerosol inhaler, dubbed the SmartTouch for Symbicort. Adherium CEO Arik Anderson said in a statement that the SmartTouch for Symbicort is the most advanced smart inhaler product to date for the company, and a key product in its collaboration with AstraZeneca.

GlaxoSmithKline, meanwhile, expanded its partnership with Propeller Health, enabling both companies to prepare for, and undertake, commercial activities using the Propeller clip-on sensor and software platform for use with GSK’s Ellipta inhaler. Ongoing research and development efforts will continue, with evidence collected from the Propeller package used in conjunction with GSK’s respiratory medicines for asthma and COPD.

GSK also signalled a potentially expanding interest in digital health when it hired Karenann Terrell, former Chief Information Officer at Walmart, in the newly created role of Chief Digital and Technology Officer.

Other disease areas

The quarter also saw moves from Sanofi, Pfizer, and UCB around other disease areas. 

Sanofi strengthened its relationship with Evidation Health, announcing a new three-year partnership to use Evidation’s Real Life study platform to help increase Sanofi’s understanding of the daily burden of disease, and develop solutions that help improve outcomes. Sanofi will tap Evidation’s expertise in quantifying the impact of various real-world factors, including patient behaviors, on the eventual outcome of a course of treatment.

Pfizer launched a modification of the popular sandbox game Minecraft, offering children with hemophilia a new way to learn about staying safe and prepared and maintaining their treatment plans. The app, aimed at kids eight to 16 years old, is an adaptation that works in conjunction with the Minecraft video game. It offers a simulated environment meant to be fun and educational way for those with hemophilia to learn about better integrating preparedness and treatment into their daily routines. 

Pfizer also launched the emMobile Striiv Wearable, billed as the first such device aimed specifically at hemophiliacs. The wristband offers an array of features that help patients track daily activity levels and monitor their heart rate, and connects with Pfizer’s HemMobile app.

UCB, meanwhile, turned its attention to neurological disorders, partnering with Belgian American health startup Byteflies to use the startup's wearable sensors to monitor seizures. Byteflies makes a customizable wearable device for the pharma and healthcare industries called Sensor Dot. It's a quarter-sized sensor that can be worn around the wrist or attached anywhere on the body as a patch, capable of measuring photoplethysmography, electrocardiography, respiration, motion, electrodermal activity, and electromyography.