Boehringer Ingelheim and Click Therapeutics talk about what makes DTx and pharma partnerships tick

Yesterday, at DTx West, the pharma giant and the DTx company sat down to discuss implementing DTx for mental illness.
By Laura Lovett
11:57 am
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Digital mental health

It’s no secret that Click Therapeutics is on a roll with pharma partnerships. The mental health-focused digital therapeutic company made headlines this week when it announced a new clinical trial with Japanese pharma company Otsuka, based on a deal made in 2019.

But this isn't the only deal the New York-based company worked on with the life science industry. In September, the company signed a $500 million plus digital deal with Boehringer Ingelheim to develop and commercialize a digital therapeutic.

Yesterday, at DTx West, representatives from both companies sat down to talk about the what and why of pharma DTx partnerships.

“The digital therapeutics and medicine industries are similar with respect that there is quite a bit of synergy in what Boehringer Ingelheim as a company and what Click are doing,” David Klein, CEO of Click said during the panel.

“Click has true expertise in discovering and developing digital therapeutics, or really software as treatments. Boehringer Ingelheim has years and very deep expertise in CNS and schizophrenia, and really has been historically one of the top, not only developer of innovative medicines, but also of commercializing innovative medicines globally.”

However, new innovations alone aren’t enough to attract big pharma. According to Jan Stefan Scheld, corporate SVP and therapeutic area head CNS for retinopathies and emerging areas for Boehringer Ingelheim, there needs to be science to back up the claims.

“I think that helps a lot. That is one of the factors that makes me very confident that we will be able to deliver on the promise that together we can deliver much more than each of us would have been able to do individually,” he said.

The partnership zeros in on the mental health space, which is a notoriously underserved and difficult part of medicine. The companies discussed schizophrenia in detail, which can require drugs, which Boehringer Ingelheim is working on, and therapy. The idea is that a DTx, like Click, could help to fill the gaps of therapy.

“From a doctor’s perspective, you have patients in front of you, and the only access they get is that 30-minute visit, maybe one-hour visit,” Shaheen Lakhan, SVP for research and development for Click Therapeutics, said during the panel.

“You see them three months, six months, one year afterward and the continuity is medications. What happens at every other touch point? You don’t know. And unfortunately, in the mental health field sometimes you learn because there’s psychiatric hospitalization, suicide attempts, emergency room visits, this is how you could tell. A digital therapeutic can have anywhere access on demand and particularly in a vulnerable population like schizophrenia.”

Both partners were tight-lipped about what the actual therapeutic would look like, calling it confidential and citing a potential breach of trade secrets. However, the teams did reveal that patient input will be included in the development of any tools.

As for advice to other pharma/DTx companies about knowing when a partnership is right? According to Scheld it comes down to having a shared way of thinking, and something not quite definable, what he calls a “gut feeling.” 

“We want to change the brain chemistry via a digital tool,” Scheld said. “If you think about the future of where psychiatry goes, we think about it in terms of precision psychiatry, and we think in terms of holistic solutions – and that is where a digital therapeutic really fits.”

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