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Digital's potential in clinical trials, medical adherence

This week at the Connected Health Conference in Boston, Bob Coughlin, executive director of the Mass Biotech Council and Dr. Joe Kvedar, VP of Connected Health at Partners, talked the future of digital in life sciences.
By Laura Lovett
12:09 pm

The life science industry is making moves in the digital health space. In fact, within the last two years SanofiNovartis and GSK have all recently inked deals with digital health companies. 

However, the relationship between pharma companies and digital health has not always been infallible. This week Novartis division Sandoz broke ties with its digital therapeutic partner Pear Therapeutics. 

Yet, providers and pharma stakeholders continue to look at digital tools as a potential for the future. This week at the Connected Health Conference in Boston, Bob Coughlin, executive director of the Mass Biotech Council, and Dr. Joe Kvedar, VP of Connected Health at Partners, talked the future of digital in life sciences. 

“About 70% of our costs are lifestyle related, and the tools that keep us glued to our phones are all mobile. Developers use the same tricks to keep us addicted to our phones,” Kvedar said. “We should be using those same things to get you addicted to a healthy behavior. That is where I think the pharma opportunity is. That is the dream. I don’t know if anyone is quite there yet.”

Patient engagement and clinical trial recruitment have historically posed challenges to pharma companies in the past. However, Kvedar said tech might be the key to tackling these issues. 

“I think we are far from our potential, but the two ways I see it unfolding ... is a core use of sensors to better execute, and more efficiently execute clinical trials,” Kvedar said.  “That is important and that is happening. That is mainstream now.”

Big names in the industry have started to turn their sights to digital for research purposes. In May Verily announced a series of new strategic partnerships with Novartis, Otsuka, Pfizer and Sanofi to employ the Alphabet subsidiary’s Project Baseline platform. This collaboration would increase the diversity of study populations with the goal of making it easier for participants to enroll and contribute their health data. 

“If you think about how we could use digital health to do better clinical trials, when you think of how our industry in the past has tried to engage patient population and recruit from clinical trials, we haven’t done a good job reaching a diverse population for clinical trials,” Coughlin said. 

In the future Kvedar sees pharma using digital to support disease management and care. 

“The next phase is when we start to have wrap-around products — so there is a medication or an injectable that has either a related sensor or app that helps the individual be more adherent and use the tool better,” he said. 

This area has already seen a great deal of activity. In fact, last month Sanofi inked a deal with Abbott to combine the medtech company’s FreeStyle Libre, a continuous glucose monitoring system, and the pharma giant’s insulin dosing information to create smart pens and insulin titration apps. 

However, Kvedar stressed that the industry should proceed with caution when it comes to these digital tools. 

“That is where, if they are not careful, our colleagues in pharma can go a little bit astray because they will put it in the hands of direct-to-consumer team and I think that is less compelling than I think it could be.”

Coughlin stressed that it was important for pharma to look for opportunities to use tools that other spaces have been using for some time, noting that big pharma was already doing this in many cases. 

“In the biopharma space we have to stop with the arrogance that we are so smart [and] that we have to invent everything for ourselves on our own,” Coughlin said.  “If there are other industries that have benefited from this type of technology we should utilize them. Obviously, it needs to be adapted to our needs but that can be done. So, I think for the later companies, it has been a little bit easier because they have the resources and the resources to do it.”

Coughlin said at the end of the day it is about improving the process.  

“Why don’t we use that technology to try to invent drugs, quicker, better, faster, cheaper,” Coughlin said. 


Connected Health Conference

Join PCHAlliance and the Partners Connected Health Symposium in Boston Oct. 16-18.


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