The pursuit of offering ‘prescription digital therapeutics’ or ‘digiceuticals’ by Big Pharma, to ensure better clinical outcomes for patients, has apparently come to fruition now.
On April 18, 2018, by a media release, Novartis announced that the Sandoz Division of the Company has entered into collaboration with Pear Therapeutics to commercialize and continued development of digital therapeutics, designed to effectively treat disease and improve clinical outcomes for patients.
The collaboration brings on to the table, a synergy between Sandoz expertise in launching and commercializing various disease treatments, with Pear’s leading experience in digital therapeutics design and implementation. This deal has attracted attention of many. Mainly because, any pharma player will, for the first-time, detail a digital therapy treatment directly to the medical profession, and seek their prescription support.
It is worth noting that Pear’s flagship digital therapeutic – reSET is the first USFDA-cleared mobile medical application with both a safety and efficacy label to help treat patients with Substance Use Disorder, in September 2017. According to published reports, several studies have established that it is two-times more effective than conventional in person therapy sessions. Interestingly, the rate of treatment efficacy increases even up to tenfold, in refractory patients.
Just the beginning of a long run:
The above market launch of a digital therapy by Novartis signals just the beginning of a long run in changing in the disease treatment archetype for better outcomes. Incidentally, prior to this announcement, on March 1, 2018, the same Company had announced, “Novartis and Pear Therapeutics to collaborate on prescription software applications aimed to treat patients with schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.”
The media release underscored:“Psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases place a heavy physical, mental and economic burden on patients and their families. With widespread adoption of digital devices, prescription digital therapeutics could potentially play an important role in future treatment models for a range of diseases with high unmet medical need”.
The scope and potential:
An article titled – ‘Digital therapeutics: Preparing for takeoff’,published by McKinsey & Company in February 2018, captures its scope succinctly. It says, “digital therapeutics tend to target conditions that are poorly addressed by the healthcare system today, such as chronic diseases or neurological disorders. In addition, they can often deliver treatment more cheaply than traditional therapy by reducing demands on clinicians’ time.”
A separate McKinsey interview article, titled ‘Exploring the potential of digital therapeutics’, published in the same month, elucidated the potential of digital therapy equally well. It highlighted:“A digital therapeutic is an intervention based on software as the key ingredient, which has a direct impact on a disease. This is what distinguishes this category from the broader term digital health. We will see digital therapeutics and digital diagnostics integrate into the health system…”
‘Prescription digital therapy’ are not just ‘Fitness and Well-being’ Apps:
Prescription digital therapy are not just to monitor a person’s general fitness level against pre-identified parameters, and overall well-being. Whereas, digital therapeutics help patients to regularly and consistently monitor relevant and tailor-made disease related data - in real-time to detect behavioral, lifestyle and requisite biological changes on a daily basis. However, this is not ‘a so well-realized necessity’ today, especially, in the treatment of certain serious disease conditions, to ensure significantly better clinical outcomes for patients.
Digital therapeutics can ensure making a favorable change in patient behavior, which is not merely as efficient as administering medicines, but could also ensure greater effectiveness than conventional medications. Further, it assists patients to better understand, manage and control several disease conditions, and more importantly, sans any untoward side-effects.
Besides, with digital therapy, the required treatment interventions will reach patients faster than traditional treatment processes. Both the patient request and the medical response for the same can be quickly exchanged, together with relevant data support, through smartphones or other wearable digital interfaces – either in the form of voice or text or both. I shall dwell on this later in the article. Thus, digital therapy may not require patients to meet the doctor every time a need arises.
Moreover, fitness and wellbeing Apps do not require marketing approval from a country’s drug regulator. Mostly because, they help monitoring general and generic fitness parameters, capturing some low-risk changes. Whereas, a custom-made prescription digital therapy would necessarily require such regulatory nod.
In tandem, various studies are also being conducted on wearables, such as an Apple Watch, as an interface. The following are examples of some of these studies:
Digital therapy study with Apple Watch as an interface:
In February 2017, Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A. and Cognition Kit Limited, announced a collaboration to pilot the use of a specially designed app on an Apple Watch wearable to monitor and assess cognitive function in patients with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
In November 2017, they presented results from ‘Digital Wearable Technology Study’ in patients with MDD. The observational study involved 30 participants, aged 18-65, with a clinical diagnosis of mild to moderate depression who have been prescribed antidepressant monotherapy for MDD.
The study also evaluated feasibility and participant compliance with measures of mood and cognition on wearable technology; and compared measures of mood and cognition on wearable technology using traditional neuropsychological testing and patient reported outcomes on depression symptoms at 6 weeks. Participants were provided with an Apple Watch on which brief cognitive and mood tests were administered daily.
The researchers observed that patients were compliant with the wearable Apple Watch device on a daily basis to evaluate mood (95 percent) and cognition (96 percent). The study also demonstrated that abbreviated daily assessments delivered through the wearable Apple Watch device corresponded with objective Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) cognitive tests and full-length patient reported outcomes, PHQ-9 and PDQ-D, assessed during weeks 1, 3 and 6. No adverse events were reported in the study.
According to another report, this user interface with Apple’s smart-watch versions 2 and 3 is now being used in a number of studies for chronic conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease – combining biometric data with user input. Again, in February 2017, Johns Hopkins University announced a project to use the smart-watch for research on possible triggers of epileptic seizures.
When used as an interface with prescription digital therapy, the provision of e-SIM and GPS in Apple Watch Series 3, I reckon, would also help patients to immediately communicate with the remote therapy centers using the same device, anytime – as and when the patients want.
Digital therapy initiatives in India:
Initiative on digital therapy has already started rolling in India, as well. Its pace is also quite encouraging. For example, Wellthy Therapeutics is building a patient centric solution for diabetes through digital intervention and management. On February 20, 2018, the Company, reportedly, shared the interim results of an ongoing real-world pilot to evaluate the effectiveness of the Wellthy Diabetes Smartphone App (WD). The results were shared at the 11th International Conference on Advanced Technologies and Treatments for Diabetes (ATTD 2018) in Vienna, Austria.
The data demonstrated how the use of WD improved glycemic control. On completion of 16 weeks, participants showed a reduction in their HbA1c by (-0.61%) on average, with 61.5% of participants having showed significant reduction in their HbA1c with an average of (-1.17%) reduction.
As indicated in my article titled, ‘Digiceuticals: A Force Multiplier to Contain Chronic Diseases’, published in this blog on October 23, 2017,prescription digital therapies are primarily of two types – one for “medication augmentation” and the other for “medication replacement.”
Be that as it may, prescription digital therapyimproves clinical outcomes for patients by manifold. It also shows potential to take over from traditional treatment with medicines in several serious and virtually crippling ailments, mostly related to human behavior and lifestyle, such as a host of chronic diseases, and without causing any side-effects.
Thus, prescription digital therapy is now a reality. It has come to stay for long – can’t be wished away, any longer.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.