The drive to digital health runs straight through pharma territory, so it’s not surprising that many traditional drug companies are working on solutions.
One of the latest is UCB’s launch of its Wellness 4U digital technology platform that aims to help patients beyond just prescribing medicine. First up is a wearable pilot program for rheumatoid arthritis patients who take UCB’s Cimzia. UCB partnered with Garmin to help doctors outfit patients with vivofit 2 activity trackers to monitor exercise and sleep patterns. Insights will be used to help healthcare providers assess the effect of behavioral changes on health, UCB said.
While its initial Wellness 4U program targets patients with RA, UCB’s ultimate goal is a multi-faceted approach that creates non-pill lifestyle solutions for conditions across its expertise areas of immunology, neurology, and bone treatments and research. It’s already working on psycho-social care research with the IBD Support Foundation, as well as creating a population health and patient experience lecture series in more than 60 locations in the U.S. this year, Todd Edwards, VP and head of immunology at UCB in the U.S., said in an email interview.
“We recognize that radical changes are taking place in the eco-system of care and that we need to evolve accordingly to deliver on our vision,” he said. “…Wellness 4U is an example of a program that supports patients beyond therapeutic intervention by addressing more of the psychosocial elements that impact people living with immunologic diseases.”
Other pharma companies are striking similar kinds of wearable and general tech partnerships in search of pill-plus solutions. Sanofi and Verily—formerly Google Life Sciences—struck a $500 million deal last year to come up with diabetes innovations. More recently, Merck has teamed with Amazon Alexa for similar home-voice activated tools. Pfizer, Novartis and Allergan are all pushing tech in beyond-the-pill applications, while on the other side, Fitbit hired a former Walgreens exec to help build partnerships with pharma, healthcare systems and payers.
However, there are hurdles for pharma and reasons why tech partnerships are important. One key issue, for example, is that pharma-created solutions tied to specific branded drugs may not be as trusted as those from independent tech companies, a recent article in the Financial Times noted.