GSK and MIT Flumoji app tracks influenza outbreaks with crowdsourcing

The GSK-sponsored Flumoji app uses Waze-like crowdsourcing to track flu symptoms and outbreaks.

It’s like Waze for the flu. A new GlaxoSmithKline-sponsored app called Flumoji uses crowdsourced data to track influenza movement in real time.

Developed with MIT’s Connection Science, the Flumoji app gathers data passively and identifies fluctuations in users' activity and social interactions to try to identify when a person gets the flu. The activity data is combined with traditional flu tracking data from the Centers for Disease Control to help determine outbreaks. The Flumoji study runs through April, when it will be taken down from the Android app store and no more data will be collected from users.

To make the app more engaging for users, Flumoji uses emojis to help users identify how they’re feeling. If it’s a flu day, symptom faces with thermometers, runny noses and coughs can be chosen, while on other days, users can show how they’re feeling with more traditional mood emojis.

The app has been installed on 500-1,000 Android phones, according to Google Play data.

“Mobile phones are a widely available and efficient way to monitor patient health. GSK has been using them in its studies to monitor activity and vital signs in study patients, and collect patient feedback to improve decision making in the development of new medicines. Tracking the flu is just the latest test of this technology,” Mary Anne Rhyne, a GSK director of external communications for R&D in the U.S., told FiercePharma in an email interview.

The hope for the app and study is to develop “a way to track flu that is faster and reliable" so that GSK can "test potential flu treatments in the future.” Currently, flu tracking is slower, depending on reports filed to the CDC from healthcare provider and health department after patients have tested positive for the virus.

The Flumoji sponsorship is just the latest in GSK's flu efforts. Its consumer healthcare unit sponsors the Weather Channel Cold and Flu Tracker, a tool that stirred some criticism late last year. GSK markets OTC flu medicine brand Theraflu and also makes flu vaccines, including Flulaval and Fluarix.