Digital-minded Novartis taps Apple's ResearchKit for smartphone MS study

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Novartis has been quick to embrace sensor technology, launching a Qualcomm smart inhaler collaboration last year.

Novartis has launched plenty of large-scale multiple sclerosis studies. But its newest one is different.

The latest, dubbed elevateMS, allows participants to contribute using their smartphones, no matter where they are. Researchers will collect sensor-based data on their performance of physical tasks and their symptoms in an effort to “improve understanding of the daily challenges” patients face. The study could also “uncover new potential measurements of treatment effectiveness," the Swiss drugmaker said Tuesday.

The study’s mobile app, designed with input from patients, neurologists and disease advocates, was built on the Apple ResearchKit platform, which the tech giant unveiled back in 2015. Last July, GlaxoSmithKline claimed to be the first to use it to run a study, which evaluated 300 rheumatoid arthritis patients. 

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Both Novartis and Glaxo, as well as some of their respiratory rivals, have been quick to embrace sensor technology. Last January, Novartis unveiled a collaboration with Qualcomm Life to develop the next generation of its Breezhaler inhaler, used with each of Novartis’ COPD offerings. That announcement followed just a few weeks after GSK and Wisconsin’s Propeller Health rolled out their own smart inhaler pact.

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Importantly, the new MS study format eliminates the need for clinic visits, effectively broadening the population that can participate. That’s an outcome that has already pushed oncology companies, which are running short on potential trial participants, to search for digital solutions of their own, EY partner Todd Skrinar said in a June interview.

Novartis, meanwhile, is working to shore up its multiple sclerosis market share before generics descend on Gilenya, an event that’s predicted for the near future. The company, as well as its MS rivals, recently got some extra pressure with Roche’s launch of highly anticipated med Ocrevus.