Takeda's digital innovation 'Shark Tank' challenge yields creative help for depression

A smart pillbox and companion app recently won Takeda Pharmaceutical's crowdsourcing challenge in a "Shark Tank"-style showdown of digital depression innovations. 

The pharma partnered with MedStartr, a healthcare crowdsourcing and funding site, to gather digital submissions that would address the complex issue of depression and patient needs outside the doctor's office. The competition was narrowed down to five finalists who took center stage to present at the Health 2.0 conference, where they were judged by a panel of experts. The winner was EllieGrid, which came up with a combination smart pillbox and companion digital reminder app that notifies both user and caregiver that a dose was taken.

The finalists were chosen via MedStartr's website, where they were voted on before the conference. Ideas also included a peer community built around poetry and an online cognitive behavioral therapy.

"The five finalists really represented the diversity of difficulties that there are with depression, and why it's so important to look for innovative ways and disruptive ideas that can address serious issues that depression can bring," Nicole Mowad-Nassar, Takeda vice president for external partnerships, told FiercePharma in an interview.

While the finalist companies came from the tech world and not specifically the healthcare field, the common thread among them was personal interest in helping people with depression. 

EllieGrid's founder Abe Matamonos, for instance, wanted to help his grandfather who was suffering depression after his wife died and neglecting his medication needs as a result. The solution includes personalized pop-up reminders: In his grandfather's case, it is a photo of a car that gets his attention. The solution will be evaluated by Takeda and possibly added to its portfolio.

Takeda markets the major depressive disorder treatment Trintellix, and EllieGrid's solution could be an aid to those patients. Mowad-Nassar noted that the solution could also be applied to other treatments.

"In general, Takeda and other companies are all looking to digital solutions to go beyond the pill," she said, pointing to improved doctor-patient conversations and better patient adherence as reasons. Her job was specifically created in January to head up Takeda's digital efforts in that area.

Takeda also recently launched an initiative called IBData, which uses wearables to track inflammatory bowel disease symptoms in an effort to get information to a patients' physicians between visits, she said.

One of the Japanese drugmaker's competitors, Pfizer--which makes the depression treatment Zoloft--launched a new app last week called Moodivator, which is also a digital tool to track depression symptoms and feelings.

The depression-drug category also includes Eli Lilly's Prozac and GlaxoSmithKline's Paxil, which, like Zoloft, are available in generic versions, making it more difficult for branded meds to rack up serious sales; payers often require use of older, less expensive drugs first.

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