Talk to me: UCB’s new 'PD Coach' app uses voice AI for Parkinson’s patients

PD Coach from drugmaker UCB introduces Parkinson's patients to virtual assistant April who can talk and text information and reminders. (UCB)

April would like to talk—to Parkinson’s patients and caregivers. "She" is the virtual health assistant on UCB’s new mobile app built specifically for Parkinson’s disease. Named for Parkinson's Awareness Month, April offers information, support and medication reminders, delivered in ways that cater to PD patients and caregivers.

For instance, the voice-enabled April addresses the difficulty some patients have typing on mobile phones due to physical limitations such as tremors or muscle weakness. The artificial intelligence system will also learn and adjust to the language and vocabulary of a Parkinson's patient, which often change over time with dexterity and speech issues. 

“We realized, especially as the disease state progresses, that it can be very challenging for a PD patient to benefit from technology that relies upon the ability to text. So the fact that it is voice enabled is not only innovative, but very specific to this disease state and makes it much more useful for patients,” said Jordan Paul, UCB head of motion patient value.

Free Daily Newsletter

Like this story? Subscribe to FiercePharma!

Biopharma is a fast-growing world where big ideas come along daily. Our subscribers rely on FiercePharma as their must-read source for the latest news, analysis and data on drugs and the companies that make them. Sign up today to get pharma news and updates delivered to your inbox and read on the go.

Paul noted that the app is not just for people on UCB medications. Anyone with Parkinson’s—and their caregivers—can use the app to learn about Parkinson’s disease, track medications, get reminders, find out about events and better understand what is happening as the disease progresses. Patients who are on UCB medications can additionally access more specific drug information and get questions answered through the app.

RELATED: AbbVie, Allergan, Roche could join Biogen, UCB in Acorda hunt: analyst

UCB’s treatment for Parkinson’s, the Neupro patch, has been on the market since 2012. Sales totaled €96 million in the U.S. in 2017, up from €85 million in 2016. Globally, the drug notched €314 million for 2017, an increase of 5% over its €298 million in 2016 sales.

While there are many patient apps in digital stores these days, Paul said PD Coach is different because it’s not just another general medication tracker, but rather a specific resource tailored to the symptoms and struggles unique to Parkinson’s patients and caregivers.

RELATED: Say hello to Sophia, Novo Nordisk's new online chatbot, available 24/7 for diabetes questions

“This patient population has very unique needs and you see that in the challenges that PD not only is a very serious disease state, but it’s a disease state that evolves,” he said.

PD Coach’s voice capability and its ability to learn are a “huge first step” in trying to understand the patient journey and adjust to Parkinson’s patients' changing needs. As the app is used by patients over the next six months, UCB will incorporate feedback and data to improve PD Coach’s functionality and to address unmet needs that may emerge.