Novartis, Merck KGaA use digital tracking in MS patients to up their competitive game

The market for multiple sclerosis drugs is not an easy one, especially now that Biogen Idec's ($BIIB) soaring Tecfidera has arrived on the scene. But MS drugmakers Novartis ($NVS) and Merck KGaA are doing what they can to keep their edges, rolling out a pair of digital solutions to help patients manage the disease.

Novartis Chief Spokesman Eric Althoff

Last week, Novartis, maker of Gilenya, launched "Live Like You," a 7-day challenge for integrating wearable technology and social media to track MS patients' daily activities. Participants can tap into an active online community to learn how to translate these daily stats into positive lifestyle changes, Novartis' chief spokesman, Eric Althoff, told FiercePharmaMarketing.

"There is a great deal to be learned from tracking your activity and analyzing your data," he said. "For example, imagine if you knew that when you listen to X type of music, you tend to work out longer? In MS, these types of insights are particularly relevant."

For example, brain atrophy in MS sufferers can lead to cognitive problems that make daily life and work more difficult. "But what if you were able to see what types of lifestyle modifications make cognitive activities like a heavy volume of email at work a bit more manageable?" Althoff said. "It could not only be helpful, it could even be empowering."

Merck KGaA SVP Bharat Tewarie

Merck KgAA, whose Rebif treatment is its best-selling biopharmaceutical product, has a new data collection tool, too. But its version--available only outside the U.S.--is geared toward drug adherence. An Internet-based software system, MSdialog, syncs with a new RebiSmart auto-injector. The electronic injector instantly transmits info on patient injections to their healthcare providers and allows docs and patients to interact outside their office visits, Merck SVP Bharat Tewarie told FiercePharmaMarketing.

The system helps caregivers identify when patients don't take their injections as directed--and suggests changes that could ease distress in patients or family. "Our goal is to offer a tool that accompanies patients in following their treatment, and helps care providers understand what is happening between face-to-face visits in order to improve treatment outcomes," said Tewarie, who heads up Merck's global business franchises in neurology, immunology and medical devices. The MSdialog data can also be used to demonstrate treatment compliance and cost-effectiveness to payers, he added.

Things have gotten tougher for both Rebif and Gilenya since Tecfidera started tearing up the market last year. The drug, an oral treatment, narrowly missed the blockbuster mark in its first year, pulling in $876.1 million--all of which it generated after its launch in April 2013.

Rebif, for one, felt the sting of its rival's success, with second-half sales declining 1.5% to €1.86 billion, or about $2.56 billion. Merck attributed the slide to tough times in North America--Tecfidera's home turf--where Rebif faced "severe competitive pressure," the company said.

Gilenya, also an oral drug, saw sales grow 62% on the year to $1.9 billion--"a strong performance considering the recent launch of competitors," Novartis touted in its annual report. But despite a head start of nearly 2.5 years, just 6 months after Tecfidera's arrival, Gilenya was behind; as of October, it and its fellow pill from Sanofi ($SNY), Aubagio, controlled a 12.3% share of the MS market--compared with Tecfidera's 13%.

But it's not just MS drugmakers who are out to capitalize on the tracking-patient-data phenomenon, known as the "quantified self" trend. Last month, Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Wellness & Prevention unit launched a new app, Track Your Health, a game-like app meant to serve as the ultimate health data tracker and ultimately boost drug adherence.

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