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A doctor explaining a digital therapeutic solution to her patient in a clinical setting.
April 29, 2021
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Pharma and DTx Have a Symbiotic Relationship. Here are 3 Reasons why.

Digital therapeutics (DTx) are becoming more widely accepted as a way to deliver value-based healthcare for chronic illnesses. The pandemic has highlighted the potential of digital therapeutics to reach more people on a larger scale.

What does all of this mean for the pharma industry? And how can it benefit from the rapid emergence of this groundbreaking technology? In this article, The Sidebar takes a look at the three reasons DTx and pharma are right for each other.

1. Care is Personalized

Without DTx, a clinician is reliant on seeing the patient to assess the effectiveness of treatments. Conversely, if a DTx solution is used to complement a treatment plan, the patient can be monitored in real-time within their home environment. The clinician is able to assess whether the treatment is working or if a change is required.

Every patient has their own perception of illness and needs personalized support. Every incentive, guideline, and piece of feedback that shows whether you are staying on track impacts the behavior. DTx harnesses this power, offering a completely new experience, says Clara Campàs Moya in her recent interview with The Sidebar.

Sidekick Health’s partnership with Pfizer to help support people living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Europe is one such example of how DTx can complement traditional treatment pathways while providing more personalized care.

Sidekick’s IBD care program is designed to encourage medication adherence as well as to promote incremental lifestyle and behavioral changes.

Another example is Novartis’ interest in pairing its heart failure drug, Entresto, with a wearable biosensor marker, which could pinpoint early signs of the condition worsening. This combination therapy will allow Novartis to analyze and predict the kind of drug treatments that most benefit patients.

DTx solutions work well with drugs like Entresto, where accurate titration is needed to meet medical guidelines. It’s hoped that the technology will allow Novartis to keep pace with an expected increase in the incidence of heart failure in the coming years.

2. Reaching Hard-to-Treat Conditions

There are also hopes that DTx solutions could be used in combination with drugs to treat Alzheimer’s, a condition that is proving extremely difficult to tackle using drugs alone.

Decades of research has suggested that tackling the amyloid plaques found in the brains of people with the disease could help slow or halt neurological decline, but trials of various compounds have failed to produce results.

Although there are more than a hundred drugs in clinical development, at best these are expected to produce a mild or moderate effect on cognitive functioning.

In June 2021, the FDA approved Biogen's Alzheimer's drug, Aducanumab, the first new compound for the condition to hit the market since 2003. Since approval, the drug has been at the center of much debate as its efficacy has been called into question.

Eisai is exploring whether digital therapeutics can assist with the treatment of Alzheimer’s, and in late 2020, it helped seed-fund research into gamification techniques and tasks that could allow doctors to monitor cognitive functioning. The proposed digital tablet device-based system could allow doctors to engage with patients and intervene with a personalized rehabilitation regime that could be used in combination with a pharmaceutical agent or as a stand-alone therapy.

It’s envisaged that the system’s machine-learning algorithms will personalize each patient’s therapy by automatically adjusting, or titrating, the therapeutic mobile-based activities based on several novel digital biomarkers tied to cognitive function, mood, and behavior.

Adjustments could be made to the number and type of tasks and games that are offered, based on the speed of the patient’s finger movements, time to complete games or tasks, and even their facial expression identified through the device camera.

The solution also incorporates reminiscence therapy, which uses images from the patient’s past to evoke positive memories and emotions. This has been shown to improve cognitive functioning.

Digital biomarkers will pave the way for more efficient clinical studies which in turn will result in rapid product development. Not to mention that all the data collected will provide meaningful insight into trends and patterns emerging from chronic disease management. This opens up opportunities for prevention, diagnostics, and optimizing therapies.

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3. Tackling Adherence with Bespoke Tools

Digital therapeutics by nature offer a range of bespoke tools that can help slow and treat diseases by detecting their signs and symptoms earlier, and providing a digital approach to slowing them. But above all, improved adherence rates are among the most promising advantages offered by a DTx solution.

In an Annals of Internal Medicine review, researchers found that up to 50% of medications for chronic diseases are not taken as prescribed in the US alone. As a result, the total cost estimates for medication non-adherence amounts to approximately $500 billion dollars a year. DTx takes aim at this massive challenge by creating innovative care pathways that are set to boost adherence and outcomes.

The combination of prescription digital therapeutics and adherence sensors is another promising aspect of this digital health technology, with the possibility for a ‘digital pill’ to provide feedback on whether patients are taking medications as planned.

Such an approach would help reinvigorate the development of digital pills, which have been approved in the past but have proved difficult to market.

The technology, where a tiny ingestible sensor is attached to the pill and sends a message to a smart device, is being tested in cancer as a way of improving adherence to medication regimes. (The Sidebar)

Taken together, these developments provide further evidence that pharma sees potential to improve patient outcomes by using DTx and medicines in tandem to solve some of the most taxing issues in medicine.

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About the author

Bronwyn Hemus

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