Author: Matthew Arnold, Principal Analyst

A periodic roundup of news of note in digital health and pharma:

  • Facebook and Pandora are among the digital platforms hawking more targeted advertising inventory (and analytics) to pharmas, Stat reports. Reaching likely patients without tripping HIPAA guidewires can be a tricky business, but big data is making it increasingly doable. Pandora, for example, works with Crossix to build disease “personas,” and is working with 20 pharmas on 40 products. Pfizer, meanwhile, is using geotargeting to reach potential beneficiaries of its RxPathways financial assistance program. You can listen to a radio segment with the reporter here.
  • In a first, the FDA approved an app that uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat substance abuse. The app, from Pear Therapeutics, is called Reset and underwent a 12-week, 400-person clinical trial that showed a significant increase in abstinence from drugs and alcohol. The startup is working on a version specifically for opioid abuse.
  • FDA has established a program that will allow pre-certified companies a means of fast tracking digital health apps to approval. Among the tech and pharma giants on board are Apple and J&J. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, a longtime proponent of digital health, called it “an effort to come up with a regulatory approach that is adapted to a fast-moving field” by regulating producers of medical software but not every single product.
  • And Gottlieb told the National Academy of Sciences that the agency will move to “close the evidence gap” between traditional clinical trials and real world evidence “increasingly being used by the medical community, by payers and by others charged with making healthcare decisions.”
  • Apple confirmed a long-rumored push to find medical uses for the Apple Watch, starting with its potential to catch heart arrhythmia in wearers – the company has partnered with Stanford and American Well to test that use case – and CEO Tim Cook says he doesn’t even care if the company’s healthcare initiatives prove profitable. Here’s a great primer on the potential hurdles to Apple’s ambitions.
  • For all the hype around Apple Watch’s medtech aspirations, Fitbit has an early lead in the trackers-for-clinical-research sweepstakes. Writes Wired: “Since 2012, scientists have published 457 studies using Fitbit device data, nearly half of them in 2017 alone. According to a recent analysis in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, that puts the company well ahead of its competition. In clinical trials that used consumer activity monitors, a full 83 percent outfitted trial participants with a Fitbit. For NIH-funded research, that number rose to 95 percent.”
  • Sanofi is partnering with Aetna’s Innovation Health on a digital type 2 diabetes solution that will incorporate cloud-based glucose monitoring and adherence logging. As AJMC notes, both Sanofi and Aetna are involved in other diabetes medtech efforts, and “Tech partnerships in diabetes care, including investments by payers in startup diabetes management companies, are increasingly common as established stakeholders seek ways to use patient data to improve outcomes and hold down costs.” 
  • Doximity is partnering with Epic to offer one-touch dialing of patients within Epic’s Haiku mobile platform. The offering comes from an insight uncovered by Doximity – that docs wanted their office number to appear on the patient’s caller ID when calling from their smartphones.
  • CNBC’s ludicrously prolific Christina Farr (follow her!) has a look at a startup that’s working on a voice-operated “virtual scribe” for physicians that would let them plow through EHR entry verbally.
  • Earlier in the year we learned that Amazon was looking at getting into the pharmacy market. Now, they’re reportedly in talks with some middle-market PBMs. Oh, and they’re muscling onto Google and Facebook’s advertising turf, too.
  • “Alexa, bring me into HIPAA compliance.” There’s one big hitch in Amazon’s push to find healthcare applications for its voice assistant – until it can figure out how to get good with the health information privacy gods, the virtual assistant’s medical utility is limited. 
  • Mayo Clinic launched an Alexa Skill that dispenses first aid info, including how to perform CPR.
  • Women’s health brands are shifting promotional dollars from TV to digital, MM&M reports, and particularly into social. “Given that much of their information consumption takes place in active online forums – rather than passive TV ads --- pharma marketers are adjusting their channel mix to a combination of online appeals and work around disease-specific online communities” amid a “backlash against the traditional ads on TV,” MM&M says.
  • Two huge biosimilar stories last week: first, in a landmark approval, FDA gave Allergan and Amgen the green light to market a me-too version of Roche’s Avastin, dubbed Mvasi. Then, in less happy news for payers, Amgen said it would delay the U.S. launch of its biosimilar mimicking AbbVie’s Humira (though there are many other biosimilar candidates in that particular hunt). 
  • Twitter is doubling its character limit to 280. Still won’t fit a fair balance – for now, though FDA is doing some serious rethinking about the best length of risk statements in ads.
  • 23andMe’s just-concluded $250m financing round won it Wall Street’s attention and revived talk of the consumer DNA-testing tech chasing genetic targets to develop its own drugs. For now, though, they’re using that data to inform pharma clients’ R&D work and looking to further build their database.
  • In predictive analytics news, Boehringer has collaborated with Geisinger, the digital innovator IDN, to develop a model for determining the best candidates for its SGLT2 drug Jardiance for type 2 diabetes, based on three measures -- risk of cardiovascular death, hospitalization for heart failure or kidney failure – using EHR data.
  • Headlines like this are music to our ears. 
  • Check out Stat’s Biotech Devil’s Dictionary. Sample entry: “key opinion leader (n.): Commonly abbreviated ‘KOL,’ the phrase is meant to indicate subject-matter mastery but has been stretched and perverted to mean almost nothing, as there is no qualified governing body to regulate the keyness of one’s opinion leadership.”

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