Patient monitoring can be challenging, often relying on patients to self-report symptoms or describe how they’re feeling. But technology is changing that, making it easier for researchers to monitor patient adherence to a trial’s regimen and for doctors to personalize a patient’s treatment.
At the FierceBiotech Drug Development Forum in Boston today, a panel took up the subject of patient monitoring and discussed how technology is changing the clinical trial process and patients’ interaction with the healthcare system.
The panel included Biogen‘s Innovation hub senior director of new initiatives Jane Rhodes, Propeller Health co-founder and CEO David Van Sickle, and Qualcomm Life biz dev director Yury Rozenman and was moderated by FierceBiotech editor-in-chief Stacy Lawrence.
Panelists agreed that today’s level of investment in patient monitoring technology is unprecedented. They pointed to agreements like Verily and Sanofi’s $500 million joint venture to tackle diabetes as a sign that this technology is beginning to see interest from pharmaceutical giants.
Propeller Health said it has seen great success bringing their connected inhaler devices to market, inking collaborative development deals with pharmaceutical companies like Vectura Group. Van Sickle said that patient monitoring technology has seen a lot of growth over the last 10 years.
“In 2006, people thought I was insane for connecting inhalers to the network,” Van Sickle said. “You have literally millions and millions of people out in the world carrying around a piece of plastic and metal and using it to relieve symptoms. It gave us this footprint on which to embed electronics early on, it started 10 years ago, but it was a foray into an opportunity to put connectivity to work where it was much more difficult to do across other therapeutic areas.”
Van Sickle touted Propeller Health’s technology, saying that it boosts daily adherence to anti-inflammatories by up to 60%. “It is the case in a couple of years that there will be very few so-called ‘analog’ inhalers,” he said.
Rozenman added that the next generation of connected inhalers will be able to do more than just record when a patient uses the device.
“You can start adding additional sensors, not only to capture the date and time stamp, but you can put in an accelerometer and a microphone inside the inhaler,” Rozenman said. “By that you can capture whether the inhalation was done properly, whether the inhaler was held correctly, whether it was placed right inside the mouth, and the duration of the inhalation.”
Monitoring patients more closely gives physicians a larger pool of information with which to personalize treatment for patients, Van Sickle said. He maintained that this technology is 1st and foremost to enhance the physician-patient connection.
“It’s about more appropriate and effective use of medicines, understanding how a population of patients is doing in the real world, and providing the information and connectivity to the patients and physicians who can then build better coordination in care and outcomes,” Van Sickle said. “There is a sales vector in there but it can’t be the dominate one or else these will be rejected.”
Patient monitoring technology is not only changing the way doctors treat their patients – it’s also affecting the way companies organize clinical trials, panelists commented. With lightweight wearable technology, more people may be willing to participate in clinical trials and it is possible to get a wider look at a population of people, Rhodes said.
“Rather than trying to get clinical insights from the traditional phase I, II, III model, we’re trying to focus our attention on the clinical trial of the future which will be extracting useful information for research purposes out of the real-world practice environment,” Rhodes explained.
Rozenman acknowledged that while some companies have interest in patient monitoring technology, there are still hurdles for developers, including complex regulatory pathways and comparing medical grade devices to consumer grade devices in clinical trials.
“It’s still early days,” Rozenman said. “It’s difficult to move fast in this field.” He estimated that 30% of the top 25 pharmaceutical companies are actively using mobile health monitoring in their clinical trials, while others are still figuring out how and when to involve the technology.
Looking ahead, the panelists pointed towards cheap, disposable, and multi-sensory devices as the future of connected patient-monitoring. Rhodes expects that as patients become more empowered to manage their symptoms and keep track of their regimens, costly visits to the doctor’s office will become less frequent.
“Just like we almost have the driverless car,” she said, “we’re going to have the physician-less healthcare system.”