Digital health technologies can be used across the pharmaceutical value chain. For example, technologies such as apps and wearables are an integral part of decentralised clinical trials and are used for vital sign monitoring, collecting electronic clinical outcome assessments, facilitating virtual visits with investigators, and monitoring investigational drug adherence. They can also be used to generate and collect digital biomarkers, which are measures collected by sensors embedded in connected devices.

For example, microphones can be used to detect voice biomarkers, fine motor skills can be tested by swiping and typing on touch screens, and electrocardiogram sensors in smartwatches can measure heart rate variabilities to detect conditions such as atrial fibrillation. In post-marketing settings, real-world evidence generated from digital devices can provide a better understanding of product tolerability and toxicity profiles, provide better insights into drivers of adherence, enable remote monitoring of product safety, and integrate the patient experience into research. In sales and marketing, they can be used in ‘beyond the pill’ services and provide medication adherence, remote monitoring, chronic disease management and decision support tools for patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs).

To implement these technologies, pharma companies typically forge partnerships and collaborations with different digital health companies, be they virtual trial vendors, wearable technology providers or mobile app and digital therapeutic developers. In the last month, however, there have been several digital health merger and acquisition (M&A) and equity deals by big pharma companies.

Last month, it was announced that AstraZeneca intended to acquire a stake worth up to £25m ($33m) in Huma, a UK-based company whose platform supports digital ‘hospitals at home’ and supports decentralised clinical trials. The platform combines predictive algorithms, digital biomarkers and real-world data to support ‘proactive, predictive care and research’. At the same time, Huma will acquire AstraZeneca’s AMAZE, a disease management platform for asthma and heart failure patients. The two companies also plan to partner to launch software as a medical device companion apps for mobile devices, as well as expedite the adoption of decentralised clinical trials.

This month, it was announced that Pfizer Australia plans to acquire ResApp Health for around A$100m ($75m). ResApp Health has developed smartphone apps for the diagnosis and management of respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia, asthma, bronchiolitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The technology uses artificial intelligence to diagnose and measure the severity of conditions using the sound of a patient’s cough. Two apps have been approved for marketing in Australia and Europe: ResAppDx can differentiate respiratory diseases and can be used in telehealth, emergency department and primary care settings, while SleepCheck allows people to self-assess their risk of sleep apnoea.

ResApp recently announced that the first UK pilot of ResAppDx as an outpatient clinic tool in the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust will start this year. The company has also developed a smartphone-based screening test for Covid-19 during the pandemic. At the same time, Pfizer and ResApp have agreed to a research and development (R&D) partnership into Covid-19 diagnostics, initially for six months with the option to extend.

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Because of Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing measures, there has been a surge in demand for alternatives to in-person care, with many areas of digital health thriving such as virtual trials, telemedicine and remote patient monitoring. As a result, many technologies that allow the remote monitoring of patients have found a permanent place in the delivery of care, as the benefits to multiple stakeholders have been shown to be wide-reaching. The pharma industry needs to capitalise on this new era of healthcare and must integrate these technologies across its value chain to support its customers. GlobalData expects further deal-making activity besides traditional partnerships as pharma companies look to strengthen their digital health offerings.