AstraZeneca, Exco InTouch, tackle COPD with mobile health

By: Jonah Comstock | Mar 1, 2013        

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A screenshot from Exco's clinical trial software.

A screenshot from Exco’s clinical trial software.

One of our predictions at the start of the year was that 2013 would be a year for pharma to make big moves in mobile health. European pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has begun that process, announcing a pilot, in partnership with Exco InTouch, to address chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the UK using mobile and online tools.

The pilot will be administered via several National Health Service Clinical Commissioning Groups and funded by AstraZeneca, with Exco InTouch providing the technology and outreach to providers. The service will provide patients with an interactive app, through which Exco InTouch, AstraZeneca, and care providers will send patients educational materials and patients will track symptoms and treatments by filling out surveys. Patients will also use a BlueTooth-enabled inhaler, offered by AstraZeneca, that will automatically report data.

But the pilot isn’t just collecting data for posterity: Exco will adapt the messages sent to patients based on their responses.

“We’ll be providing information so they can make more informed decisions about their diet, their lifestyle,” Exco InTouch CEO Tim Davis told MobiHealthNews. “We built the system around the individual, optimizing for each individual. And we’re monitoring their responses in a blinded and secure way, reviewing in real time the data that comes back. We put together different patient personas. We’re constantly reviewing, see if we need to change things in real time.”

Exco InTouch was founded as a mobile clinical trial technology company, but Davis said they’ve been naturally progressing into healthcare pilots that go beyond clinical trials.

“We were very much a clinical trial house in our founding years,” he said. “But we found broad global experience in those clinical trials, so we had a lot of knowledge about mobile phone usage in different geographic areas and different therapeutic contexts. Our approach is to apply technology across the whole patient care continuum. Our scope now is a lot broader. We’re really making big steps forward in that.”

He said that doing clinical trials prepared them to work in other areas, because their technology is already cleared by regulatory systems all over the world, including the FDA clearance and HIPAA compliance. They also have existing relationships with a number of pharma companies, including AstraZeneca, who they’ve worked with on clinical trials in the past.

The two companies plan to expand the program outside the UK and into other disease cases, if it goes well. In the future, the app and two-way communication system might be a product sold to healthcare providers.

Davis said a number of pharmaceutical companies are looking to move beyond drug pilots, to explore the impact of mobile technology on disease management and treatment adherence.

“This is part of a broader initiative for AstraZeneca,” said Davis. “I must say that AstraZeneca do seem to be right there at the forefront of that, in terms of aspirations, but also the resources they’re putting behind it.”

Davis also gave MobiHealthNews an update on the relaunch of the Pfizer all-mobile clinical trial planend for later this year. Davis said the mulligan will be launched in Europe, rather than in the US, and that the biggest changes will be to the recruitment phase.

“There were some real positives to be taken from that program that were overlooked by the fact that it didn’t recruit as well as they thought they would. But what did work were the other elements of technology,” he said. “With the benefit of hindight, trying to recruit for a therapy area like overactive bladder in a purely internet play, was probably not the best idea.” He noted that the condition is under-diagnosed, and many people think it’s just a facet of getting old rather than a treatable condition, so they’re less likely to be searching for solutions on the internet. He said the new trial would likely include traditional recruitment vectors in addition to online ones.