In Watershed Moment for Digital Therapeutics, Pharma Company Novartis Partners with Pear Therapeutics
The digital therapeutics market has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last quarter of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018. Digital therapeutics, or “digiceuticals”, rely on lifestyle changes to improve symptoms of major chronic conditions, and have been used to treat everything from diabetes to chronic pain. The products differ from traditional wellness apps in that the solutions are evidence-based, undergo rigurous clinical testing, and are only available on a prescription-only basis.
However, until very recently, digiceuticals were seen as a promising but experimental field. In recent months that has started to shift as the technology has faced growing industry and regulatory support, with news ranging from the FDA approval of Pear’s substance-abuse digiceutical reSET to the launch of a Digital Therapeutics Alliance dedicated to setting industry best practices and advocating for digital therapeutic technology. In another landmark moment, Pear Therapeutics announced Thursday that they had partnered with pharmaceutical company Novartis to further develop two of Pear Therapeutic’s digiceutical products.
“We have been in discussions for many months now with the [Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research] group at Novartis, really talking about their desire to really realize the value of digital therapeutics as a treatment modality much like you would as a small molecule,” Alex Waldron, chief commercial officer of Pear Therapeutics, told MobiHealthNews. “They were a series A investor in our company and a series B investor in our company. They have been following us very closely since the beginning, so when we started to figure out the potential of co-developing or partnering with a company they stepped right up and saw that as a very natural fit in terms of where they’d like it to go.”
The two companies partnered to continue development for an existing schizophrenia treatment as well as developing a new app designed to treat mental health symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis.
“We’ve had a lot of experience and a lot of engagement with MS patients and clinicians treating MS patients,” Joris Van Dam, head of digital therapeutics at Novartis, told MobiHealthNews. “And what we’ve heard from them is over and above the symptoms they experience from MS itself, they’re really suffering from a mental health burden. By which I mean depression, anxiety, fatigue, cognitive impairment. And it’s left relatively untreated today because treatment is really focused on the mobility symptoms. But the two are related. If your MS gets worse you get more anxious and depressed and vice versa. … So you can’t really treat the patient unless you treat all of the patient. We’re very excited about exploring a future where we can treat our patients with the best of drugs and the best of digital and we think that Pear Therapeutics is certainly among the best of digital today.”
Pear company executives released a statement arguing that the partnership “legitimized” digiceutical technologies by bringing them into the traditional pharmaceutical space.
“Our strategy at its core is to legitimize this … by finding a pharmaceutical partner to do some development deals with. They learn from that, we learn from that, … and then we’ll build our own portfolio and fully realize Pear as an operational company based on other diseases,” Waldron said.
This may be the first developmental partnership between a pharma company and a digital therapeutic, but it isn’t the first time a pharma company has worked with a company in the burgeoning space. Back in 2014, Akili Labs, which is working on digital therapeutics for Alzheimer’s and ADHD, partnered with Pfizer on clinical trials.