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As the pharma industry globally pursues technology and activities "beyond the pill" in its push towards digital health, some familiar but decidedly "un-pharma" names are cropping up in new collaborations.
This includes in Japan, where gaming giant Bandai Namco is working with one major pharma group on new applications of its technology.
Contrary to its high-tech image, the country has been relatively slow in its initial embrace of digital and online technologies. But given the burden that Japan’s rapidly aging population is placing on government-funded healthcare costs, the research-based pharma industry has been calling for a more preventative approach to health, and in turn, is now looking to play a broader role in well-being.
Major corporate initiatives over the past couple of years in the Japan digital health space are focusing on treatment adherence and the capture of patient data related to general health and side-effects, with other moves made more recently to improve patient-physician interactions and efficacy of treatment.
Chugai Pharmaceutical, for instance, has started to provide treatment support for selected oncology products under a collaboration with Tokyo-based venture Embrace. A dedicated mobile device application is being used with Embrace’s established private social network service MedicalCareStation, which allows patients to communicate to careproviders, their condition, and any side-effects that arise during treatment with Chugai’s non-small cell lung cancer drug Tecentriq (atezolizumab).
Chugai has also set up with Tokyo-based Qlife (a Japanese healthcare advertising and marketing business) "Gan with." This is a dedicated information website on daily living issues facing cancer patients and their families and co-workers (Gan is the Japanese word for cancer), enabling them to share experiences.
Otsuka Pharmaceutical has a global collaboration with the US venture Proteus Digital Health to develop “smart pills,” including a MyCite formulation of Otsuka’s blockbuster atypical antipsychotic Abilify (aripiprazole).
The MyCite technology was approved in the US in November 2017, and the tablets are embedded during manufacture with an Ingestible Event Marker about the size of a sand grain and made of food ingredients, which activates on contact with stomach fluid. This is picked up by a wearable patch sensor, used with a dedicated app and website for healthcare providers.
The IEM also logs activity levels and patient-reported rest and mood, which can be shared (upon consent) with doctors.
"Major corporate initiatives over the past couple of years in the Japan digital health space are focusing on treatment adherence and the capture of patient data"
Among other Japanese digital health players, Astellas Pharma has teamed up with Japan-based gaming company Bandai Namco Entertainment on the health prevention side, for the development of applications for smartphones and other mobile devices to encourage patients to take exercise.
The aim is to take a proactive stand against metabolic syndrome, a recognized condition in Japan deriving from a combination of risk factors including weight, cholesterol levels, and diabetic state. The app encourages regular exercise with a "gamified" reward component and is used in conjunction with the MoffBand wearable bracelet.
Astellas has been building up its digital health activities for several years, in 2016, launching DigiTx Partners, a San Francisco Bay Area-based digital health investment company.
Meanwhile, digital health programs at Japan’s largest pharma company Takeda Pharmaceutical, continue to develop. The firm is exploring the application of digital technologies to improve the management of inflammatory bowel disease, where it has a significant strategic presence through Entyvio (vedolizumab) for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
It launched a pilot project, iBData, in around 100 volunteers in 2016 in collaboration with Texas Digestive Disease Consultants and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the US, to use wearable technology to track symptoms and potential disease-related lifestyle factors.
Most of the company's other digital health initiatives are in the mental health and depression area, where it is working with Mindstrong Health to use "digital biomarkers," with a focus on optimizing therapy for treatment-resistant depression and schizophrenia. A "digital phenotyping" system continuously measures brain function from passively collected smartphone data.
Takeda is also working with Danish pharma firm Lundbeck (with which it has partnered several depression products) and Advocate Health Care in the US to use a mobile app, Advocate Pathway, to capture depression treatment and related changes in mood and side-effects, and to share these with care providers to improve engagement.
A program in the UK partners with Cognition Kit to use the Apple Watch for cognitive and mood assessment and data collection and results so far have shown generally high compliance with the system.
Along the same lines, Takeda is using private US company Koneksa's technology to capture patients' health data during clinical trials.
In the dementia area, Eisai has been running since 2016 “Hikari One Team SP”, a cloud-based, subscription digital health initiative to link Alzheimer’s patients and their carers, by sharing well-being data and therapy plans.
The company markets Aricept (donepezil) for Alzheimer’s and is developing other therapies in the disease, and the project fits with Japan’s broader goal of better-integrating home treatment into the health system.
(Ian Haydock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Tokyo-based editor-in-chief, Asia Pacific, for Informa’s Pharma Insights products, which include Scrip, Pink Sheet and In Vivo.)
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