An annual global survey conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine recently predicted that wearable tech will be the top trend in health and fitness in 2020 (Business Wire). This comes as no surprise as the applications of digital health and wearable device technology continue to expand. Outside of tracking fitness, sleep, and heartrate stats, life science companies are in the process of developing digital therapeutics for the elderly, diabetes, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and even mental health conditions to support consumers suffering symptoms of anxiety, depression, and addiction. Further uses include programs like the one at Duke University, where freshmen will be provided with smartwatches in an effort to improve student health (mHealthIntelligence).
U.S. consumer use of wearables increased from 9% to 33% in just four years, and the total number of units in use is forecast to increase at an annualized rate of 10% to surpass 120 million by 2023 (Business Insider). As the number of people using wearables grows, Big Pharma is recognizing the opportunity to help patients take control of their health. Wearable devices allow for direct engagement with consumers, enabling a unique opportunity to educate users about their personal health and, due to early detection capabilities, prevent future health complications.
Earlier this year, the Bristol-Myers Squibb-Pfizer Alliance announced a partnership with Fitbit, which was recently acquired by Google in a $2.1 billion deal, to help drive timely diagnosis of atrial fibrillation (AFib). Their aim is to improve earlier detection in individuals at increased risk of stroke. “Too many people discover that they are suffering from atrial fibrillation only after experiencing a stroke. In fact, some studies suggest that this is true for more than 25 percent of people who have the condition,” said Joseph Eid, M.D., Head of Medical Affairs, Bristol-Myers Squibb. Now, wearable technology has opened the door for patients to detect issues before a stroke occurs. Angela Hwang, Group President, Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals Group said, “We’re in a new era of healthcare, where we’re not only focused on developing treatments but also looking at the potential of technology and data to help patients learn more about their health,” (Press Release).
Many similar studies are being conducted by industry leaders as this exciting trend rapidly disrupts healthcare. For example, Apple and Johnson & Johnson announced a multiyear research study earlier this year to see if the latest Apple Watch can help catch and diagnose elderly people with AFib earlier and faster than before (FierceBiotech). As Big Pharma embarks on this digital path, it requires new areas of expertise to address the evolving sector’s biggest challenges. Pioneers in the field are still working on how to use patient data while keeping it secure, how to safely and effectively educate users about their health, and how to maintain a user-friendly interface as the tech advances. Many are rising to the occasion by hiring new talent from outside the life sciences industry and collaborating with various organizations in order to bring this game-changing technology to its full potential.
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