Digital Therapeutics: Augmenting patient health outcomes

The digital revolution being driven across AstraZeneca R&D is allowing us to reimagine healthcare as we work towards improving the outcomes of the billions of people worldwide affected by the diseases we aim to treat, modify and in the future even cure.

I truly believe we are entering a new age in which our approach to the diagnosis and treatment of patients will be greatly enhanced by the use of digital health technologies and AI. I believe that AstraZeneca is at the vanguard of this revolution and I am exciting by how we can improve the lives of patients as part of this change.

Susan Galbraith Senior Vice President and Head of Research and Early Development, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

Bold and innovative solutions are required if we are to stem the tide of what are some of humankind’s most challenging diseases including cancer, cardiovascular, renal, metabolic, respiratory and immunological conditions.

Digital technologies are at the core of this approach and we are harnessing the potential of digital therapeutics with the aim of improving patient health outcomes.

Pushing the boundaries of what is possible

Digital therapeutics is where health and technology merge to augment traditional medicines.

These scientifically-validated apps and devices, which are prescribed by a doctor often alongside a medicine, deliver software-generated therapeutic interventions with the aim of directly improving a patient’s health.

The introduction of digital therapeutics is an amazing opportunity that we believe will have a momentous impact on health outcomes, with the potential to change how we treat disease in the future forever, which is extremely exciting. We need to continue pushing the boundaries of science and what could be possible for patients.

Cristina Duran Chief Digital Health Officer R&D, AstraZeneca

From lung rehabilitation and predicting heart failure to detecting and managing a potential therapy side effect, the potential of digital therapeutics is vast.

Evidence based and patient focused

It is crucial that every digital therapeutic developed is backed by rigorous scientific evidence which proves it has a direct impact on improving patient health outcomes.

For us, evidence is key for our digital therapeutics. In a similar way to how we develop and test a medicine, a digital therapeutic will be designed using evidence-based interventions and trialled to prove that it can make a difference to a person’s health, and it will require a prescription from the doctor.

Matt Bonam, Head of Digital Health, BioPharmaceuticals R&D, AstraZeneca

Designing solutions with inclusivity in mind

We currently have three digital therapeutics in development across our therapy areas.

In Oncology, we have designed a rigorous and low patient burden digital therapeutic, to monitor metastatic breast cancer patients The digital therapeutic, which is currently being used in clinical trials in 23 countries, has been built using insight from a review of the medical literature, pulmonary and breast cancer experts, technology review and Real World Evidence gathered through conducting a deep cohort analysis of approximately 500 patients in community and academic US health systems. The digital therapeutic’s aim is to monitor patients symptoms and vital signs and based on algorithms and expert rules, alert a physician as to how well the patient is doing on the treatment, to maximise both safety and outcomes.   

In Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolism, we are investigating the use of digital therapeutics to help predict worsening of heart failure and other areas of huge unmet need. The aim is for a patient to have a small patch-like device on their chest designed to monitor their heart. The patch will be connected to a digital health app on their phone or tablet and will use algorithms designed to help detect early subtle symptoms of worsening heart failure through real-time monitoring of the patient’s heart. The aim will be to provide the patient with an early warning, enabling interventions to avoid a worsening of heart failure which would be very beneficial both in short- and long-term and might potentially slow down progression of heart failure.

In Respiratory & Immunology, we are working on a virtual lung rehabilitation digital therapeutic to help patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). By supporting patients with personalised physical activity programmes and self-management support linked to their medication use, we hope to be able to maximise the benefits of innovative new treatments on lung function, allowing the individual to be more resilient to the impacts of infections and other factors that could lead to worsening of their disease, with the aim to reduce the frequency and severity of exacerbations.

Digital therapeutics are what I’m most excited about in digital health today. I’m very passionate about ensuring optimal care for all patients by using technology that meets patients where they are.

Alicyn Campbell Head of Digital Health, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

Changing the healthcare landscape for a digital age

There are stringent regulatory procedures in place for approving medicines and medical devices. As the number of digital therapeutics in development continues to surge, regulatory approvals will become much more common.

According to Duran: “Regulation will differentiate between a fitness app a consumer can simply download, with no regulation required, versus something that is scientifically proven to have a direct impact on someone’s health condition or outcome, which a doctor may prescribe. In a few years, I think we will see that shift to it being commonplace for your doctor to prescribe a digital therapeutic, a medication or both.” 

Doing for patients today what wasn’t possible yesterday

We are constantly learning and understanding how to continue driving improvements for the patients our medicines treat.

Digital therapeutics and other digital patient solutions are fundamental to achieving our goal of reimagining healthcare, solving the highest areas of unmet need using the powerful combination of precision medicines and a holistic suite of digital tools, driven by digital, artificial intelligence and longitudinal health data and scientific evidence.