Over the last decade, the life sciences industry has increasingly adopted more digital tools to assist in research, treatment and data collection. This trend was accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, in 2021 we’ve seen more digital therapeutics emerge onto the market, while pharma companies and startups work together on collecting real-world data, and investments continue in decentralized clinical trials.
Read on for some of the biggest pharma news in 2021.
As the digital therapeutics industry continues to grow, traditional life science players look to DTx startups for partnerships. In early 2021, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals and digital therapeutics company Click Therapeutics announced a new remote clinical trial being conducted on Verily’s Project Baseline platform. The study is focused on measuring digital therapeutic interventions’ effectiveness on adults with major depressive disorder (MDD) who are on antidepressant monotherapy.
Additionally, life science company Eli Lilly announced that it is teaming up with diabetes management company Welldoc on a new licensing and collaboration agreement that promises to integrate the Welldoc’s software into the pharma company’s insulin products, which are still in the pipeline.
A number of new digital therapeutics have also come onto the market. For example, in November AppliedVR landed an FDA De Novo clearance for its virtual reality system that treats chronic lower back pain.
Over the summer, Happify Health announced the launch of its first prescription digital therapeutic (PDTx), named Ensemble, which is focused on Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The product does not yet have FDA clearance, but was able to launch thanks to a 2020 guidance which loosened regulations for digital health companies looking to treat psychiatric disorders.
In August, Swing Therapeutics landed an FDA breakthrough designation for its fibromyalgia platform.
One of the best-known DTx companies, Pear Therapeutics, made headlines this year when it announced a $1.6 billion SPAC deal. In December, the company began trading on the Nasdaq.
In addition to going public, Pear also embarked on a slew of deals. In April, it announced collaboration deals with Empatica and etectRx, as well as a licensing deal with KeyWise.
Later in the year, the company announced the acquisition of fellow digital-therapeutic company Waypoint Health Innovations’ assets, as well as the assets of Örebro University researcher Fredrik Holländare.
In April, Kaiku Health, maker of an oncology-focused platform that collects patient-reported outcomes, announced that it was joining forces with Novartis on a new effort to help monitor and manage melanoma.
AstraZeneca is also looking at the real-world data space. In February, the company announced it was partnering with AliveCor, maker of artificial intelligence-enabled personal ECG devices, in order to study new ways of managing cardio, renal and metabolic issues.
Biogen teamed up with tech giant Apple on a multiyear research study on cognitive decline that would use the Apple Watch and iPhone. The study is looking to find digital biomarkers to evaluate patients’ cognitive performance.
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for companies working on collecting real-world data. The FDA rejected Verily’s Parkinson’s disease-focused clinical trial tool that was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of certain types of interventions on the premise that the tool has limited ability to capture the full picture of a patient’s capacities.
Detection and support tools
Verily has also seen some advancements in 2021. The Alphabet subsidiary teamed up with the Mayo Clinic on a new effort to develop a digital point-of-care decision-support tool. The partnership is starting out with a focus on cardiometabolic conditions.
Roche Diagnostics International inked a deal with Medial EarlySign to commercialize an artificial intelligence tool designed to help detect cancer in the early stages.
Roche also signed a deal with AI-backed pathology company PathAI. The deal focuses on allowing PathAI to develop and distribute its AI pathology tech through Roche’s uPath enterprise software.
It’s been a big year for startups focused on using artificial intelligence to fuel drug discovery. Valo Health, a tech-enabled drug-discovery company, emerged onto the public market via a $2.8 billion SPAC merger.
In May, AI-backed research platform insitro landed $143 million in funding, and Exscientia found $60 million. In November, DeepCure obtained $40 million for its drug-research platform.
Silicon Valley giant NVIDIA is also setting its sights on the drug-discovery space. The company announced that it is teaming up with AstraZeneca and the University of Florida on new artificial intelligence research projects aimed at boosting drug discovery and patient care.
The decentralized clinical trial space is also heating up. In May, Science 37, a decentralized clinical trial operating system developer, announced its plans to go public through a SPAC merger.
Meanwhile, digital clinical trial platform Medable scored a whopping $305 million in Series D funding in October. TrialSpark, a health-tech platform that lets providers become clinical trial sites, scored a whopping $156 million over the fall. Also, Florence received $80 million in May.