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Pfizer and IBM are coming together to put some new data into improving the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects roughly half a million people in the US.
The tech and pharma giants are partnering to develop technologies that people with Parkinson’s can integrate into their daily routines with the hope that the data can help inform future treatments.
Parkinson’s is characterized by motor symptoms such as shaking in the hands and legs, as well as stiffness and impaired balance, and one of the biggest problems for people who have it is keeping track of the cycles their symptoms follow. For example, tremors may be controlled better using medication at one time of day than another, something called “on” and “off” periods. Tracking that information could be critical to developing new medications to treat Parkinson’s that aim to reduce the frequency of those “off” periods.
Ajay Royyuru, the director of healthcare and life sciences at IBM Research, told Business Insider that the plan is to introduce non-invasive ways to monitor the disease that don’t disrupt peoples’ daily lives, a group of tools they call “passive.”
“Our goal is to achieve as much passive deployment as possible,” said Royyuru. “The ideal scenario would be, an individual doesn’t have to mess with any of the technology…and they just go about living their life. They don’t have to push any buttons, they don’t have to learn a new interface of any kind.”
The tech could be embedded into a patient’s kitchen, for example, so researchers could see how often that person cooks for themselves – a potential window into how his or her motor skills are holding up. Or it could be a wearable that tracks the patient’s sleeps or movement. Having that information could determine how well a certain trial medication is working.
Peter Bergethon, Pfizer’s head of quantitative medicine, said the decision to start this pharma-tech initiative in Parkinson’s was for practical reasons: Pfizer has a drug for Parkinson’s in development that could benefit from this kind of “internet of things” monitoring, and by putting it into an actual clinical trial, the idea is to demonstrate just how valuable this information could be.
By the end of year, IBM and Pfizer are hoping to figure out the best kinds of sensors to use, and then by 2019 Bergethon said the hope is to get the technology embedded into a Phase 3 clinical trial for one of Pfizer’s Parkinson’s medications.
Bergethon said this integration of tech in Parkinson’s research is just the first of many, not only in neurological diseases, but potentially everything from heart conditions to cancer.
“What we’re really trying to do is build a model that we can replicate,” Bergethon said. “We’re already talking about moving on to other neurological diseases, Alzheimer’s is something we’ll working on in the near future.”