Collaborations, Deals

Novartis wants to be a leader in a new generation of prescription digital med programs, pairs with Pear

The newly emerging field of prescription digital medicine is taking a big step forward today.

Pharma giant Novartis $NVS is pairing up with Pear Therapeutics, one of the leading pioneers in the arena, to develop new mobile apps for patients with schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.

Joris van Dam

You may recall that Pear broke new ground a few months ago by gaining an FDA approval for an app designed to help patients with substance abuse disorder. Now the Boston/Bay Area-based biotech will work with Joris van Dam, the executive director for digital therapeutics at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, on interactive digital programs for schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.

Getting a heavyweight player in the biopharma industry to collaborate with 5-year-old Pear is a big plus for digital medicine, where cognitive behavioral programs are being developed to help patients with chronic disorders. And the FDA is playing a key assist in the field, with new guidelines in the works on how these programs can prove themselves to offer proof of efficacy and safety.

These aren’t the average kind of apps you may be familiar with on your phone.

“These are therapeutic treatments prescribed by doctors and used by patients,” says van Dam. “You should treat it like a drug therapy, except it’s being prescribed and fulfilled by the cloud and not by the pharmacy.”

Novartis and Pear are planning on setting up clinical trials that can, for example, test how these interactive programs work on controlling the positive and negative symptoms associated with schizophrenia — including how you respond to hearing voices.

And Novartis sees some ready benefits in keeping a cognitive behavioral program in your pocket. Unlike a therapist, says v

an Dam, you can run through a 15-minute program at your convenience, without journeying to a session. And they’ll have clinicians gather the data needed to meet the required endpoints, standards which are currently under review in a pilot program that includes Pear.

So how long will this process take?

Van Dam says that’s uncertain, but he feels that there’s a lot of potential for a full slate of these digital meds.

There’s no word on the exact terms, but Novartis is offering a familiar slate of upfront, research support, milestones and royalties.

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