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Big Pharma taps tech giants to scale up digital health prowess, projects

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Big Pharma taps tech giants to scale up digital health prowess, projects

Biogen Inc.'s collaboration with tech giant Apple Inc. on a research study to explore ways to detect and monitor cognitive decline is "only the beginning of a tsunami of digital offerings" that will soon be offered to patients through pharmaceutical companies, the biotech's CEO told investors at the 2021 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

The J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference brings together about 600 presenting companies and almost 13,000 attendees. The 39th annual conference in 2021 is being held virtually to curb the rate of infection of the COVID-19 virus.

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Biogen and Apple's study will explore the development of digital biomarkers for detecting and monitoring cognitive decline at an earlier stage using the Apple Watch and iPhone. Biogen made headlines in November 2020 after its Alzheimer's disease drug aducanumab was rejected by an advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The multiyear study with Apple will begin in 2021. The collaboration reinforces an ongoing focus on digital and will allow patients to better monitor their disease, Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos said at the conference.

Novartis AG CEO Vas Narasimhan told investors that the Swiss company is advancing partnerships with tech companies like Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc.'s Amazon Web Services and Tencent Holdings Ltd. to build out the company's digital capabilities.

The pharmaceutical giant established a partnership with Microsoft in 2019 to increase AI capabilities across the company and one with Amazon's AWS to accelerate the digital transformation of Novartis' pharmaceutical manufacturing, supply chain and delivery operations. In partnership with Tencent, Novartis launched an artificial intelligence-enabled digital nurse in April 2020 to help patients and healthcare professionals in China better manage heart disease.

"In our sector, both from an operational standpoint and innovation standpoint and a partnership standpoint, we want to be a leading digital player within biopharmaceuticals. We're scaling our major digital lighthouse efforts," Narasimhan said in a Jan. 11 panel.

One way Roche Holding AG has been carrying out digital initiatives is by launching new medicines in a virtual environment, like the company's U.S. launch of Evrysdi for the treatment of adults and children with spinal muscular atrophy. Unlike other treatments for the disease, Evrysdi can be shipped to patients' homes, and the Swiss company has implemented digital tools to educate healthcare professionals on the treatment, Hippe said. Roche launched a series of virtual webinars and social media events with patient advocacy groups for patients with spinal muscular atrophy.

"Digital is now in our DNA," CFO Alan Hippe said in a presentation, adding that the company spends more than $3 billion per year on digital initiatives.

Aside from digital marketing, Hippe said the company has more than 300 key digital initiatives ongoing and more than 30 software solutions on the market. As technology continues to progress more insights will come from this patient data, Hippe added.