Pfizer enlists IBM for IoT-enabled clinical trials by 2019

Pfizer headquarters

Pfizer ($PFE) is aiming to have a sensor-enabled remote patient monitoring system in place by 2019. The Big Pharma has teamed up with IBM ($IBM) for the project, which will construct a sensor-laden connected house to test the concept ahead of its planned use in a Phase III Parkinson's disease trial in 2019.

If the initiative advances as intended, Pfizer will gain a system capable of delivering unprecedented insights into the activities and health of Parkinson's patients in between visits to clinical trial sites. As Fortune reports, Pfizer plans to use a system of hundreds of off-the-shelf sensors and mobile devices to gather a stream of data on the day-to-day activities of participants. Then, by combining the sensor data with machine learning capabilities at IBM, Pfizer is hoping to uncover insights into the effects of its treatment, such as how the time at which the medication is taken impacts on outcomes.

"The idea was how can we take the digital revolution, continuous monitoring, and use that to improve the quality of clinical trials and care delivery of therapeutics," said Peter Bergethon, head of quantitative medicine for Pfizer, told Fortune. "We want to define the digital signature of a person, then characterize how they're feeling and how they're responding to medication."

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Pfizer wants to have such a system in place by the time its experimental Parkinson's disease drug PF-06649751 hits Phase III, something that is forecast to happen around 2019. A lot of work stands between Pfizer and this goal, particularly given the stakes and scientific rigor that characterize Phase III trials.

The Big Pharma has responded to the scale of the task by joining with IBM for an ambitious research project, for which a connected house is being set up in Yorktown Heights, NY to assess how the technology works in a simulation of a real-world situation. As many as 200 participants will spend time living in the house, giving Pfizer and IBM both a way to test the technology and a stream of data on people with Parkinson's disease and control subjects.

Even this approach could struggle to mimic the demands a late-phase trial will place on the system, though. IBM understands the challenge. "The solution has to scale. It has as to be robust enough to deploy in patient's home and simultaneously do that in hundreds or even thousands of homes," Ajay Royyuro, director of the computational biology center at IBM Research, told TechCrunch.

While it could be a few years before it becomes clear whether Pfizer has hit its timeline, it has again pushed itself to the forefront of remote clinical trial technology simply by attempting the project. Pfizer established itself as a notable force in the sector back in 2011 with the REMOTE trial, the first study to take place without any trial sites. Enrollment issues ultimately held back the study, but it nonetheless provided a proving ground for concepts and technologies.

- read Fortune's article
- here's TechCrunch's piece
- check out Forbes' coverage
- and FierceMedicalDevices' take