AstraZeneca deepens digital ties with Huma in pursuit of clinical trial apps

Looking to give its clinical trials a digital boost, AstraZeneca has strengthened its ties with the software developer Huma amid plans to co-develop and launch patient companion apps in a number of research areas.

The deal has money seemingly changing hands in both directions: The drugmaker made a $33 million investment in the software company, according to a report from CNBC—at the same time that AstraZeneca separately announced the sale of its Amaze platform to Huma for an undisclosed sum.

Amaze includes programs for helping patients manage chronic diseases and keep in touch with their physicians. In launching the platform last year, AstraZeneca began by weaving the Amaze into clinical studies for heart failure and asthma at Massachusetts General Hospital, ahead of plans to expand into conditions such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney failure. 

With Huma in charge of the platform, AstraZeneca hopes to pursue more decentralized clinical trials and connect patients with investigational therapies remotely, using Amaze and its forthcoming companion apps tailored to specific diseases.

The collaboration marks “a first for AstraZeneca in the digital health space,” as it looks to link chronic conditions with software programs being used as a medical device, said Karan Arora, the Big Pharma’s chief commercial digital officer, in a statement.

According to the two companies, 95% of care for chronic diseases takes place outside the clinic—even before the COVID-19 pandemic drove people to avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office.

“We believe digital can expand access to healthcare, advance clinical research, and identify existing gaps in care,” said Ruud Dobber, president of AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceuticals business unit.

Huma has previously worked with AstraZeneca—as well as drugmakers such as Bayer and Janssen—to help offer digital “hospitals at home” during clinical trials that incorporate predictive algorithms, digital biomarkers and real-world data. 

Amaze has operated under a similar mandate. For example, in AstraZeneca’s heart failure and asthma studies performed in partnership with MGH, the program relied on a mix of telehealth connections, smartphone apps, remote monitoring and early warning systems to alert healthcare providers of the needs of at-risk patients, and helped them intervene with prescriptions and other care when necessary.

The deal will also help the London-based Huma secure a larger footprint in the U.S. by leveraging AstraZeneca’s previous partnerships in the country, Huma co-founder and CEO Dan Vahdat told CNBC in an interview.

Last year, Huma—originally founded in 2011 as Medopad—raised $130 million upfront from a group of investors led by Leaps by Bayer and Hitachi Ventures. The backers also committed to delivering an additional $70 million, but only if its new shareholder partners—rather than the startup itself—reached certain milestones.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Huma’s technology has helped hospitals in the U.K. and Germany monitor COVID-19 patients remotely. It has also been used to track the health of participants in vaccine trials, the company said.