Novartis has moved into the emerging digital therapeutics sector through a deal (PDF) with the pioneering Pear Therapeutics. The agreement will see Novartis work with Pear to get a schizophrenia product to market while developing an earlier-stage treatment for multiple sclerosis.
Pear established itself as an early frontrunner in the digital medicine sphere last year when the FDA approved its treatment for substance-use disorders. The prescription mobile app rewards patients for abstaining from substances and doing modules designed to equip them to manage cravings and otherwise learn to stay clean and productive. Pear followed up the approval with a $50 million series B round.
Now, bicoastal Pear has formed a relationship with Novartis, giving it a source of revenues, expertise and validation. The deal centers on digital treatments for schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.
Pear has already performed a lot of work on the schizophrenia program. The product, THRIVE, asks users how they are feeling and provides feedback on their responses, before performing a deeper assessment of their mental state. The aim is to zero in on and breakdown dysfunctional beliefs that cause schizophrenics stress while working to disrupt the negative feedback loop between stress and vulnerability.
There is some early data suggesting the approach, which draws on the cognitive model of psychosis and the stress-vulnerability model of schizophrenia, has some value to patients. A one-month study of around 30 schizophrenics linked use of the app to improved performance on a symptom scale. The researchers behind that trial claimed the effect was comparable to other psychosocial interventions.
Pear will now work with Novartis to get that product to market.
Novartis has also bought itself a chance to work with Pear on a treatment for multiple sclerosis. That is an earlier-stage project that falls outside of the areas Pear has focused on to date, which include substance abuse, schizophrenia, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Branching out into multiple sclerosis opens another front in Pear’s attempts to show prescription digital medicines are a valid part of the therapeutic toolkit. This time around, Pear has support.
“With widespread adoption of digital devices, prescription digital therapeutics could potentially play an important role in future treatment models for a range of diseases with high unmet medical need, used both alone and in combination with systemic agents,” Jay Bradner, M.D., president of Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, said in a statement.