Novartis taps Ada Health's AI diagnosis platform for tracking rare, immunological conditions

The vast majority of Novartis’ output focuses on treating patients after they’ve received a professional diagnosis, but, now, the Big Pharma is expanding its offerings to encompass the very beginning of the treatment process, when patients may first turn to Dr. Google to unravel the mysteries of recent symptoms.

Novartis has partnered with Ada Health to add diagnostic assessments to its online resource hubs for a handful of rare and immunological diseases that may normally take several years and as many specialists to pin down.

Ada’s assessments are backed by artificial intelligence algorithms that use a massive repository of clinical data to match a user to potentially unconsidered conditions. The software aims to ask enough questions about self-collected symptoms to allow it to differentiate between diseases that may display similar indicators.

Though the surveys don’t provide a clinical diagnosis, they can offer a list of illnesses that are likely causing an individual’s symptoms as well as suggestions to learn more about those illnesses and book an appointment with a specialist nearby. All data entered into the Ada assessment system are encrypted and kept confidential.

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To start, Novartis will use Ada’s AI-based surveys to speed up the diagnosis of axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA), psoriatic arthritis and familial Mediterranean fever.

AxSpA, for one, is a chronic inflammatory form of arthritis that predominantly affects joints in the spine and pelvis and develops when patients are in their mid-twenties. It presents with symptoms that are often confused for other chronic pain-causing conditions, resulting in an average diagnostic delay of about five years, according to Ada.

To reduce that delay, Novartis’ disease awareness site for axSpA will soon invite visitors to take Ada’s assessment for the condition. The AI model behind the survey has been specially trained to distinguish between symptoms and other health factors caused specifically by axSpA, rather than fibromyalgia, psoriatic arthritis or any other similarly presenting conditions.

“Our global partnership builds on an existing collaboration between Ada Health and Novartis and starts with the integration of Ada—deployed in multiple local languages—into Novartis’ disease awareness sites around the world,” said Vanessa Lemarié, Ada Health’s senior vice president of life sciences and rare diseases.

Lemarié added, “It is hoped that having undertaken the assessment, users will be in a better position to have an informed discussion with their healthcare professional and get to the right answers and the right diagnosis faster than before.”

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After selling off the bulk of its testing business in 2013, Novartis has only recently begun to dabble once again in aiding in the diagnostic process, in addition to its core treatment business. In 2018, the drugmaker teamed up with Foundation Medicine to develop companion diagnostic tests for its portfolio of cancer treatment products.

Last September, Novartis inked an agreement with Siemens Healthineers to develop another suite of diagnostics, with the first of these biomarker tests focused on identifying neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis.