Wednesday 15 March 2017 3:03 pm

AstraZeneca turns to healthtech startup Umotif to capture patient data treasure trove

Pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca has turned to an innovative startup helping patients, doctors and researchers track health conditions to better understand and treat them.

Umotif, a digital health startup based in London which was behind the first ever app to be prescribed by the NHS, will work with the FTSE 100 firm to create digital products for monitoring clinical trials, as well as capturing data from real world use of the firm's drugs.

The startup's technology has been used already by people with Parkinson's and diabetes. Cloudy With a Chance of Pain, a study of chronic arthritis and how it's related to weather with the University of Manchester, produced initial findings suggesting the two are connected. 

Now AstraZeneca will work with Umotif to search for similar insights in a deal the startup's founder and chief executive Bruce Hellman said was "financially significant" for the five-year-old business.

Read more: Here's how Google's DeepMind is using blockchain-like technology

Patients use their own smartphone to input information about their condition, with doctors and other clinicians able to analyse the vast trove of data. In the last 12 months Umotif has had 18,000 people track 16 different conditions, providing 64m data points.

Tracking symptoms in a similar way to how people use health apps and fitness trackers, and how drugs are working "in the wild" at a large scale can have several benefits. It could better help identify side effects and their severity.

"If there are two drugs which are equally effective, it could help identify which one has the least side effects," Hellman gave as just one example.

Astrazeneca is looking at applying Umotif across "a large number of therapies" both in the clinical and commercial phase. Drugs already on the market are likely to be the initial focus, looking at the effectiveness of products and supporting patients. 

"Pharmaceutical firms are looking at more patient centric approaches, providing services beyond the drug," said Hellman. "It's better for all of us. We're seeing there's a win for everyone here: patients, the NHS and industry."

The rise of startups in the health tech space has raised some concerns around privacy and data security. Google's Deepmind, which has signed deals with the NHS, has gone to greater lengths in recent months to assure the public that it has an audit trail that is both transparent in terms of who is accessing data and keeps private records secure following concerns.

Umotif works on an opt-in basis, information is anonymised and is not sold on to any other company.

Hellman told City A.M. that Umotif's focus on patients and a willingness by those with health conditions to share information that will go on to help others demonstrated how it was handling data in the right way.

Read more: How health tech is revolutionising the NHS

Just one of the 18,000 users had asked a question about data and the startup published its response.

"The key thing that we've done that others need to do is clinical proof. In future we'd like to see companies like ourselves and others provide clinical proof. And as more do, it will start snowballing," he said.

"We're close to a tipping point. Everyone in hospitals wants this technology and patients too. Patient power is becoming a stronger driver," he said, adding that there is an exciting 12-24 months ahead in terms of innovation in digital health.

"The pace is getting quicker, the more you do. After the first deployment it gets easier from there. Sometimes incredible small changes can make a big difference."