Sensor Technology hits the Pharma market. By Alex Mott



Alex Mott summaries sensor technology in the pharmaceutical industry at the Joint Wireless Healthcare SIG & One Nucleus Event, ‘Pharmaceutical Sensors of the Future: High Street or High Value’.


Sensor based technology is big business in the health and fitness industry. Giants like Nike and Adidas have really taken the ball and run with it, offering wearable sensors that will make us fitter, faster, stronger. To reach our full potential. Yet for several years now it has been clear that sensor technology itself is perhaps not being used to its fullest potential. Yes it’s possible to track activity levels but what about vital signs such as skin temperature, respiration rate, motor fluctuations, artery pressures etc. It is the accurate and efficient collection of this kind of data that will take sensor technology from being a fitness tool to a potentially lifesaving application. Last Tuesday delegates gathered at the Moller centre in Cambridge for the latest Joint CW and One Nucleus Healthcare SIG event to hear whether this vision might become a reality.

Understandably progress has been slow, when dealing with such sensitive information one must tiptoe around issues of privacy. However pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline have been quietly working behind the scenes for the last two years testing hundreds of sensor based wearables. Mathew Heasley from GSK discussed in detail the benefits of using sensor technology in clinical trials, something that the company has recently carried out. Over 18 million data points were tracked on 6 healthy patients whilst going about their everyday lives. As Heasley outlined the potential for continuous monitoring is hugely exciting. Real time tracking allows for real time feedback from clinicians and therefore timely intervention. Patients can also be assessed in the natural environment of their homes rather than a doctor’s office where symptoms can be hard to observe.

However there are two central roadblocks that face the progress of sensor technology in clinical settings. The first is privacy. Paul Gershlick and Naomi Pryde from legal firm Mathew Arnold and Baldwin made it crystal clear to the delegates in the audience that data cannot be collected from patients ‘just in case’ or for a later use. If data is stored, it must be for a specific purpose. However in many cases clinicians will not know the relative usefulness of a data set until further symptoms begin to manifest. The second problem is designing a wearable that is usable by all, whether they be elderly, have reduced mobility or live in a less technologically developed area. It must be comfortable and subtle. A tall order no doubt.

Perhaps a preferable alternative is to combine sensor data with patient lead data. This is the approach taken by Umotif Digital Health. Bruce Hellman from Umotif was on hand to provide the delegates with an overview of the company’s software. Their app has already been used with great success in the treatment of heart disease and Parkinson’s with 70% daily use rates in trials. The most exciting aspect of this approach is that patients are in charge of their own data and with what they share with their doctor. It is an approach that promotes discourse between patients and clinicians. Strengthening this relationship could potentially save the NHS millions in missed appointment costs.


About The Author

Alex Mott


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