Saturday, Nov 27, 2021

Big Pharma, Big Money: Johnson&Johnson, Pfizer, Bayer, Novartis in digital health

In a recent series of articles, we explored the latest moves of Tech Giants like Amazon, NVIDIA and Microsoft in the field of digital health...


In a recent series of articles, we explored the latest moves of Tech Giants like Amazon, NVIDIA and Microsoft in the field of digital health. Analysing these recent developments can give us a better idea regarding where they are focusing the efforts, and how it might shape the future path of healthcare. 

But equally, if not more, strong players in this field are pharmaceutical giants, as their resources and influence can significantly shape or alter the course of this path. As such, we are kickstarting a new series of articles focusing on the digital health efforts of 14 global pharma companies. While those heavyweights are involved in a plethora of healthcare-related projects from vaccine development to clinical trials, we will specifically focus on digital health.

In the first article to the series, we will explore developments coming from pharma giants Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Bayer and Novartis. Let’s take a closer look!

Johnson & Johnson: consumer-facing

While Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has been involved in the healthcare industry for over a century, these days the brand is most likely associated with the single-shot COVID-19 vaccine. But its pandemic efforts extend beyond the vaccine as well. 

In early 2020, the company partnered with Prisma Health for the manufacturing and distribution of the VESper Ventilator Expansion Splitter, a ventilator expansion device. A single ventilator fitted with it can provide ventilatory support for two rescuable patients until individual ventilators are available.

J&J also explored other digital health technologies that proved to be valuable during the crisis. It collaborated with Koa Health to research the use of digital cognitive behavioral therapy for treatment-resistant major depressive disorder. 

Another pandemic-ready technology that the pharmaceutical giant showed interest in is telemedicine. In Q3 2020, the company announced that it is investing in direct-to-consumer telehealth company Thirty Madison. The latter focuses on conditions like hair loss and acid reflux, whose treatments are sold by J&J itself.


Still on the topic of consumer-oriented digital health tools, the pharma giant announced its partnership with Apple in February 2020. The collaboration involves a study using the Apple Watch to determine whether the device can detect atrial fibrillation earlier so as to reduce the risk of developing stroke and improve health outcomes. Paul Burton, J&J’s vice president of medical affairs, even told CNBC that this study “represents the largest randomized trial in the history of cardiovascular disease.”

J&J also made moves in the clinical sphere with its surgical robotic platform announced last November. Designed with six arms and integrated into the operating table, this new system aims to provide better control and flexibility to surgeons.

Pfizer: eyeing digital therapeutics

Pfizer is another pharma giant whose name is closely attached to a COVID-19 vaccine; but like its competitor J&J, it has also been venturing into the field of digital health. More specifically, it seems to have grown some interests in the emerging digital therapeutics (DTx) solutions. In mid-2020, the company, in collaboration with SidekickHealth, launched a new digital therapeutics platform. It aims to help patients with ailments like inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis gain more control over managing their condition and improve their wellbeing.

Pfizer announced another similar collaboration in April 2021 with DoctorOnCall in Malaysia. For its part, this DTx platform will focus on the three therapeutic areas of smoking cessation, vaccination and cardiovascular health.

In late 2020, the pharma giant, along with some other companies, was selected by the Israel Innovation Authority to work on an innovation lab project in the fields of digital health and computational biology. The lab aims to support startups working on A.I.-based tools for personalised treatments.

Bayer: partnerships and investments

German pharma company Bayer is no stranger to digital health. In 2018, it partnered with appliedVR and Samsung Health to develop digital pain reduction kits using virtual reality technology. Its digital health endeavours have not waned in following years.


In early 2020, Bayer entered a three-year partnership with British biotech firm Exscientia. The focus will be on using artificial intelligence in drug discovery in the fields of cardiology and oncology. Later that year, the pharma giant launched its G4A Digital Health Partnership Program. Through the latter, it will support both early-stage and experienced companies to develop digital health tools.

Prior to this initiative, Bayer also invested in other digital health startups. For instance, in August 2020, they invested in One Drop, the maker of a data-driven blood glucose monitor system. With this new round of funding, this startup will expand its expertise in other areas like cardiology, oncology and women’s health. 

In June 2021, the German company invested in yet another digital health startup: Ada Health. The latter is known for its A.I.-based symptom checker. Through this investment, the two companies also plan a broader strategic partnership. 

Novartis: juggling between projects and failures

“Embracing digital and data is a top priority for Novartis,” the company’s chief medical officer John Tsai once said. The Swiss pharma giant has been walking that talk in recent years; even after its ill-fated partnership with Google to develop blood glucose level-sensing contact lenses that didn’t amount to a viable product.

In late 2019, it teamed up with another Big Tech company, Microsoft, on an initiative to use A.I. for drug discovery and development. More recently, the Swiss pharma giant partnered with a number of digital health startups. Last November, they teamed up with smartpatient and the MyTherapy app for a new feature to provide personalised educational material for wet macular degeneration patients and their caregivers.  

In April, it partnered with Kaiku Health on a tool to assist in the remote monitoring and support network of melanoma patients. The following month, in May, it announced a collaboration with Ada Health to help improve the diagnosis for patients with immunological diseases and rare conditions.

Novartis not only partnered with startups but also acquired one. In 2020, they acquired Amblyotech, which develops a solution to treat amblyopia, or “lazy eye”, by combining a gaming software and 3D glasses.

Like Pfizer, Novartis also expressed interest in DTx, but not with such a promising outlook. The pharma giant published results of its clinical trial with Pear Therapeutics’ new digital therapeutic for schizophrenia in January. It didn’t find benefits from the app but Pear Therapeutics said there were “methodological issues” that were omitted in Novartis’s publication.


From this list, we can see that the pharma companies whose moves we’ve contemplated seem to have some interest in remote healthcare solutions and DTx. They are also actively partnering with startups and tech giants so as to maximise their chances of staying relevant in the ever-evolving digital health world. In the next articles in this series, we will analyse how, and if, the approach of other pharma giants differ. Be sure to keep an eye out for those!

Written by Dr. Bertalan Meskó & Dr. Pranavsingh Dhunnoo

At The Medical Futurist, we are building a community for making a bold vision about the future of healthcare reality today.

If you’d like to support this mission, we invite you to join The Medical Futurist Patreon Community. A community of empowered patients, future-oriented healthcare professionals, concerned health policymakers, sensible health tech developers, and enthusiastic medical students. If there were ever a time to join us, it is now. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our research and sustains our future.

Click here to support The Medical Futurist from as little as $3 – it only takes a minute. Thank you.


The post Big Pharma, Big Money: Johnson&Johnson, Pfizer, Bayer, Novartis in digital health appeared first on The Medical Futurist.


By: Pranavsingh Dhunnoo
Title: Big Pharma, Big Money: Johnson&Johnson, Pfizer, Bayer, Novartis in digital health
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 12 Oct 2021 08:00:00 +0000

Read More

Did you miss our previous article...