GlaxoSmithKline has become the first pharmaceuticals company to use a medical research app from Apple to study how disease affects patients in real time.

The mobile-based app will monitor 300 people in the United States over three months to gather data on how rheumatoid arthritis affects their day-to-day lives and, more specifically, mobility. The patient information gleaned over the course of the study will help Glaxo improve medicine development.

While the British pharmaceuticals giant developed the app in-house, it used Apple’s ResearchKit as a software framework for the technology. ResearchKit was created specifically for medical research and Glaxo is the first in the industry to use it in a study like this.

Patients taking part in the programme, dubbed ‘Patient Rheumatoid Arthritis Data from the Real World’ (Parade), download the app onto their iPhones. The app then uses the iPhone’s sensors to collect and track common symptoms of arthritis, such as joint pain, fatigue and mood. It also asks users to fill in surveys and input both physical and emotional symptoms.

Rob DiCicco, vice president of clinical innovation at Glaxo, said: “Our goal is to engage with patients in a new way that integrates the research into their daily lives versus the traditional model that requires patients to travel to their doctors’ offices.

“By making research as easy and accessible as possible for patients, we have the potential to disrupt the model for how we conduct research in the future and ultimately improve patient health.”

Glaxo is no stranger to using technology as an aid to research. It already conducts clinical studies with biosensors and mobile devices to monitor activity levels and vital signs in patients and to see how people respond to medication.

In its respiratory division, the drugs maker is trialling sensors that clip onto inhalers and communicate with doctors to make sure patients take their medications regularly and at the right dosage. This remote medicine technology comes amid a growing trend towards personalised medicine, in which treatments and dosages are tailored to individual patients.

It also offers big pharma companies such as Glaxo an edge against both their peers and generic drug makers.

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