Wellness

Blending digital technology into cancer care

Even some of the latest cancer medicines can be grueling in terms of side-effects, and it’s been known for decades that keeping patients as fit as possible during treatment can help them to respond well to therapy. The Sidebar took a look at how the healthcare sector and Pharma are integrating digital devices into cancer therapies. 

Maintaining a patient’s overall health and wellbeing during a treatment course is important as it could help them to tolerate the tough treatment regimens, potentially improving outcomes by improving adherence.

It’s a principle that has guided oncologists for decades: helping patients to focus on their overall health produces results by allowing them to stay on treatment for longer and give them the best chance to fight the disease.

By taking a more holistic approach, doctors have been able to improve patients’ outcomes by working on all areas of their lives and encouraging them to take exercise and eat well.

Oncologists are turning to the digital devices and technology that have become a part of everyday life to help patients keep on track during their treatment.

Smartphones can be used to give feedback about a patient’s wellbeing during the treatment, as demonstrated by a team led by professor Jorge Nieva from the University of Southern California, in a study involving 41 patients.

Nieva has used the technology to monitor which patients were taking exercise during their chemo regimens and to identify patients with a lower activity profile, who are more likely to experience unplanned health events and hospital admissions. He found that patients complied with wearing the commercially available tracking technology for more than seven of nine total hours.

Digital technology has also been used to try and improve the overall quality of cancer patients’ lives, something that is increasingly important as patients live for longer and longer on treatment.

The Mayo Clinic has used a system of emojis to gather information from patients with a range of cancers including lymphoma, myeloma, brain, pancreatic, breast and ovarian cancers.

The idea behind the research was to test whether using emojis could be a way to collect feedback about fatigue, sleep, and physical and social function.

Before the advent of technology such as iPhones this kind of data would normally be collected using paper forms.

Using the technology allowed Mayo’s researchers to see if the emoji system could be linked with other data collected by the device such as the number of steps per day.

Authors found logging more steps per day was associated with less fatigue and sleep disturbance, better global quality of life, physical function and social function.

A greater number of minutes of exercise per day was associated with better mental quality of life and sleep.

Concluding that the emoji system was strongly related to the baseline patient-reported outcomes, they said the system is feasible.

But digital technology can do much more than track outcomes, it can also be used as a management tool for some of the side effects associated with medicines.

Digital side effect management piques pharma’s interest

Big pharma is beginning to take notice of the potential for digital tools to manage side effects, with Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) striking partnerships to create apps for cancer patients.

BMS’ idea is along similar lines to Nieva’s work at USC, supporting management of symptoms related to therapy by using algorithms.

The company is working on an app that could allow patients to communicate more effectively with their health staff, tracking symptoms and providing personalized care plans.

For now, BMS is not saying which drugs it thinks will be involved in the project and the company has a broad portfolio of oncology medicines following its recent acquisition of Celgene.

But it’s important for BMS to make the most out of its products, as the market for cancer drugs becomes busier with several different options for each indication.

Cancer immunotherapies such as Opdivo and Yervoy are competing in a tough market where rival Merck & Co has found a multitude of uses for its Keytruda.

BMS’ rivals are becoming increasingly interested in the potential of digital technology to help with cancer therapy.

AstraZeneca and Merck & Co have developed a digital therapeutic to support use of their approved cancer drug Lynparza, in combination with a developmental drug called Cediranib. The company has trialed whether the digital therapeutic can complement treatment by helping women with ovarian cancer better manage side effects.

The drugs are both associated with hypertension and diarrhea side effects and better management of this could help them to stay on treatment for longer.

Doctors will be able to use a web portal to track a patient population remotely, adjusting symptom management plans as necessary.

Sidekick is also advancing its digital care platform to support and augment cancer treatment, having secured a partnership in the US, which will be formally announced early next year.

Digital technology is set to become increasingly integrated into cancer care, as devices become more powerful.

Patients are also on board as smartphones and other devices become an integral part of their daily lives, as the agenda shifts towards encouraging users to lead healthier lives.