In a team effort with the pharma giants Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer, Fitbit is trying to bring atrial fibrillation (AFib) detection capabilities to its wearable fitness trackers for early diagnosis of people at high risk of heart disease and stroke.
New York-based BMS and Pfizer – operating as the BMS-Pfizer Alliance – currently focus on cardiovascular disease and stroke through nonprofits and collaborations. San Francisco-based Fitbit expects to create educational content and guidance regarding AFib, alongside FDA-approved arrhythmia detection software.
The companies claim that approximately 8 million people in the U.S. will be affected by AFib – the most common irregular heartbeat -- in 2019, including those who have no outward signs or symptoms. That number is projected to climb as the population ages, and some studies indicate that more than one-quarter of people get diagnosed with AFib only after they have a stroke.
Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals Group President Angela Hwang said, “We’re in a new era of healthcare, where we’re not only focused on developing treatments, but also looking at the potential of technology and data to help patients learn more about their health. We are excited about wearables and how our work with BMS and Fitbit may potentially help patients and physicians detect and understand heart rhythm irregularities.”
According to Fitbit co-founder and CEO James Park, “With our continuous, 24/7 on-wrist health tracking capabilities, and our experience delivering personalized, engaging software and services, we believe we can develop content to help bridge the gaps that exist in atrial fibrillation detection, encouraging people to visit their doctor for a prompt diagnosis and potentially reduce their risk of stroke.”
There will be competition in the market. Apple garnered Food & Drug Administration (FDA) clearances for the Apple Watch’s built-in electrocardiogram and arrhythmia-detecting software in September 2018, reported Fierce Biotech. Apple and Johnson & Johnson are in the process of conducting a large-scale, multiyear study to determine whether the Apple Watch can contribute to diagnosing AFib in older users earlier and faster than current methods. While Fitbit anticipates that it will achieve similar results, Fitbut claims that people who use wearables to track their heart rhythm may be unaware of what to do with the information they obtain.
In August, the government of Singapore partnered with Fitbit on a population health initiative, in which participants were to pay a monthly fee for health coaching services and software, while getting free devices.
According to MedCity News, such collaborations have grown in importance in recent years, especially for biopharma companies. A panel of experts at the DTx East Conference in Boston in September agreed that collaborations between drugmakers and digital therapeutics could be a lucrative opportunity.
Although skeptical of the dollar figures posited by some of the panelists, one member of the panel said that digital therapeutics can possibly be more beneficial than pharmacological approaches in some areas such as mental health. Wearable devices, including Fitbit and Apple Watch, are increasing in popularity as a method of improving health outcomes.