Qualcomm-Novartis Deal Portends Wave of Clinical Trial Innovation

Xconomy San Diego — 

The significance of a deal announced last week during the 2015 International CES in Las Vegas went largely unnoticed amid the hubbub of the world’s biggest consumer technology show, packed as it was with 3,600 exhibitors and over 170,000 attendees.

The deal creates a new collaboration in clinical trials between Qualcomm Life, the wireless health subsidiary established in 2011 by San Diego-based Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), and the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis (NYSE: NVS). Under their partnership, Novartis is now using 2net, Qualcomm Life’s proprietary wireless connectivity platform, to collect and aggregate patient data during clinical trials.

The deal marks the culmination of efforts that began three years ago, when Novartis began seeking a technology partner for its “Trials of the Future,” according to Rick Valencia, a Qualcomm senior vice president who heads Qualcomm Life.

It also represents one small piece in a coming wave of innovation, according to Kevin Patrick, a professor of family and preventive medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Kevin Patrick (photo courtesy of Calit2)

Kevin Patrick (photo courtesy of Calit2)

What it means is that clinical trials are emerging as the first multi-billion dollar global market for wearable health trackers and related technologies—and big pharmas are the primary customer.

“I frankly don’t know anybody who isn’t talking about it. It’s huge,” says Patrick, who also serves as director of the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems at the Qualcomm-endowed California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). “I don’t know any tech company that’s looked at this space without thinking, boy, there’s a market.”

Such assessments are buttressed by the record $4.1 billion that venture investors poured into 258 digital health companies last year, according to venture funding data from Rock Health. The list of startups angling to provide patient data to pharmaceutical companies includes San Francisco-based Ginger.io, which recently raised $20 million in new funding to advance its predictive analytics technology for healthcare, and Quanttus, a Cambridge, MA-based startup developing a wearable wrist sensor for clinical data collection and analysis.

After establishing a separate $100 million fund for healthtech startups in 2011, Qualcomm Ventures has made 21 investments and ranked as the biggest corporate venture investor in 2014, according to Rock Health. As an outgrowth of their new partnership, Qualcomm and Novartis also agreed to form a joint investment company to make as much as $100 million in additional investments to … Next Page »

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