Uniting mobile, education and pharma to combat HIV

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Janssen APAC is the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson, and employs over 7,000 people across the region in its four R&D centres and four manufacturing sites. 

During informal consultations in 2009, Janssen researchers sought to understand why, despite the availability of effective medication, HIV/AIDS patients in developing countries still all too often die from the effects of the disease. Janssen thereafter initiated the UNITE project: a six-way consortium between Janssen and several external partners with expertise in this field, including the Grameen Foundation, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Johns Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education, and ten Aids clinics in India.

The aim was to improve the lives of HIV/AIDS patients in India by attempting to counter the forces acting against them, such as the massive distances between their homes and clinics, social stigma associated with the condition, etc. The result was the Treatment Advice by Mobile Alerts (TAMA) technology platform that performed the following functions, among many others:

  • The system reminds patients about their medication schedule in good time and in line with their personal situation.
  • Patients can interact with the system in their local languages.
  • Patients are reminded on a weekly basis of the importance of strict therapy adherence.
  • Patients are able to report their symptoms, obtain first line advice via the platform and in acute situations be connected to their physician immediately, 24 hours a day.
  • Patients are reminded of appointments to ensure that they report to the clinic on time and are properly monitored.

Health Innovation talks to Kris Sterkens, Company Group Chairman, Janssen Asia Pacific, about the TAMA project, as well as about some of the changes he has seen in the pharmaceutical industry because of IT and mobile.

The pharmaceutical industry has gone through a lot of changes over the past 25 years. Could you talk about the sort of changes technology and specifically IT has driven within your industry? 

Cloud Computing has provided more flexible and secure infrastructures. It has also led to a platform for Big Data, which has enabled digital biomarker data management and external secure clinical data sharing, as well as scientific data collaboration in pharmaceutical R&D. Big Data has also enabled real world evidence (RWE) tools.

The Power of Internet and Digital have enabled new solutions that have improved access and delivery of healthcare. E-health solutions, such as electronic prescribing & dispensing, have improved efficacy and safety of medicines and have greatly changed the way doctors and patients interact and gain access. This has also led to new ways of monitoring, such as Telecare and innovative integrated care delivery & solutions.

What are some the technologies on the horizon that excite you, in the context of the pharma industry? 

The explosion of mobile and wearables, which will enable personalized solutions to drive better patient outcomes.

Advancements in sensor technology, microelectronics and optics, to bring real-time access to biometrics data, diagnostics and drug delivery.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will enable more advanced analytics.

3D printing has the potential to personalize medicine & the patient-level point of care.

The UNITE project - was this an initiative of Janssen? With all the various stakeholders involved like Johns Hopkins, IIT and Grameen Foundation, how do they work together to get projects implemented?

Project UNITE was initiated by a group of Janssen employees who recognized the challenges of people living with HIV in India and understood the potential of technology solutions. They received strong support from senior R&D management to further explore the situation in India and implement innovative solutions.

Our team connected with several renowned HIV experts in India, as well as with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the Grameen Foundation, a group that specializes in technology solutions for resource-constrained settings. This expanded team, including Janssen colleagues and individuals from external organizations, kicked-off the Project UNITE research and the development of the TAMA platform. We worked with a professor at Johns Hopkins University to design the protocol for the pilot study.