Two Drug Firms Experiment With Use of Apple's ResearchKit

Apple's ResearchKit aims to help medical researchers build apps that can collect better data from patients as part of medical trials and testing. 

Apple, ResearchKit, HealthKit, GlaxoSmithKiline, Purdue Pharma, pharmaceuticals, drugs, drug trials, drug testing, iPhones

Two major pharmaceutical companies are using Apple's ResearchKit open-source project in experiments aimed at helping medical researchers gain more data and fresh insights as they seek ways to battle human diseases and illnesses.

Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline confirmed its work in a July 10 tweet, saying the company is "looking @ Apple's #ResearchKit for clinical trials," while Purdue Pharma also said it is exploring early possible uses of ResearchKit in its own drug research, according to a July 12 story by Buzzfeed.

Apple's ResearchKit debuted in March as an open-source software framework designed to help doctors and scientists gather data more frequently and more accurately from participants using iPhone apps. ResearchKit, which will be released in April, is designed to enable researchers to contribute to specific activity modules in the framework, like memory or gait testing. When granted permission by the user, apps can access Health app data, such as weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use, which are measured by third-party devices and apps. ResearchKit can also request from a user access to the accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope and GPS sensors in their iPhones to gain insight into a patient's gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory.

All of these features are why ResearchKit has the interest of researchers with medical, pharmaceutical and other health-related companies, who are scrambling to find ways of using the platform in their own work.

A source at GlaxoSmithKline said the company is "currently working on integrating [ResearchKit] into clinical trials and planning to start in coming months," according to the article.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Purdue Pharma, which makes and sells OxyContin painkillers, said the company is looking at how ResearchKit could help it gather and use information from patients that is collected through wearables and other devices, the article reported. Purdue is still just testing these ideas and hasn't yet decided whether it will build an app or what kind of data it might collect, the news story continued.

Apple's ResearchKit could eventually help researchers and developers create apps that could revolutionize medical studies by using information gathered from the iPhones of some 700 million iPhone users worldwide, according to an earlier eWEEK report. Each iPhone is already equipped with processors and sensors that can track movement, take measurements and record information that could be gathered using ResearchKit.

Many of the apps built with ResearchKit will enable users to track their own data and potentially discover correlations between symptoms and daily actions, such as diet or exercise. The platform lets users choose what studies they want to join. Users are in control of what information they provide to which apps and can see the data they are sharing. Apple also noted that the company will never see the user's personal data.

The platform lets users create visual consent flows, real-time dynamic active tasks and surveys using a variety of customizable modules that researchers can build upon and share with the community. And since ResearchKit works with Apple's HealthKit project, researchers can access additional relevant data for their studies, like daily step counts, calorie use and heart rate.

Other technology companies are conducting similar health research.

In April, IBM launched its new Watson Health Cloud to provide a secure and open platform for physicians, researchers, insurers and companies focused on health and wellness solutions. Also announced was Watson Health, a Watson-based cloud environment and new business unit that focuses on the health care industry.

As part of the announcement, IBM and Apple said they are expanding their existing enterprise mobility partnership to apply cloud services and analytics to HealthKit and ResearchKit, which are key features of the new Apple Watch and iOS. IBM will provide a secure research capability on the Watson Health Cloud platform, de-identifying personal data to allow researchers to easily store, aggregate and model information collected from iOS users who opt-in to contribute personal data to medical research.

In January 2014, Google unveiled work it has been doing with special contact lenses that are equipped with miniaturized sensors that can analyze the tears in the eyes of diabetes patients to determine when their blood sugar levels need to be adjusted. In July 2014, drug maker Novartis licensed the Google smart lens technology to continue that work.

In September 2013, Google launched a new health care company, called Calico, with a goal of finding ways to improve the health and extend the lives of human beings. The startup has been focusing on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases, according to Google.

In June 2014, Apple unveiled its HealthKit platform, which allows developers to build apps that can collect information from various sources—such as a user's Fitbit account, a Nike running app and a blood pressure reader—and present it together as a single, more complete health profile, according to an eWEEK report. HealthKit can also communicate with third-party apps, such as the Mayo Clinic app.