Merck taps Evidation to use apps, wearables to detect early stages of Alzheimer’s

Merck has tapped McKesson Ventures portfolio company Evidation Health to explore whether data collected from wearables and smartphone apps can help to detect Alzheimer’s disease before visible changes in cognition take place.

The companies are partnering to research whether sensor data can be used to develop digital measures to accelerate drug development for Alzheimer’s. The work builds on Evidation’s previous research on neurodegenerative disease detection from digital sensors and apps.

“We know that digital measures have the potential to make visible what is currently clinically invisible. This is an important early step towards accelerating the development of new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, and, together with Merck, we are committed to better understanding, diagnosing, and treating Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest detectable stages,” said Evidation Co-CEO Deborah Kilpatrick.

The two companies will start by collecting data from wearables and smartphones from elderly people both with and without cognitive impairment. The researchers hope to determine whether data collected remotely can differentiate between affected and non-affected populations and understand variability and changes across individuals and over time.

“Advances in passive remote monitoring are providing new compelling opportunities to identify novel endpoints and digital biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Michael Egan, vice president, Neuroscience Global Clinical Development, Merck Research laboratories, said in a statement. “This collaboration with Evidation will allow us to explore new and potentially faster ways to evaluate the potential of candidates in development for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”

“The data generated from commercial wearables in recent years is transforming how we think about and conduct research on cognitive impairment,” Kilpatrick told Outsourcing Pharma. “Studying cognitive decline and developing early-acting therapies has been challenging because the progression of symptoms can be very slow and existing measures of measuring cognitive decline are often expensive, burdensome to patients, and infrequently administered. In contrast, consumer wearables and the data they generate can capture daily functioning, reduce patient burden, reach a wider audience, and potentially offer earlier or faster indicators of cognitive decline than traditional methods.

Current research on Alzheimer’s disease suggests that subtle changes in cognition and sensory and motor function, as well as pathophysiological changes, start years before the disease is clinically recognized. Past research Evidation has done shows that wearables and smartphones might be useful tools in detecting Alzheimer’s before the disease has clinically recognizable symptoms.

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