Basel, Switzerland — Pharmaceutical giant Roche’s new app for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) revolutionizes how doctors care for patients with the disease, characterized by the gradually debilitating, hard-to-track nature of its symptoms, which range from bodily pain and numbness to impaired vision and physical coordination. “One of the frustrations of having MS is that it’s different from day to day,” says Stephanie Buxhoeveden, who, on the heels of the company’s success release of Ocrevus, a new MS medication expected to top the global market for MS therapies within the next few years, is working with Roche to fine-tune its app. 

Called Floodlight, the app contains a series of games that users play in order to determine and log their levels of balance, coordination, and more. Even when the app is not in use, it can track a person’s movements, using the smartphone’s technology, ultimately providing a holistic picture of a patient’s day-to-day experience. The data is relayed, anonymously, to Roche’s experts. Such density of real-world data can help “identify patterns in what seems like chaos,” according to Katherine Heller, a statistical science professor at Duke. “That wasn’t possible until recently. Smartphones give us this amazing capability with minimal intrusion into people’s lives.”

The aggregation of user data alongside other data gathered by the smartphone can yield some novel intel. After logging data on the app for three months, Buxhoeveden, who is also a nurse that treats MS patients, saw that her MS symptoms flared up on hot and humid days. Accordingly, she now takes “a little bit of extra time and effort to combat the heat fatigue.”

The Floodlight trial began about five months ago, and thus far 400 users have signed up. Roche is augmenting its recruitment efforts and plans to make the app available in Europe later this year. 

Other drug companies are experimenting with similar efforts in other areas. Novartis’ app FocalView enables patients to track and provide more data about ophthalmological diseases, and Pfizer’s app Quitter’s Circle helps with quitting smoking. 

Why This Matters

Typically, MS patients check in with doctors just a couple of times a year. So, they tend to make broad generalizations about symptoms, and may forget individual, telling experiences that could help doctors make informed assessments. “I foresee replacing the testing I do in the office with actually going onto my patient’s profile and looking at their Floodlight data,” Buxhoeveden explains. “You log on, you play a couple games, and then you move on with your day.”

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.