Novartis readies for smart lens trials in humans

Clinical trials of Novartis’ smart contact lens could start as early as next year, according to chief executive Joe Jimenez.

In an interview with Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Jimenez said preliminary work on the device – licensed from Google – is progressing well and could result in a commercial product within five years, with a prototype ready for human trials in 2016.

It first emerged that Google was working on a smart contact lens that measures sugar levels in the tears of people with diabetes in early 2014. Initial reports suggested the measurements could be taken once per second, providing an early warning system for high or low glucose levels that could potentially improve treatment.

Data will be sent wirelessly to a mobile device, although Google is also said to be looking into the possibility of incorporating a tiny LED display inside the lenses, borrowing technology from its Google Glass project. This could provide a direct visual warning if glucose levels stray outside normal ranges.

Novartis jumped on board the project later in 2014, announcing a deal between Google and its ophthalmology unit Alcon. At the time, the two companies announced the collaboration would also look at the smart lens’ potential to correct presbyopia, an inability to focus on close-up objects that develops with advancing age.

The momentum behind the smart lens project can also be seen from a recent patent application filed by Google that seems to cover dedicated packaging for an ‘eye-mountable’ device that can be used to collect health data, reports Tech Times.

Google, which recently announced a major restructuring of its business under new holding company Alphabet, is also looking at this area with a wearable device that aims to measure pulse, heart rhythm and skin temperature, as well as environmental data, such as light exposure and noise levels.

The technology giant also recently announced an agreement with DexCom to develop ‘next-generation’ continuous glucose monitoring products, including cloud-connected sensors that will be ‘no larger than a bandage’.

Meanwhile, Novartis has also said it is looking at the potential for wearable or implantable sensor technologies to provide real-time monitoring in other disease areas, including heart failure. In fact, it has suggested wearable, remote monitoring devices could play a key role in the roll-out of its pricey new heart failure drug Entresto (sacubitril/valsartan).

Jimenez said in the interview with Le Temps that the company had proposed differentiated pricing for Entresto in the US calculated on the basis of reduced hospital stays, drawing on clinical data showing that it can cut hospitalisation rates by 20 per cent, but this was rejected as being too complex. As a result it opted for an average fixed price for the drug.

The company is hoping that wearable technology could provide a read-out on the performance of a drug like Entresto and make it feasible to introduce results-based pricing for medicines.

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