App helps cancer patients extend life

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Scientists have discovered a new medical intervention that can extend the lives of cancer sufferers by a number of months. The discovery is not a novel drug or therapy, it is an app. Patients who reported their symptoms via a tablet survived for five months longer than those who did not, according to a large study which was presented at the world’s biggest oncology meeting yesterday.

The research highlighted the role that cheap and simple tech can play in providing healthcare at a time when drug makers are suffering controversy for the ever-rising cost of prescribed medicines.

Patients were told to report 12 symptoms such as sleeping and breathing difficulties using the app, which was referred to as an electronic patient report system or ePro. If patients took a turn for the worse, an automatic push notification was sent to alert a doctor or nurse. “The system proactively monitored symptoms, so that the care team was able to intervene earlier and catch things before they became more severe,” said Dr Ethan Basch, an oncologist and professor at the University of North Carolina, who led the trial.

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Dr Basch said patients using the app were able to stay on chemotherapy “for substantially longer” than others because they were less likely to turn up to the hospital in a weak state and as a repercussion, not be strong enough to handle the punishing treatment. The ePro patients were also less likely to be admitted to hospital, meaning they did not become bed-bound or acquire an infection like C. difficile while on the ward.

Oncologists have long believed that ePro apps can improve a person’s quality of life, but this is the first time that is has been proven to boost survival in a large number of patients with a broad and varied range of cancers. Patients who used the purpose-built app typically survived for 31 months versus 26 months for those who did not, according to the research, which was unveiled at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (Asco).

Are wearables wearing thin?

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The wearables market has had a rollercoaster ride in recent months. This time a year ago analysts were penning multi-billion dollar forecasts for the developers of health trackers and smartwatches. Apple was setting the stakes high, brazenly selling a gold edition of the Apple Watch for US$10,000.

More recently though, once popular fitness tracker brand, Jawbone, confirmed to TechCrunch that it would be leaving the consumer market in order to focus on healthcare providers. Microsoft have also removed its Fitness Band from its online store (although it is still available on Amazon); most significantly they will no longer provide the Band developer kits.

Fitbit remains a leading brand name, and is still very much the heart of the fitness tracker revolution. Fitbit recently acquired one of its rivals, Pebble Watch. However, on the downside, it was reported that the company were making staff cuts and founder James Park said the firm had experienced “softer than expected” sales during the 2016 Christmas period.

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Numerous devices claim to measure heart rate, sleep activity and count calories. Counting steps is seemingly the most common use for wearable devices, which has been edifying for many in terms of daily exercise expectations. Recently, though, experts have questioned whether the golden goal of walking 10,000 steps a day is actually worthwhile, and a US study concluded that health trackers did not aid weight loss.

Mr Bryant from Futuresource says many wearables aren’t yet independent enough and rely on being tethered to a smartphone, or replicate functionality, such as step counting, that the handset already has. However, Mr Bryant believes that while wearables may be down, they are not yet out.

“We feel the slowdown is temporary and the market will accelerate this year,” he said. He thinks that improved power, appearance, and mobile pay options could give them a boost alongside a maturing user group.

Wearable Devices will be one of many themes explored at our 28th Annual OTC INSIGHT European Conference & Action Workshop, being held in Munich in just over a month! The wider conference will focus on the theme of Making the Most of New Technology. To reserve one of our final few places, please contact lianne.hill@NicholasHall.com

Ice Bucket Challenge Creates Medical Breakthrough

Holly Parmenter, Digital Projects Executive: Back in 2014, the charitable craze of dosing one another in ice-cold water (better known as The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge) went viral. This was all in aid of raising awareness and research funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The incurable progressive neurodegenerative disease predominantly affects the brain and spinal cord, resulting in entire paralysis. Physicist Stephen Hawkins is a well-known sufferer and helped raise awareness during the ALS Challenge as his children gallantly participated on his behalf.

Though seemingly buried deep within the vast world of social media, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has resurfaced; not with ice but with results. The Ice Bucket Challenge raised $115m (£87.7m), which funded six research projects.

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One of these was Project MinE, an extensive study involving more than 80 researchers in 11 different countries. This study examined ALS risk genes in families affected by the disease and, thanks to the funding for research raised by the Ice Bucket Challenge, an important scientific discovery was made – the identification a new gene that contributes to the disease, NEK1.

The identification of gene NEK1 means scientists can now develop a gene therapy to treat it. Although only 10% of ALS patients have the inherited form, researchers believe that genetics contribute to a much larger percentage of cases.

Online eating in-store sales in Germany?

Despite OTC growth in Germany remaining sluggish in 2014, online sales are starting to make serious advances. Online sales now account for a little over 10% of the country’s total OTC market, according to industry sources.

While market share is still relatively modest in traditional categories like cold & flu and GIs, online turnover for a variety of lifestyle and VMS brands – for which there is no desperate need for immediate face-to-face interaction with a pharmacist – is around 50% of that generated through pharmacies and drugstores. While convenience is, of course, a major factor, price is also significant, as consumers are often able to save €15 on premium supplements online, with savings growing further on jumbo packs. It is also noticeable that many of these double-digit sales increases are being made by products positioned for Germany’s older consumers, in particular eye vitamins with Age Macular Degeneration positioning, joint health products – now equivalent to two-thirds of pharmacy turnover – as well as herbal memory & brain health, with several premium ginkgo-based options chalking up huge increases in 2014. For the potentially less mobile consumer in the 65+ age bracket, a steadily growing demographic in Germany, the home delivery element is crucial.

So just who are the online retailers making headway? German marketing agency Dr Kaske completed a survey analysis of the 15 largest in April 2015, scoring them according to price on a select basket of common OTCs, search engine optimisation, customer service, user-friendliness and, of course, actual visitor numbers. Leader in all categories was Shop-Apotheke, a subsidiary of Netherlands-based Europa Apotheek Venlo, although the more widely known DocMorris – sold by Celesio to Swiss pharmacy retailer Zur Rose in 2012 – was a close contender, featuring the best SEO. Medikamente-per-klick and Sanicare are also noteworthy, with the latter investing heavily in TV advertising in 2014.

For more insight into trends and developments in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, why not enquire about our monthly OTC INSIGHT Europe publication? Contact nino.hunter@NicholasHall.com.