Digital biomarkers emerging as important predictive tools to support global COVID-19 pandemic, says GlobalData

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is accelerating the development and validation of digital biomarkers to help identify patients that are at risk from the coronavirus (COVID-19), supporting the assessment of disease progression and allowing continuous monitoring of disease symptoms, as well as providing data for new outbreaks, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Roxanne Balfe, MSc, Senior Digital Healthcare Analyst, commented: “The increase of digital tools such as the rise in popularity of health-related mobile apps and wearable devices has produced a novel set of biomarkers in large, diverse and complex data. During the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, digital biomarkers are emerging as important predictive tools to collect objective, quantifiable, physiological and behavioral data through remote, digital devices. This data can be used to explain, influence and/or predict health-related results, which could be crucial in providing a proactive and personalized approach to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

If fever can predict the onset of the virus, smart thermometers and devices with in-built thermometer capacity could be a vital tool in detecting early COVID-19 infection – alerting the user and/or healthcare professional, and preventing further transmission. Over the past two years, Kinsa Health’s smart thermometer and paired phone app have been used to track outbreaks of flu across the US, and along with its interactive map has been valuable tool for providing granular, real-time data. The company is now leveraging this technology as an early warning system to help healthcare organizations predict outbreaks of COVID-19 sooner – enabling a more rapid and efficient response, dampening the pressure on local healthcare systems.

Balfe adds: “Another key factor to consider in the on-going pandemic is the infection rate among key workers such as those working on the frontline. In an attempt to tackle the rising rate of infection among healthcare workers, Oura, the developers of the multi-sensor Oura smart ring, have entered a collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) to identify digital biomarkers indicating the onset of COVID-19.

“The UCSF TemPredict study has started with 2,000 frontline workers who will each wear a smart ring during their day-to-day activities. The ring provides data on body temperature, respiratory rate and heart rate on the accompanying Oura app. The study aims to let health workers easily track changes in these measures that could indicate early signs of infection and take necessary action to prevent spread. Oura hopes to extend the study to a wider base of more than 150,000 Oura users who will be able to opt-in to the study, generating a much wider and diverse data pool.”

While RPM technologies are not new, their popularity has certainly surged in recent years attributed partly to lowered cost, software powered by artificial intelligence (AI), and advanced technical capabilities. However, the use of digital biomarkers to support preventive and predictive medicine is a far more novel concept which requires a collaborative approach to overcome issues around data quality, security, and validation.

Balfe adds: “The nature of digital biomarkers, reliant on consumer devices such as apps, mobile phones and wearables, highlights the need for alternative validation strategies for digital biomarkers. Traditional clinical trials that rely on double-blinded, randomized controlled studies as the gold standard are not flexible or responsive enough for emerging healthtech. Therefore, flexible regulatory pathways are vital to ensure digital biomarkers can fulfil their full potential, with multiple research organizations and companies collaborating to address these questions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. These include researchers from Imperial College London and Medopad, the University of California and Oura, and the Scripps Research Translational Institute and Kinsa Health.

“The common goal among both healthtech companies and collaborators is to leverage digital technologies to identify digital biomarkers for COVID-19 such as temperature and heart rate, which will help to curb the spread of the virus. GlobalData believes that collection and analysis of these routinely measured data points will be used to detect outbreaks much earlier than standard methods and prevent transmission more rapidly. This is key to mitigating the spread and impact of the virus.”

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