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Big pharma exploring Apple ResearchKit integration in for-profit efforts

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Two pharmaceutical titans, GlaxoSmithKline and Purdue Pharma, are looking for ways to implement Apple's open-source ResearchKit framework into clinical testing and research and development operations, a report said Thursday.

Use of ResearchKit has so far been limited to non-profit scientific studies, but big pharma is starting to take notice of the research tool's data harvesting potential, BuzzFeed reports. GlaxoSmithKline, for example, is "currently working on integrating (ResearchKit) into clinical trials and planning to start in coming months," while OxyContin developer Purdue Pharma is said to be mulling R&D integration, as well.

"We know that all these changes in tech are going to impact health care, but we don't know exactly how," said Purdue Pharma VP and CIO Larry Pickett Jr. "People have been talking about it for a long time, but haven't been able to figure out how to leverage that data and take advantage of it. My team views ResearchKit as a very significant milestone in being able to move that capability ahead."

The company has vetted the platform, but hasn't yet decided to build an app or determined what type of data it would collect.

Announced in March, ResearchKit offers medical researchers access to advanced sensor and communications suites on iPhone — and more recently to iPad — to exponentially expand data collection pools. Study candidates can enroll in trials directly from their device and participate either through in-app responses, automatic readings from iPhone sensors or collation of data from HealthKit and HealthKit-compatible devices. Data can then be submitted automatically, and anonymously, to ensure fast and secure processing.

With more than 700 million iPhones in circulation, researchers get to tap into an enormous existing data resource. For example, a Stanford University study saw more than 10,000 candidates enroll in a cardiovascular study shortly after its announcement. Apple SVP of Operations Jeff Williams later said the first ResearchKit programs are now harvesting data from more than 75,000 participants.

GlaxoSmithKline and Purdue Pharma are the first major drug companies to consider ResearchKit as a viable R&D tool. BuzzFeed, however, notes the platform is not yet being considered by other firms like Gilead Sciences and Pfizer.

Apple has slowly built out support for ResearchKit, including a strategic extension to its partnership with IBM that provides secure real-time data analytics to medical professionals. Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic are also part of the initiative. More recently, rumors claimed Apple is working with scientists to roll out ResearchKit apps capable of handling DNA testing.