The digital pill.  Is there such a thing and if so, what is it?  Digital health, digital medicine, digital therapy – these terms often mean different things to different people.  They can carry very broad definitions and encompass everything from consumer-facing health-monitoring apps to digital sensors for ingestion of traditional chemical therapeutics.

But what about a therapy where the interaction with the technology is the therapy itself?  There’s some skepticism that technology without a chemical substance or without a physical intervention by a medical device is truly a therapy.

On Thursday, Jlabs hosted two companies who are aiming at erasing those doubts with clinically-tested digital approaches.  Beth Rogozinski, the Chief Content Advisor, from Pear Therapeutics and Tony Simon, Founder and CEO of Cognivive, Inc., joined moderator Lisa Suennen to discuss their approaches.

The companies are at different stages along their journeys. Pear Therapeutics recently got FDA clearance for its therapy ReSet which is a digital treatment for patients with substance use disorder.

Cognivive is an up and comer in the field.  Launched out of UC Davis, its product is still in development and the company is seeking its early rounds of funding.  Cognivive’s aim is to make rehabilitation enjoyable thorough a video game format, age and ability tailored, with embedded cognitive treatments.

What Pear Therapeutics and Cognivive have in common is a strong belief in clinical testing and data-driven/data-proven products.  Pear Therapeutics put its first product through FDA review and intends to do the same with future products.  Similarly, Founder Tony Simon spoke strongly about the FDA’s pre-certification program and how it will shape the FDA review of this area of products.

Aside from the evidence-based commitment, there was another unifying principle between Pear Therapeutics and Cognivive – engagement. Not just patient engagement, which was acknowledged to be of crucial importance.  But also an engagement with the clinical workflow as it currently exists and a mechanism to bring payers into the fold through lower costs and improved outcomes.

On the patient engagement aspect, several themes: tracking, rewards, personalization, motivation and activation.  To see some demo footage of how Cognivive is using a video game-like format to engage patients in therapy see more here.

In thinking about these digital therapies, they have some parallels to immuno-oncology (IO) in an abstract way.  Specifically, IO therapies recruit the endogenous immune system to drive the treatment.  It’s not a direct target and kill, like an antibiotic would be to an infection.  Instead, IO drugs activate endogenous mechanisms to do their “dirty work” and kill the nasty tumor cells.

How does this relate to digital therapy?  Like IO, the digital therapy (the digital pill) recruits and potentiates endogenous systems.  The digital signals themselves don’t physically touch the neurons involved in the response.  Instead, these therapies address specific perception and/or response mechanisms and train (or retrain) them to respond in an appropriate manner.

The IO field exploded into a major area in pharma, with many players jumping in.  Will digital therapy follow a similar path?