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Apple partners with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline for first clinical study

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In March last year, Apple unveiled ResearchKit — a medical platform designed to turn the iPhone into a diagnostic tool for clinical trials and studies. Now, Apple has found its first ever partnership with a drug company. British firm GlaxoSmithKline has announced it will be using ResearchKit to conduct a medical study on rheumatoid arthritis. The news is significant for Apple, as it seeks to form partnerships with medical companies and establish itself as a legitimate player in the health industry.

The study will track participants' joint pain, fatigue, and mood

GSK has used ResearchKit's framework to create its own app for the iPhone. The three-month study will use the smartphone's sensors to track the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including joint pain, fatigue, and mood. Participants will be asked questions about their health, and, according to a report from Bloomberg, will be asked to engage in "a guided wrist exercise that uses the phone’s sensors to record motion." No drugs are being tested, and GSK's goal is simply to look at "the impact a patient’s disease has on their day-to-day life."

Rob DiCicco, GSK's head of clinical innovation and digital platforms, told Bloomberg that the company hoped that using ResearchKit would reduce the costs of its clinical research. One of the benefits of using an app is that it's easier to gather data when patients don't have to travel to research centers, said DiCicco.

"Certainly you’ve also taken out the site costs, and the costs of having nurses and physicians explaining the studies to them and recording information," he said, adding that the results of the study will inform GSK's decision on whether or not to use Apple's software in the future, as well as improving further research. "One thing we’ll learn is whether we made [the app] compelling enough to make you want to interact with it every day," he said.

For Apple, the study will be a test run for its ambitions as a health care technology provider. The company has been ramping up its health-related services in recent years, with the release of the Apple Watch (which tracks users' heart mate and movement) and the Health app (which acts as a hub for all sorts of medical data). However, there have been many ethical questions facing Apple in its implementation of medical software, and even in this latest study, the use of the company's technology puts at least one clear barrier on participants (and thus the study's fairness): they have to be able to afford an iPhone.