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Health Tech

Take This App and Call Me in the Morning


Health tech companies are making a big push to digitize medicine, introducing novel tools like digital pills that track when patients take their drugs and smart spoons that can automatically adjust to hand tremors.

Now they want some patients to get prescription treatments from the app store as well.

Later this year, doctors treating patients addicted to substances like cocaine and amphetamines will be able to prescribe Reset, an app that gives patients lessons to help them modify their behavior. The Food and Drug Administration cleared it in September as the first mobile medical app to help treat substance-use disorders.

“It’s all the things you would traditionally associate with a pill or any other medication,” said Dr. Corey McCann, the chief executive of Pear Therapeutics, the start-up behind Reset. “But it just so happens to be a piece of software.”

Pear Therapeutics is at the forefront of a new category of medical treatment, offering what company executives call “prescription digital therapeutics.” These products, they say, are medical apps that have been studied in randomized clinical trials, cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, require a doctor’s prescription and allow doctors to track patients’ progress.

This month, in a sign of momentum behind the idea and how it might expand to other health conditions, Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, announced that it had teamed up with Pear Therapeutics. Together, they plan to develop prescription apps for schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.

Companies like Pear are trying to stand apart in a global market of more than 318,000 health apps by arguing that their products provide assurance of effectiveness and safety. The advantage of their prescription treatment software, they say, is that apps making general wellness claims — like meditation apps marketed to soothe you to sleep — do not require F.D.A. review. But medical devices like apps that claim to treat or manage disease must submit clinical evidence to the F.D.A. and get clearance.

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