ResearchKit’s next breakthrough will be in drug development

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ResearchKit is just as revolutionary as researchers hoped.
ResearchKit is going into business.
Photo: Apple

A major pharmaceutical company is looking at how it might use ResearchKit to create new, potentially life-saving medicine.

Purdue Pharma, maker of painkiller Oxycontin, would be the first company to use Apple’s open-source, data collection platform for commercial use.

“We know that all these changes in tech are going to impact health care, but we don’t know exactly how,” Purdue’s vice president and chief information officer Larry Pickett Jr. told BuzzFeed. “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.”

Apple brought out ResearchKit in March. It lets users privately share their medical data with researchers studying diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

If Purdue moves forward with this plan, which is currently just something it’s considering, it would use the data-gathering tool as part of its research and development of new drugs, which it would then sell. It’s a bit of a shift from the platform’s current, non-profit applications, but Apple isn’t worried.

“We will control what we put on our App Store, but we won’t control who uses it,” Apple’s senior vice president of operations Jeff Williams said. “And so I think the promise of using ResearchKit for development of drugs — if they’re life-saving, I think that’s a positive thing.”

Users opt in to ResearchKit and share the data from their Health app with third parties. Researchers collect and analyze that data to learn more about diseases and hopefully develop new treatments. It’s a slightly more personal version of Stanford’s impressive [email protected] program, which networks volunteers’ computers together into one giant distributed system to study protein folding to progress knowledge of currently untreatable diseases.

Purdue hasn’t decided yet whether or not it will actually pursue using ResearchKit, but if it does, Pickett says that transparency will be important.

“We don’t want to make a false step and for some reason make people think that information’s being collected or shared that’s really not. You have to be crystal clear about that. That’s why it makes sense to proceed with caution and make sure that all those privacy issues are really made very, very clear upfront and are decided and agreed upon.”