How one doctor’s experience inspired a new tool for Parkinson’s disease

How can new technology help people with Parkinson’s manage symptoms between doctor’s appointments? This question prompted the development of Orbit Health’s Neptune and Neptune Care apps – we talk to the creators to learn more


“One major gap in Parkinson’s clinical care today is that, as a doctor, you often rely on a small snapshot of information to treat people.”

This was the challenge faced by Dr Franz MJ Pfister while working as a healthcare provider for people with Parkinson’s. To tackle the problem, Franz blended his practical experience in neurology with a Master’s in Data Science to co-found Orbit Health – a digital health company aimed at optimising care for people with the condition.

“The tools are there in terms of treatments and medications,” says Franz. “But as a doctor, I would see my patients for only about 15 minutes at a time. Because their symptoms fluctuated heavily throughout the day, this snapshot of information painted an incomplete picture – making it difficult for me to make optimal treatment decisions. What I needed was continuous insight into symptoms and Parkinson’s progression.”

This “gap” inspired Franz to begin working with sensor technology to collect motion data from people with Parkinson’s. Labelling the data minute-by-minute with support from movement disorder experts, he was eventually able to create an algorithm that tracked motor fluctuations and treatment responses experienced by people with Parkinson’s. This could, in turn, aid clinical decisions.

“Once we reached that point and had published in peer-reviewed journals, I thought about how we should go to the next level,” says Franz. “That’s when my co-founder, Patty Lee, and I had initial discussions to turn the research into a product people can use.”

Orbit health co-founder, Patty Lee

Patty Lee, Orbit Health co-founder and CEO.

Gaining continuous insights

The result of Franz’s research is Neptune – a wearable sensor and mobile app for healthcare providers working with people with Parkinson’s. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), Neptune was developed for clinicians to personalise care regimens based on its motor state insights.

“You can envision it sort of like diabetes treatment, where you have a blood sugar read-out to inform the dosing and the timing of insulin intake,” says Franz. “In terms of Parkinson’s, although the treatment is there and can work quite effectively, regular adjustments are needed. Through Neptune, we are able to provide objective information to help doctors adapt treatment on a person-by-person basis.”

Now, the same technology found in Neptune can be used by people living with Parkinson’s through the launch of Neptune Care.

Orbit Health co-founder Patty Lee, who has over a decade of healthcare experience across North America, Europe and Asia, says Neptune Care is “more focused on self-management and learning”. The app enables those with the condition to log activities, such as diet, exercise, sleep, and the presence of symptoms. That information is then overlaid on a “visually intuitive” graph which highlights how various activities may affect a person’s motor symptoms, explains Patty.

“With this technology people can see how they respond to treatments throughout the day,” says Patty Lee.

For those less adept with technology, Neptune Care’s corresponding wearable sensor could still be beneficial. “As long as the person wears the sensor, the data is passively captured and processed by our AI engine to provide motor state insights,” says Patty.

She adds that a caregiver’s version of the product is currently in development, which aims to promote a more “holistic” approach to Parkinson’s management by allowing caregivers to share their own observations.

“With this technology, people with Parkinson’s can see how they respond to treatments or observe their motor states throughout the day. The more you wear the sensor and use the app, the more data and feedback Neptune Care will capture – and the more useful this tool will be,” Patty says.

“We’re looking for 100 people to take part in our Early Access Program, which will give eligible people with Parkinson’s one year of Neptune Care free of charge,” she adds, encouraging those in the community to sign up for the waiting list.

A woman shows a man how to use his smartphone app.

Neptune and Neptune Care are designed to help personalise care for people with Parkinson’s.

Collaboration and transformation

Franz recalls using early versions of Neptune while working at a hospital within the Schön Klinik Group in Munich, Germany: “It was amazing to see this type of objective patient information for the first time.”

Patty explains that the waitlist is open to people living with Parkinson’s worldwide. “I think it’s a very good opportunity for people to experience and be empowered by new technologies to better manage their condition,” she says. “It’s also a chance to share their voice: technology needs to continue to evolve and improve, and we want to get as much feedback as possible.”

She hopes to use this feedback to continue improving the technology: “Ultimately, we want to enable optimal care at all times for people with Parkinson’s.”

The challenge now is to “empower people to use these tools on their own” – and to ensure collaboration within the community. “Healthcare is undergoing a digital transformation for the better,” says Patty, “and we need to join hands to make it happen.”

Need to know

Patty Lee, CEO and co-founder of Orbit Health, has more than 15 years of experience in the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries. Since leaving a global executive position with healthcare company Roche Diagnostics in Switzerland, she has consulted for tech startups in the artificial intelligence and blockchain sectors. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from York University of Toronto, Canada.

Dr Franz MJ Pfister, co-founder of Orbit Health, has a background that intersects between medicine, business, and data science. After completing medical studies at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Germany and Harvard Medical School, US, he earned a PhD in Neuroscience and received an MBA from Munich Business School and a Master’s in Data Science from LMU. He is based in Munich, Germany.

This article was first published in Parkinson’s Life.

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