Novartis (NYSE:NVS) is primarily known as a pharmaceutical company, but it has recently made some interesting investments in the mobile health market.

That is a smart long-term move, since the global mobile health market is expected to grow from $1.95 billion in 2012 to $49 billion in 2020, according to Grand View Research. Let's look at three interesting ways in which Novartis is expanding into this big new market.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

A growing mobile footprint
Novartis currently has 13 iPhone apps in Apple's App Store, and nine of them are designed for patients and consumers.

Some, like "Sickel Cell Iron Invaders" and "Marley's World", are games. Patients with neuroendocrine tumors, or NET, can use Novartis' My NET Manager to learn about their condition, monitor symptoms and medications, schedule doctor's visits, and track insurance claims. Another app, Clinical Trial Seek, streamlines data from the National Institute of Health's database to locate cancer clinical trials in the area.

Sickle Cell Iron Invaders (L) and Marley's World (R). Source: iTunes.

An app that ties directly into Novartis' pharmaceutical business is Podhaler Pro, an inhaler training app for the TOBI Podhaler, an inhalable dry powder for cystic fibrosis that the FDA approved last March.

While Novartis' mobile ecosystem is young, we can see the potential benefits for the company and patients. Doctors, for example, might prefer prescribing Novartis' products because they are better supported by companion apps.

Investing in the Internet of Things
In the future, the Internet of Things could revolutionize home healthcare via a combination of mobile apps, wearable devices, and motion sensors.

Proteus smart pills. Source: company.

One such innovator in the Internet of Things is Proteus Digital Health, which counts Novartis among its early investors. Proteus develops "smart pills" powered by stomach fluid. After being swallowed, the pill sends a wireless signal back to a wearable patch, which relays biometric data and the time of ingestion to a mobile app. The app then sends the data to a physician to ensure the medication is being taken and that the patient's vitals are normal. The FDA in July 2012 cleared the device for marketing.

Last year, Novartis sponsored a digital health challenge that was won by home monitoring start-up's platform collects data from wireless home medical devices, and sends the information to a virtual caretaker who appears as a digital avatar. Patients can interact with the avatar via Microsoft's Kinect voice and motion sensor. The system can remind patients to change their daily habits, based on their home monitoring records, to improve their overall health.

Investing in Google's moon shot
In July, Novartis' Alcon eye-care division licensed Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) experimental "smart" contacts, which can theoretically detect glucose levels via tears.

Novartis mentioned two possible uses for the contacts: glucose monitoring and corrective vision needs. While monitoring glucose levels through tears would be game changing for diabetics, a possible approval for that indication is still years away. Meanwhile, Novartis wants to test the contacts on patients with presbyopia, an age-related condition in which the eye fails to focus on nearby objects, by adding autofocus features to the lens. Diabetes and eye care notably overlap with diabetic macular edema, a degenerative eye condition that may affect many diabetics.

Google's smart contacts. Source: Google.

Regardless of Novartis' use of the lens in the future, the company gains another way to track patients, since the lens -- like Proteus' smart pills -- can transmit data to a mobile app.

A Foolish final word
Novartis investors should certainly pay attention to the company's near-term challenges -- generic competition for Diovan and Gleevec, strong competition in the MS space, and its closely watched heart failure drug LCZ696 -- but they should also track its growing presence in mobile health.

If the mobile health market grows as quickly as forecasts state, Novartis' medicine could be enhanced by smart pills, companion apps, and home monitoring devices in the near future.


Leo Sun owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.