Goethe University: Innovative health app for a better quality of life – AI helps the chronically ill

Chronically ill people depend on seamless therapy from their treating physicians. Patients with an HIV infection, for example, not only need acute medical therapy. The disease also requires lifelong therapy support in everyday life, regular medication and often recurring appointments in medical centers. In the case of HIV-infected people, the risk of accompanying infections or side effects of therapy is also high. Interrupting therapy can lead to irreversible failure of therapy. Close medical support with on-site treatment appointments is therefore an important part of lifelong therapy. Here COMTRAC-HIV, a communication and tracing app for HIV-infected people, closes a gap in outpatient therapy. It enables easy contact and close therapy support. The state of Hesse is funding the development of the health app with 891,730 euros from the Distr@l funding program. Hesse’s Digital Minister Prof. Dr. Kristina Sinemus today sent the funding notification to Prof. Dr. Jürgen Graf, Medical Director and Chairman of the Board of the University Hospital Frankfurt and Ulrich Schielein, Vice President and CIO of the Goethe University Frankfurt. The aim is to significantly improve the medical care of HIV patients, to further develop therapies and to entrepreneurially stabilize the new offers in a spin-off from the university. HIV is only the first application of chronic diseases.

“Improving the health of chronically ill patients with the help of artificial intelligence – acutely and preventively – is exactly what digitization should do: serve people. Digitization can significantly increase the level of health in Germany,” emphasized Sinemus when the funding decision was handed over. “With the development of the COMTRAC-HIV project, the Goethe University and the University Hospital Frankfurt have once again proven their outstanding scientific competence. There is no comparable health app in Germany. With this Distr@l funding line, Hessen supports such deep-tech start-ups with scientific quality and a unique position in order to fully exploit the enormous scientific potential and know-how of science in Hessen.”

COMTRAC-HIV is to become a digital health application (DiGA). DiGAs are health apps that can be prescribed by prescription and have a proven medical benefit for patients or bring about patient-relevant structural and process improvements. The app is intended to offer seamless therapy support through continuous symptom and vital data transmission. Thanks to a parameter control based on an algorithm, it should sound an alarm as soon as the parameters are no longer correct. Reminder functions facilitate valid self-control. In addition, the patients are continuously connected to the treatment center via the app, so that rapid intervention by medical professionals and low-threshold telemedical interaction, such as chat and video telephony, are possible. This is intended to strengthen therapy, compliance and therapy success. In addition, new data and medical findings from the therapies are recorded, which improve the therapy and can be transferred to other chronic diseases – a digital innovation for doctors and patients.

“As university medicine, we are pursuing the goal of bringing applied medical research closer to people. With COMTRAC, we are taking exactly this path by going beyond inpatient care in hospitals and accompanying and supporting chronic patients in their everyday lives. Digitization forms the bridge to patient care in the future,” explained the Medical Director and Chairman of the Board of the University Hospital Frankfurt, Prof. Dr. Jurgen Graf. The CIO and Vice President of the Goethe University, Ulrich Schielein, emphasized: “For us, projects of this type mean a transfer of academic science into direct benefit, here into direct therapy support. With the creation of this new type of interoperable and hybrid interaction system, knowledge gain, digitization potential and application move together. We are very pleased that the state of Hesse is giving us the opportunity to spin off science to directly benefit society.”

The COMTRAC-HIV project is being developed at the Goethe University and the University Hospital Frankfurt in an interdisciplinary manner in the areas of infectiology, general medicine, health services research, economics, medical informatics and digitization. According to the project application, the aim is to merge digitization potential, medical expertise and applied science. Validating the research results as part of the funding in order to subsequently implement a company spin-off opens up a new strategic field of action for the university hospital and new career prospects for the researchers.

The funding of spin-offs from science via Distr@l makes it possible to validate current research results scientifically and transfer them to application over a period of two years. The hope of strengthening the technology location and creating highly qualified jobs in the region is linked to the deep-tech start-ups that will arise after the project period. Eight spin-offs at Hessian universities are currently being funded via Distr@l with a funding volume of around 5 million euros. The founding team with up to five people and 1 million euros is eligible for funding.

Digital health applications are approved by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) under strict conditions of validity and security standards, data protection, interoperability and applicability. This is to ensure that the DiGA generates a verifiable benefit for the patients. Five projects from the health economy and research are already being funded via Distr@l, which are developing a health app and are aiming for approval as DiGA at the BfArM. The funding makes an important contribution to the field of action “Innovative further development of digital health” in the Digital Hessen strategy.

The “COMTRAC HIV” project is funded via the Distr@l funding line 4A. The funding program Distr@l – strengthen digitization, live transfer started at the end of 2019 and is running very successfully. So far, 81 projects with a funding volume of around 25 million euros have already been approved. A sign of the high level of innovation in Hessen in the field of digitization and digital transformation.