Digital Ten: Digital health news you need to know (8 January 2020)

Welcome to the first Digital Ten of 2020. It may have been quiet during the holiday period, but the new year has kicked off with the world's biggest tech show, CES, taking place this week in Las Vegas and bringing a glut of news on the most cutting-edge healthtech developed by both emerging and well-established innovators. Here's our round-up of the 10 most noteworthy headlines related to digital health in the past fortnight, including what's being showcased at CES, recent industry deals, alliances, collaborations and R&D news.

Philips' latest digital additions could keep consumer sleep portfolio bestirred

Philips showcased a plethora of new consumer-focused digital health tools at this year's CES, including a significant extension of its SmartSleep portfolio. Amongst the new additions to this suite of products to tackle sleep problems is the next-generation SmartSleep Deep Sleep Headband that includes features such as new "fall asleep sounds" to soothe the wearer to sleep, and a SmartAlarm to wake the wearer in their lightest stage of sleep. There is also the SmartSleep snoring relief band for alleviating positional back snoring and the SmartSleep Better Sleep programme to retrain a user's sleep habits to help them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. 

Withings unveils hybrid smartwatch to detect afib and sleep apnoea

A hybrid smartwatch also designed to monitor sleep disorders, specifically sleep apnoea, as well as monitor atrial fibrillation at the same time, is being showcased at CES by its developer Withings. The company specialises in connected consumer health-related devices including wearable trackers, weighing scales, blood pressure monitors and thermometers, among other things; it had formed Nokia's digital health business when the Finnish firm acquired it in 2016, but was sold back to Withings' founder Eric Carreel in 2018. This latest hybrid device, ScanWatch, is said to be the first of its kind to simultaneously monitor these two conditions. It is designed to detect the presence of night sleep apnoea episodes through an SpO2 sensor that emits and absorbs a light wave passing through blood vessels. It detects atrial fibrillation, or a slow heart rhythm, through an ECG built into the watch and through a proactive heart scanning feature. ScanWatch is not yet CE marked nor FDA-cleared.  

NovaSight and Tobii eye amblyopia market with CureSight

NovaSight is demonstrating at CES its CureSight solution for treating amblyopia, more commonly known as lazy eye, which was developed in partnership with eye-tracking technology specialist Tobii. CureSight uses 3D image processing algorithms and Tobii's eye-tracking technology to blur the image in a specific place where the patient's dominant eye is looking. It does this while patients are watching movies and TV programmes, thus providing a more natural approach to correcting the problem than the traditional method of using an eye patch over the dominant eye. A recent trial of CureSight showed significant improvement in visual acuity in a cohort of 20 children that followed a 12-week treatment programme with a 95% compliance rate. 

IrisVision and Samsung partner to help low vision sufferers

Electronics giant Samsung has also set its sights on the ophthalmology market and at CES, it announced a partnership with IrisVision, a specialist in digital vision technologies to help sufferers of low vision due to eye conditions like macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and retinitis pigmentosa, among other things. The partners will see IrisVision's vision correction software incorporated into Samsung's mobile devices - like its smartphones, XR devices and 5G mobile phones. Samsung will help IrisVision scale connected healthcare for the visually impaired community.

Phonak takes hearing aids to the realm of hearables 

From eyes to ears, Phonak, a familiar name in the hearing health sector, has unveiled the Phonak Virto Black at CES. This is a fully-connected in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid that is styled like a modern hearable. In addition to improving the hearing of the wearer, providing "up to 10x better-than-normal hearing in noisy situations and over distance," it also allows for wireless, Bluetooth streaming, hands-free phone calls. Virto Black wearers can answer, end or reject a phone call with a push of a button while keeping their phone in their pocket, purse or on a nearby table, while on-board microphones allow wearers to use their devices as wireless headsets.

Pear Therapeutics purchases and partners to expand pipeline

To accelerate the expansion of its prescription digital therapeutics (PDT) pipeline, Pear Therapeutics - which is already marketing its reSET and reSET-O solutions for substance and opioid abuse disorder - has acquired two clinical-stage PDTs for the treatment of acute and chronic pain from Firsthand Technology. These products employ virtual reality pain relief through a combination of distraction, active physical engagement, mindfulness and biofeedback with wearable sensors. Pear has also in-licensed clinical-stage PDTs for migraine from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical centre and for irritable bowel syndrome from Sweden's Karolinska Institute. The company's partnership with Karolinksa includes plans to develop PDT candidates for the treatment of other gastrointestinal and autoimmune disorders. Furthermore, Pear has underlined its interest in the growing area of vocal biomarkers. It is collaborating with WinterLight Labs and NeuroLex Laboratories to research and develop vocal biomarkers for cognitive health applications. 

Korean DTx firm reels in series A funds for software to help brain damage patients

It's not just the US or Europe that have innovators in the emerging digital therapeutics field. Korean digital therapeutics startup, Nunaps, has raised KRW 5 billion ($4.2 million) in series A round from Company K Partners, KTB Network and K2 Investment Partners to take its first product through pivotal clinical trials. Nunap Vision is a software that provides visual perceptual training to treat visual field defects caused by brain damage. It has undergone proof-of-concept studies and is approved by Korean regulators, and will be further validated in a multi-centre, double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial. 

eko.ai grabs $4 million to advance AI-enhanced echocardiography 

eko.ai has raised $4 million to accelerate development of its AI software designed to make echocardiography faster and easier to interpret. The company, spun out of Singapore's Agency of Science, Technology and Research, says its machine learning platform automates the process of measuring and interpreting echocardiograms, and can provide an analysis in under 60 seconds and in just one click. By simplifying the process and bringing down the cost, the software can democratise this procedure and allow even the most resource-constrained settings to provide this service. 

eko.ai is one of a fast growing community of medtech start-ups emerging from Singapore. There were twice as many Singapore-based start-ups that had successful fundraises in 2019 as there were in 2018 (see Spotlight On: VC deal flow in December and 2019).

AI for skin cancer detection notches up FDA Breakthrough Device designations

Another AI-for-imaging specialist, 3Derm Systems, has won FDA breakthrough device designations for 3DermSpot, an algorithm designed to autonomously detect melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma from skin images. Just as eko.ai is seeking to democratise echocardiography, 3Derm Systems aims to make skin cancer detection both more accurate and more accessible. It said if 3DermSpot does get final approval from the US regulatory, it will be the first product to bring dermatologist-level triage to primary care.

Vivante Health snags DebraAnn Braun as chief technology officer

The new year will see leadership changes at some of medtech's biggest players, including Medtronic and Abbott, but smaller companies are also bringing in fresh blood to move their businesses forward. Vivante Health is one such case, having appointed DebraAnn Braun as chief technology officer to drive development of the company's GIThrive platform, a virtual healthcare hub that provides digital tools as well as on-demand support from a human care team to help patients with chronic gut health issues manage their condition. Braun brings knowledge and experience from both the IT and healthcare sectors; she was vice president of business insights and data solutions at UnitedHealthcare, and prior to that, she served as chief data officer, federal healthcare emerging programmes at Hewlett Packard.

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