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FirstWord MedTech's Digital Ten is a fortnightly round-up of the 10 most read and noteworthy headlines related to digital health, including industry deals, alliances, collaborations, innovations and R&D news.
Trouble at DeepMind sees co-founder placed on leave
Mustafa Suleyman, one of the co-founders of AI specialist DeepMind which Google acquired in 2014, has been placed on leave after controversy over some of the projects he led, according to reports from Bloomberg. Suleyman had founded DeepMind alongside CEO Demis Hassabis in 2010 and he had launched DeepMind Health, which focused on developing AI technology for use in the UK National Health Service, in 2016. DeepMind Health’s first product was a mobile app called Streams that was originally designed to help identify acute kidney injury risk. The project was siphoned off to Google Health last year and the DeepMind Health brand shelved, with Sulyman reportedly removed from the day-to-day running of the unit. Commenting on Suleyman being put on leave, a DeepMind spokesperson said he was "taking time out right now after 10 hectic years".
Wellness focus seems to leave sour note at Apple
Another big tech name that is reportedly facing some internal strife in its health division is Apple, which has seen a number of departures from its team in the past year due to disagreements about strategic direction, according to CNBC. Citing sources close to the matter, the report said while some employees were looking to get their teeth into bigger challenges within the healthcare system, such as medical devices and telemedicine, the focus of Apple Health has been mainly confined to wellness and prevention. It was also reported that the company's launch of the electrocardiogram for the Apple Watch last year frustrated some staff who had wanted a small and focused product launch, with the medical community's initial assessment of the product in order to reduce any potential pushback.
Recent departures that were previously reported include Warris Bokhari, who joined Anthem this summer, and researcher Andrew Trister, who joined the Gates Foundation earlier this month.
Orexo, GAIA team up to tackle opioid crisis with new digital therapeutic
The digital therapeutics market could see a new product for opioid use disorder in 2022, as a result of a partnership between Swedish pharma company Orexo and German digital therapy specialist GAIA. The two firms will be targeting the US first, where currently there is only one FDA-cleared digital therapeutic for this indication, Pear Therapeutics’ reset-O which is marketed by Novartis company Sandoz. The CEOs of Orexo and GAIA spoke to FirstWord MedTech about how they expected their product to differentiate itself from the competition. [See The Wider View: Orexo/GAIA DTx-for-opioid abuse collab could benefit from slipstreaming Sandoz/Pear]
Fitbit goes national in Singapore’s public health programme
Fitbit will see its products used in Singapore's Live Health SG public health programme. This is Fitbit's first major integration of its digital health platform and wearables into a national health initiative outside the US. Singaporeans of all ages and levels of health will be offered Fitbit devices and the new Premium service, and use the technology, behavior insights and analytics to help them get healthier through meaningful and sustained behavior change.
India’s Health Ministry taps into AI expertise to combat TB
The central tuberculosis (TB) division of India’s Health Ministry has entered into an agreement with Wadhwani Institute for Artificial Intelligence to explore the use of AI to combat the disease, the Business Standard reported. As part of the collaboration, Wadhwani AI will help make the country's tuberculosis programme AI-ready and develop, pilot, and deploy technology-based solutions. Additionally, Wadhwani AI will support the programme in vulnerability and hot-spot mapping, modelling novel methods of screening and diagnostics, and enabling decision support for caregivers.
Kaiser Permanente-Samsung virtual heart rehab programme shows positive data
A virtual cardiac rehabilitation programme co-developed by healthcare management group Kaiser Permanente and tech giant Samsung has demonstrated promising results in reducing secondary cardiac events and rehospitalisations. The programme, which helps patients through a prescribed exercise and diet regime using a combination of wearable technology with support from clinical staff, has enrolled more than 2,300 patients. Results have shown that more than 80% of the patients who joined the programme have completed it, compared to the national average of less than 50%. Cardiac-related hospital readmissions for patients in Kaiser Permanente's programme have been less than 2%, compared to 10% to 15% average for most programmes. Details of the study are published in the NEJM Catalyst journal.
Developer of PreHab programmed for musculoskeletal health reels in $6.5 million
PeerWell has raised $6.5 million in a series A round to step up commercialisation of its PreHab programme that offers digital solutions to support patients with musculoskeletal health issues. The programme is designed to prepare patients mentally and physically through the full musculoskeletal journey - from pain management and surgery avoidance to surgery optimisation and guided recovery. PeerWell will use the funding to accelerate commercial rollout of its workers' compensation surgery optimisation platform, which has improved patient outcomes and reduced costs in several clinical deployments.
US market open for Biobeat's wearable tech for vital signs remote monitoring
The US FDA has cleared for marketing Biobeat’s noninvasive watch and patch devices for continuous, remote monitoring of patients’ blood pressure, oxygenation and heart rate. Israeli Biobeat said its system is the first ever FDA-cleared system that can monitor blood pressure without an inflating cuff. The company has developed a wrist watch and a patch, each incorporating proprietary sensor technology based on reflective plethysmography. The devices record the data and wirelessly transmit them to a cloud and the Biobeat app is used for tracking and processing these data. Biobeat’s technology is already CE-marked and is already selling in Europe.
Cough-based test for diagnosing respiratory disease in kids get EU marketing all-clear
Australia’s ResApp has CE-marked what it says is the world’s first smartphone-based test that can diagnose acute paediatric respiratory disease from the sound of a cough. Currently, acute respiratory disease is diagnosed via a complex, subjective process that combines clinical judgement with diagnostic aids such as auscultation with a stethoscope, imaging, blood and sputum tests. The CE-marked ResAppDx-EU is a mobile app that uses machine learning algorithms to analyse the sounds from a patient’s cough to detect disease; it is approved for use by clinicians to diagnose lower respiratory tract disease, croup, pneumonia, asthma/reactive airway disease and bronchiolitis in infants and children.
Smartphone-based device shows potential in detecting norovirus
Researchers from the University of Arizona have developed a smartphone-based device that has demonstrated the potential to detect the highly infectious stomach bug, norovirus, even in miniscule quantities. Jeong-Yeol Yoo, who led the research team, presented findings at the recent meeting of the American Chemical Society, which showed that their device was able to detect the virus when there was as low as 5 or 6 norovirus particles per sample. Because as few as 10 virus particles can cause illness in people, the new method is sensitive enough for practical applications, Yoon believes. The device is essentially a smartphone converted into a fluorescence microscope by attaching a light microscope accessory, a separate light source and two band-pass filters. It works by taking photos of a paper microfluidic chip with the sample. An app on the phone then calculates norovirus concentrations from the pixel count of the images.
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