Digital Ten - Digital health news you need to know (29 October 2019)

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.


Could Alphabet be eyeing the fitness tracker market? 

Rumours were flying this week that Alphabet has made a bid for Fitbit, although there has been no confirmation yet from either companies. If speculation turned to reality, the acquisition would give Alphabet entry into wearable fitness tracking space and enough clout to compete against the likes of Apple with its Apple Watch. Google has an operating system, Wear, that it developed for smartwatches and other wearables, but it does not have its own wearable device. As to how much Alphabet may have offered for Fitbit, there were no figures bandied about but it would be no less than in the billion-dollar range. Fitbit recorded over $1.5 billion for its 2018 revenue; it is expected to see further sales growth this year but weaker-than-expected performance from its Versa Lite range of smartwatches have led to a lowering of full-year sales guidance. 


Google taps ex-Obama health official for chief health officer role 

It looks like Alphabet isn’t quite done with its Who’s Who list of healthcare bigwigs. After having appointed former FDA commissioner Robert Califf to be head of strategy and policy for Google Health and Verily earlier this month, it has now appointed Karen DeSalvo, former assistant health secretary and national coordinator for health information technology during the Obama administration, as Google’s chief health officer. DeSalvo will advise Google on providers, doctors and nurses across Google’s cloud unit and Verily.    


Fitbit pursues healthcare aspiration with afib collab

Whilst it is keeping schtum about the Alphabet buy-out rumours, Fitbit was more vocal about its collaboration with pharma companies Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer to improve earlier detection of atrial fibrillation, especially in individuals at higher risk of stroke. Fitbit disclosed it has been working on its afib detection technology for a while and has been in discussions with the FDA regarding regulatory approval strategy. The company is working together with Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer to develop educational content and guidance to support people at increased risk of afib so that once Fitbit’s afib technology gets clearance, all three parties can provide users with appropriate information to help encourage and inform discussions with their doctor. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.


Amazon broadens out healthcare strategy with second M&A deal

Another familiar name in the tech space is also making known its intention to increase its stake in the healthcare sector. Amazon has cut its second healthcare M&A deal with the acquisition of Health Navigator, a developer of software tools to support providers of digital health services and medical call centres. The transaction, of which financial details were not disclosed, comes over a year after Amazon acquired online retail pharmacy company PillPack for $753 million. Health Navigator will be integrated into the tech giant's newly launched Amazon Care programme, which offers virtual and in-person consultations for Amazon employees, as well as delivery of prescriptions to their homes and offices. The programme is designed to enable employees and their families to access medical care quickly, through live chat or video, with the option for in-person follow-up services. This latest investment is believed to set the infrastructure for Amazon to further build itself up as a telemedicine provider [see The Wider View: Health Navigator could pack a punch for Amazon's telemedicine aspirations]


Facebook launches Preventive Health tool in the US

Not wanting to feel left out while other tech companies are getting into the healthcare game, Facebook has introduced a new feature, dubbed Preventive Health, that reminds users to get medical check-ups, influenza vaccines and tests. The company said it is working with US health organisations to offer the tool to connect people to health resources and help them find affordable places to receive care, set reminders to schedule tests, mark when tests are completed, among other things. The initial focus for Preventive Health will be on heart disease, cancer and influenza. The resources available in the tool are provided by the American Cancer Society, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Cleveland Clinic, American Well set up telehealth JV

Cleveland Clinic and digital health services provider American Well are forming a joint venture company, named The Clinic, which will offer virtual care by combining Cleveland Clinic’s network of experts with American Well’s digital health technology platform. The Clinic will allow online access to expert care across a wide array of specialties to people from around the world. This is not Cleveland Clinic’s first foray into digital health services and the medical centre said it has seen a rapid increase in the use of virtual visits to deliver patient care. In 2018 alone, the number of annual virtual visits grew 68%. Telehealth is a key part of Cleveland Clinic’s growth strategy to double the number of patients served in the next five years.


Sandoz bows out of Pear DTx partnership 

Pear Therapeutics is going solo with sales of its reSET and reSET-O prescription digital therapeutics (PDTs) after Novartis company Sandoz decided to drop out of their co-commercialisation partnership that was forged in April 2018. The termination of the collaboration follows the arrival of a new head at Sandoz, who is charged with revitalising the pharma company’s core generics and biosimilars business. And it looks like diversifying into a new area like PDTs is not part of the new Sandoz CEO’s plan. That said, Pear has already built itself a US commercial infrastructure that is set to start selling reSET and reSET-O and when Pear’s third product comes out, the insomnia PDT Somryst which is currently under FDA review, the company said it will expand its team accordingly.

[Find out more about Pear’s other direct sales plans and why going solo may not turn out to be a bad thing - The Wider View: Pear PDTs not so juicy a proposition to new Sandoz head]


Limbix picks TrialSpark to partner on adolescent depression DTx trial

Limbix is partnering with TrialSpark to trial its Limbix Spark digital therapeutic for adolescent depression. Limbix Spark is a five-week programme that leverages mobile and virtual reality technology. It uses cognitive behavioral therapy to help teens understand their depressive patterns, identify behaviors and activities that can positively affect their mood, and help reduce symptoms of depression. The programme focuses on behavioral activation and guides teens through tasks that teach coping skills and mindfulness. Throughout the programme, teens can also access additional resources that reinforce learning, even after programme completion.


From self-driving cars to self-monitoring rooms in healthcare, a specialist in healthcare AI, has partnered with Google to use Google’s Coral Edge TPU to develop autonomous monitoring technologies in healthcare. This collaboration could potentially transform an ordinary room into a "self aware room"; using multiple modalities,’s self-monitoring room would be able to send context-aware, intelligent notifications to staff to alert and inform them about what is happening in any room at any time.  "Imagine if we brought the power of AI with autonomous monitoring to healthcare environments – we could prevent injuries, diseases, protocol breaches, and ultimately fatalities; while improving staff efficiency," said Chakri Toleti, Founder and CEO of 


WHO expert panel on digital health meets for first time

In its inaugural meeting this week, the World Health Organization’s Digital Health Technical Advisory Group has agreed on an action plan for the next two years. These priorities include developing a global framework for WHO to validate, implement and scale up digital health technology and solutions; drafting recommendations for safe and ethical use of digital technologies to strengthen national health systems by improving quality and coverage of care, increasing access to health information; providing advice on advocacy and partnership models to accelerate use of digital health capabilities in countries to achieve better health outcomes; and providing advice on emerging digital health technologies with global reach and impact, so no one is left behind.

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