Digital Ten: Digital health news you need to know (11 November 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.


Google kits itself out with wearable devices biz

Google is acquiring fitness tracker specialist Fitbit in a $2.1 billion deal, just days after rumours were sparked that a deal was being tabled. Under the terms of the acquisition, Google will pay $7.35 in cash for each Fitbit share, which represents a 19% premium over Fitbit’s closing share price on 31 October, the day before the acquisition announcement, and a 71% jump in its pre-M&A rumour share price. This might seem like a generous offer but Fitibit had floated on the stock exchange at $20 per share in June 2015 and its shares more than doubled in value a month later. Google’s offer price is significant discount to those figures, and are more on par with the declining revenue that Fitbit has been reporting for the last three years. But while the company has been struggling with its top-line, it has an established network of millions of Fitbit device users and a strong body of health data. 

See The Wider View: Fitbit brings key piece to Google’s digital health jigsaw for our analysis of what the two companies could stand to gain from the merger.


AliveCor gets China’s Huami beating to the same rhythm

AliveCor, one of the first companies to develop personal, app-based ECG devices, is teaming up with Huami, a partner company of Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi, to combine their respective technologies and deliver "entirely new ECG form factors to global markets in 2020." AliveCor’s flagship product is the KardiaMobile solution where patients can check their ECG on their mobile using an app paired with a small sensor device. The company used to sell the KardiaBand, an FDA-cleared ECG wristband, but it quietly stopped sales of this product earlier this year. Huami is the developer of the mobile apps Mi Fit and AmazFit that are incorporated into Xiaomi’s wearables; the apps collect not only ECG data but also track physiological and activity parameters. AliveCor CEO said the agreement will enable the US company to deliver its services and solutions "to enterprise customers and consumers worldwide at affordable price points."


Apple taps Columbia U prof to build in-house heart expertise

Apple does not look like it is letting up anytime soon its efforts to become a dominant heart health player. The tech firm has brought in yet another new hire from the medical field, this time it’s David Tsay, a professor of cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center and an associate chief transformation officer, where he focused on implementing digital services. CNBC reported that Tsay is the second prominent cardiologist to join Apple, following Alexis Beatty, who previously worked at the University of Washington. 


More affirmative data for activity tracker makers 

Helping to back those who believe wearable devices will play an integral role in the future of healthcare, a federally funded study by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers has provided clinical evidence to show wearable accelerometers are a more reliable and effective measure of physical activity than patient surveys and other traditional methods for assessing five-year risk of death in older adults. The research also added to evidence that an accurate and objective accounting of physical activity outperforms traditional predictors of mortality within five years, such as age, smoking, diabetes, alcohol use, or history of cancer or heart disease. Based on these findings, published in the October 15 issue of The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, the researchers say physicians could confidently use the devices' fitness profiles to help patients change unhealthy behaviors, increase physical activity and, potentially, extend healthy lifespans. 


Pear Therapeutics to explore GI indications for DTx

Pear Therapeutics may have lost Sandoz as a commercial partner but it has gained a new ally to explore the potential of prescription digital therapeutics for gastrointestinal indications, which is yet uncharted territory for Pear. The alliance with Ironwood Pharmaceuticals broadens Pear’s pipeline to diseases outside the central nervous system and into a range of chronic conditions, said Pear CEO Corey McCann. Earlier this month, Pear announced that it would assume sole responsibility to sell its reSET and reSET-O PDTs after Novartis' Sandoz unit decided to drop out of their co-commercialisation partnership forged last year.


Medopad, Janssen join forces to scale memory digital test

Medopad has forged a strategic collaboration with Janssen Pharmaceuticals to validate, scale and potentially commercialise the latter’s ReVeRe platform as a novel digital biomarker for Alzheimer's disease (AD). The ReVeRe platform is designed to provide reliable, remote and automated assessment and monitoring of verbal memory in individuals at risk of AD, without the need for clinical supervision and appropriate for use at home. Medopad will bring its experience in implementing and scaling digital healthcare solutions across healthcare systems to allow the ReVeRe technology to be deployed across patient populations in both the UK and China. 

Separately, it was reported that Medopad, which is backed by the Chinese tech firm Tencent, has recently raised $25 million of new funding from a consortium of investors led by Bayer. 


Zimmer Biomet's ROSA Brain 3.0 recall slapped with Class I designation

In the field of digital surgery, a recent safety corrective action by Zimmer Biomet to pull certain versions of its ROSA Brain 3.0 robotic surgery system due to a software issue that incorrectly positions the robotic arm is being classified as a Class I recall, the FDA disclosed. The company initiated the recall in September and has received five complaints related to the problem, including one patient injury. A total of 86 devices - manufactured between February 23, 2016, and December 21, 2018, and distributed from April 8, 2016, to March 19 this year - have been recalled in the US since September 10. No deaths related to the software issue have been reported. Zimmer Biomet specified at the time of the September recall that the ROSA Brain 3.0 system software is not deployed in its other ROSA Brain, Spine or Knee devices.


Reflexion Health Launches Digital Physical Therapy Platform HelloPT

Reflexion Health is expanding its digital rehabilitation solutions portfolio with the launch of HelloPT, a digital physical therapy platform that combines tailored injury prevention with telehealth access to licensed physical therapists. Reflexion already commercialises Vera, an FDA-cleared virtual rehabilitation assistant for patients that already have undergone surgery and who can use VERA at home. HelloPT is designed to prevent escalation of existing minor injuries and for use by people before their injuries require surgical intervention, the company told FirstWord MedTech. Customers of HelloPT are self-insured employers who will offer it to their employees "to prevent minor injuries from becoming surgical so they save money on the escalation of care and also out-of-work days - in addition to having happier, healthier employees who aren't slowed down by pain."


Cancer patients’ mental well-being comes into focus for Hopelab...

Hopelab’s Vivibot, a chatbot designed to support young adults following cancer treatment, has demonstrated its potential to reduce anxiety in users in a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Vivibot was co-created with young people living with cancer. It delivers a new positive psychology skill to users every day for a month, using a mix of interactive chatting, mood reports, and videos featuring young people who have had a cancer diagnosis sharing their real-life experiences with these approaches. Some 51 young adults who had completed cancer treatment within the past five years participated in the study. They were randomised to either engage with Vivibot for a month or, in the control group, to simply rate their feelings for a month. After 4 weeks, participants in the Vivibot group reported a reduction in anxiety, while those in the control group had slightly increased anxiety. 


… and from AppliedVR and the National Cancer Institute

Also looking to help cancer patients with anxiety are AppliedVR, a virtual reality-based therapeutics company, and the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The two parties are collaborating to evaluate the efficacy of virtual reality therapeutics in addressing the underlying anxiety often experienced by many patients with terminal cancer. The study will enroll patients from many NCI-designated cancer centers and other cancer practices. "Virtual reality therapeutics are an effective and non-pharmacologic way to potentially treat anxiety, acute and chronic pain and many other mental and behavioral health conditions," said Beth Darnall, chief science advisor of AppliedVR. "Pairing our technology and deep expertise in therapeutic VR development and design with NCI's leading expertise in oncology could offer a specialised solution to cancer patients who suffer from anxiety."

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