Digital Ten: Digital health news you need to know (7 February 2020)

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.

Chinese tech giants chip in to beat coronavirus

Huawei, Alibaba and China's other big tech players are providing artificial intelligence and cloud computing power to hospitals and medical research institutions in the country to help diagnose cases of 2019-nCoV, as well as for use in trialling effective treatments for the coronavirus. Huawei Cloud's Enterprise and Medical Intelligence team is using AI-based algorithms to scan 8506 drugs for multiple target proteins of the virus and millions of small-molecule compounds, while Alibaba's Damo Academy has developed an algorithm to reduce the time for identifying 2019-nCoV in submitted samples from several hours to half an hour.

Virtual medical assistants deployed in coronavirus fight

Chinese AI company iFLYTEK, which specialises in voice-recognition software and voice-based products, has deployed its smart medical assistants across 66 districts and counties in China to help physicians screen individuals at high-risk of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus and conduct patient follow-ups. These AI-powered medical assistants analyse patient medical records and send an analysis to the province's Health Commission. Additionally, iFLYTEK's intelligent external call system is being used by medical staff to distribute important information about the illness to the public. 

Eye-drug specialist Santen joins Verily's list of pharma partners

Japanese ophthalmology-focused company Santen Pharmaceutical has set up a joint venture (JV) with Verily to develop and commercialise digitally-enabled, device-based solutions for diagnosing and treating a broad range of eye conditions. Verily told FirstWord MedTech that the JV will be based in the Bay Area, where the Alphabet-subsidiary is located, and will be jointly resourced by its two parent companies. Whilst Verily has experience of such alliances with pharma companies, for example its diabetes JV with Sanofi and a development partnership with Alcon, this is Santen's first foray in the digital tech space. Will this venture bear fruit? [For further analysis, see The Wider View: Verily-Santen JV shows pharma's appetite for digital devices, but are Santen's eyes bigger than its stomach?]

Verily makes tracks with Study Watch and gets expanded approval

Aside from developing products for pharma partners, Verily looks to be making progress with its own products, like the heart-monitoring Study Watch, which has just gained 510(k) clearance for a new irregular pulse monitor feature. The wrist-worn, sensor-based device had its ECG feature cleared last year for non-invasive continuous monitoring; the expanded approval allows it to be used by adults aged 22 years and older who have been diagnosed with, or are susceptible to developing, atrial fibrillation. 

Eko gets FDA green light for heart health monitoring algorithms 

Eko is also targeting the cardiology space with its latest-generation, DUO digital stethoscope that features a suite of newly FDA-cleared algorithms that can help physicians better detect heart murmurs and atrial fibrillation. Eko said that its algorithm for identifying heart murmurs has demonstrated 87% sensitivity and 87% specificity, while its algorithm for AFib has 99% sensitivity and 97% specificity when analysing the 1-lead ECG tracing from the DUO stethoscope. 

NantHealth, NantOmics unveil image analysis-augmenting AI for lung cancer 

Precision medicine company NantHealth and its sister company NantOmics have unveiled a new AI platform to help pathologists with image-based lung cancer subtyping. The software was trained and tested on 876 subtyped non-small-cell lung cancer, gigapixel-resolution diagnostic whole slide images (WSIs) from 805 patients obtained from The Cancer Genome Atlas sources. Findings from the study, presented at the Society for Imaging Science and Technology's International Symposium on Electronic Imaging in January, showed that the software was able to outperform other algorithms reported in literature for diagnostic WSIs. The system also generated maps of tumour regions-of-interest within WSIs, providing novel spatial information on tumour organisation.

Canadian researchers highlight AI potential for predicting neuro disease progression

Scientists from McGill University and the Ludmer Centre for Neuroinformatics and Mental Health have demonstrated the potential of using AI-based analysis of blood samples in predicting and explaining disease progression in patients with Alzheimer's and Huntingdon's disease. The algorithm was able to detect how these patients' genes expressed themselves in unique ways over decades and offers, for the first time, a long-term view of molecular changes underlying neurodegeneration. This algorithm could be incorporated in a future test for helping doctors evaluate patients and tailor their treatment, according to the researchers.

Brainlab buys software developer to leverage patient-centric data 

Brainlab, the German company specialising in less invasive surgery and radiotherapy, has acquired VisionTree Software, a US firm that develops IT platforms for managing electronic medical records and population health data. Brainlab indicated that VisionTree's technology would enable it to quantify medical procedure outcomes, using objective measures, by analysing patients' quality of life and condition after treatment. These data will be used to advance Brainlab's journey towards providing value-based healthcare. 

Hinge Health reels in $90 million for digital musculoskeletal solution

One of the largest venture financing deals in the past fortnight has come from Hinge Health, which raised $90 million to expand commercialisation of its digital program to manage musculoskeletal (MSK) health. Hinge partners with employers and health plan providers to offer its MSK solution to individuals who suffer from chronic back and joint pain, which combines wearable sensor-guided exercise therapy with behavioural change through one-on-one online health coaching and education. Hinge says its programme has clinically validated outcomes across four peer-reviewed studies, showing two out of three surgeries avoided and significant reductions in chronic pain, opioid use, anxiety, depression and absenteeism among users of its programme.

First AI-created drug enters Phase I

DSP-1181, a drug created via AI algorithms, hit the headlines recently when it entered Phase I trials to assess its potential for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. The drug is a long-acting, potent serotonin 5-HT1A receptor agonist and is being jointly developed by Japanese pharma company Sumitomo Dainippon and UK AI firm Exscientia. The potential of AI for accelerating the drug discovery and development process has been recognised by the pharma industry for a while [see Medtech Leaders: AstraZeneca on why partnerships are critical for fully capitalising on healthcare’s digitisation wave for AstraZeneca's take on this] and DSP-1181 is proof: it took less than 12 months to complete the exploratory research phase, which would typically take 4.5 years if conventional research techniques are used. 

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