Friday Five: The medtech week in review (15 January 2021)

Google and Fitbit are one; Talkspace hits SPAC for Nasdaq listing; Pear’s schizophrenia app falls short; digital health at CES; physician views on the new COVID wave’s impact.


Fitbit joins Google

Some 15 months on since the $2.1 billion deal, Google said this week it has completed its acquisition of Fitbit - even though the merger has reportedly got EU antitrust approval only and not yet been green-lighted by US or Australian regulators who are reviewing the transaction. In their respective announcements, Fitbit’s CEO James Park and Google’s senior vice-president of devices and services Rick Osterloh both emphasised their commitment to data privacy and transparency, issues which regulators have voiced their concerns about. It’s unclear though what consequences Google may or may not face for going ahead with completing the deal, without regulatory approval from the US and Australia. Watch this space; Fitbit may not be able to settle comfortably in the bosom of its new family just yet.   


Talkspace hits the NASDAQ through 

Our prediction that we’ll see a further uptick in SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) deals this year is already playing out as Talkspace, one of the first companies to offer a purpose-built virtual psychotherapy platform for behavioural health, agreed to merge with Nasdaq-listed Hudson Executive Investment. The transaction will give Talkspace access to the US stock exchange, as well as an enterprise value of $1.4 billion and $250 million ready cash in its coffers to fund its growth initiatives. Talkspace, like its peers within the telehealth realm, has seen its revenue and membership numbers buoyed by the pandemic. The firm was founded by husband-and-wife team, Oren and Roni Frank, who spotted the opportunity in offering psychotherapy virtually, rather than the traditional face-to-face approach. Apart from its laser focus on behavioural health, one of the key differentiating factors between Talkspace and the likes of Teladoc and Amwell is the proprietary algorithms for matching the most appropriate therapist with a patient’s individual needs. With mental and behavioural health taking centre stage amidst the pandemic, we are likely to see more investor interest and more deals involving companies such as Talkspace.

In case you missed it, see Spotlight On: Five forecasts for digital health M&A in 2021 for a reminder of our predictions.


Pear’s DTx for schizophrenia misses the mark

In a blow for Novartis and its partner Pear Therapeutics, PEAR-004 - the app for improving schizophrenia symptoms - failed to show clinical efficacy in a randomised sham-controlled Phase II trial. Patients who were assigned to use PEAR-004, which is based on cognitive behavioural therapy principles, in combination with standard pharmacotherapy, showed a smaller degree of improvement in symptoms over the course of the 12-week treatment, compared to patients who used a sham app. Looking on the brighter side, the PEAR-004 arm showed good adherence rate as well as safety and tolerance. It is not known what the plans are for PEAR-004 moving forward; neither Pear nor Novartis responded to FirstWord’s requests for comments. This clinical trial hitch could give potential rivals Boehringer Ingelheim and Click Therapeutics time to narrow the competitive gap. The two firms teamed up last year to co-develop a digital therapeutic for schizophrenia, based on Click’s Neurobehavioural Intervention platform [see The Wider View: Will Click take a bite out of Pear’s schizophrenia PDT opportunity?]

Look out for our KOL Views article next week in which Shôn Lewis, Clinical Professor in Adult Psychiatry at the University of Manchester, discusses the implications of the trials outcome for Pear-004.


CES 2021: The past and future of digital health 

COVID-19 and the role of technology in managing the health crisis was a central theme in this year’s all-virtual CES 2021. In addition to the firehose of product launches - showcasing apps, wearables, robots, AI and more AI - companies like Philips and Verily, among others, provided insights on where and how digital health tools were deployed during the pandemic and what the future holds for more connected healthcare ecosystem post-COVID. Philips executives foresee a further ramp up in consumer-centric home care, while Verily’s Vivian Lee believes that the payer could be major advocates of digital health as they are the ones likely to benefit the most from the improved health outcomes technology can bring. 

See CES2021 Spotlight On: How Verily is leveraging data to battle COVID19 and beyond and CES2021 Spotlight On: How COVID-19 fuelled the shift towards consumer-centric healthcare. To see what products were launched at CES 2021, go to our Conference News section here


Another lockdown? Most physicians are telehealth-ready, to some degree

With several geographies around the world having seen the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths escalating for the last couple of months, we ran a snap-poll to find out whether physicians are feeling the impact of this new wave and whether this disruption might lead to yet another halt in non-COVID-related medical procedures. Furthermore, if a widespread lockdown was ordered, how prepared are physicians, this time round, to deliver care to their patients remotely? Our results, which came from 1,043 US and European physicians, across 8 medical specialties, found that most respondents have already seen a decrease in the volume of patient visits in their practice. Perhaps reassuringly for patients, only a minority of physicians admit they are still not set up at all to deliver care virtually, while others have telehealth capabilities - to varying degrees.

To get the details of our results, broken down by geography and specialty, see Physician Views Results: Patient interaction down most for surgeons and orthopaedists in latest COVID wave and Physician Views Results: Telehealth preparedness may be linked to docs’ outlook on COVID impact.


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