Friday Five: The week’s top digital health news and views (5 February 2021)

Branson SPAC bags 23andMe; remote heart monitoring gets reimbursement knockback; Onduo grows beyond diabetes; poll results out on migraine treatments going digital; FDA pulls leading cybersecurity expert. 


23andMe falls in with SPAC mania

Rumours about 23andMe going down the SPAC route were confirmed this week, following the announcement by the personal genomics specialist that it will be acquired by Virgin Group's VG Acquisition. The merger will give 23andme an enterprise value of around $3.5 billion, as well as a listing on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “ME”. The transaction includes a private placement to which 23andme CEO Anne Wojcicki and tycoon Richard Branson will each contribute $25 million. On closing of the deal, 23andme’s coffers will be well-filled, with up to $984 million in cash to fund operations and support new and existing growth initiatives. 

Last month saw telehealth company Hims & Hers close its SPAC merger and virtual psychotherapy services company Talkspace inking a deal with Hudson Executive Invesment. But the SPAC rollercoaster is unlikely to slow down anytime soon; January saw at least five SPACs filing for an IPO, including Computed Health Acquisition Corp which is co-founded by former Medtronic chief exec Omar Ishrak.


Remote heart monitoring market hit by slashed reimbursement rates 

Players in the remote cardiac monitoring market suffered a blow on news that a key Medicare secondary payer, Novitas Solutions, is cutting its reimbursement rates for wearable extended Holter monitoring systems. Subsequently, the leader of this market segment iRhythm Technologies, with its Zio patch system, has seen its share price plunge - but what about companies like Philips, Boston Scientific and Hillrom, who are in the process of acquiring a stake in this segment? Philips and Boston Scientific, in particular, are investing billions in buying BioTelemetry and Preventice Solutions, respectively. Neither have officially commented about the situation, although Boston Scientific’s CEO has pointed out that Preventice has a broad portfolio which is not entirely dependent on extended Holter monitoring. This, however, can’t be said about Bardy Diagnostics, which Hillrom has agreed to acquire at a 10x multiple of BardyDx’s annual revenue. To read our analysis, see Wider View: Why reimbursement pinch would hurt Philips, Boston Scientific less than Hillrom.


Verily-Sanofi diabetes joint venture gets bigger

Onduo, the virtual clinic joint venture set up by Sanofi and Verily, has moved beyond its initial diabetes focus and expanded its platform to address multiple cardiometabolic conditions as well as mental health. The virtual care platform now supports users with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, plus significant co-morbidities like hypertension, weight management issues and mental wellness. Launched in 2016, Onduo’s solution encompasses proprietary connected sensing devices and health coaching that uses insights generated from deep data analytics. Onduo CEO Vindell Washington remarked that the company’s mission was to “close the loop in care by helping match members with the most relevant next step in their care journey and serving up that experience through our app and care team interactions." 

To read what Washington has to say about the company’s plans for further expanding its offerings, see our interview article Spotlight On: More is more for Onduo, as whole person-centred approach underpins chronic care platform expansion.


Digital device first over drugs for migraine? Possibly, but show them the data

The results from our snap-poll on uptake of digital devices for migraine are out and they provide some level of hope that physicians could be convinced to turn to these non-pharma alternatives as first-line therapies - but they want to see the clinical evidence. Over 370 primary care practitioners (PCPs) and neurologists participated in our poll, which was fielded across North America and Europe. The key findings showed that nearly 90% of respondents were aware of at least one digital neurostimulation device that is currently out on the market. There was a good indication of acceptance by the clinical community of these digital therapies, but for them to prescribe these products as first-line treatment for migraine would require clinical evidence proving their superiority over drugs. 

To see the results of the poll in more detail, including differences in attitudes between PCPs and neurologists, see Physician Views Results: Clinical data will win the day for digital migraine devices and Physician Views Results: Primary care route could be widened for digital migraine devices.


FDA taps leading computer scientist to oversee device cybersecurity 

The FDA has appointed Kevin Fu, an outspoken advocate and leading researcher in medical device security, to the new role of acting director of medical device cybersecurity at the agency's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. In this one-year tenure, Fu will work towards strengthening CDRH’s cybersecurity programmes and vulnerability assessments, as well as to improve the center's understanding of cybersecurity "to enable a more comprehensive approach to premarket submissions reviews." The appointment comes as healthcare systems become increasingly digitised and subsequently more vulnerable to cyber attacks. According to the University of Michigan, where Fu is associate professor, there were more than 80 publicly reported ransomware attacks on health care providers in 2020 and new security vulnerabilities are identified in software in medical devices almost every day. 


Other stories you might have missed:

Hologic, Google Cloud to advance Genius digital diagnostics system for cervical cancer

Hillrom buys EarlySense's contact-free continuous monitoring technology

Illumina to launch genomics incubator in China

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