Friday Five: The week’s top digital health news and views (4 June 2021)

Mental health in cancer; top execs come and go at Verily, iRhythm; Cognoa scores; May VC activity booms; Babylon goes public.

Does digital feature in cancer patients’ mental health care?

The biggest oncology meeting of the year, ASCO, kicks off this week. The psychosocial impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients is one of the key themes among studies presented, so we ran a snap-poll to assess whether mental health issues have become more prominent in this population. The majority of our respondents confirm that they have observed a moderate to significant increase in mental health symptoms among their cancer patients over last year (see graph). But what are their strategies to address their patients’ mental wellbeing? Technologies like health apps and digital therapeutics do feature in the armamentarium of certain respondents, but not for the majority, it seems. For full details of our snap-poll results, see Physician Views Results: Oncologists lean towards human-based, not digital, mental health support.


Verily gains Abernethy, iRhythm loses Coyle

Former FDA principal deputy commissioner Amy Abernethy has joined Verily as president of its clinical research business. This appointment caps off a spate of new hires to senior commercial positions. In her role at Verily, Abernethy will oversee the expansion of the Baseline programme into a full-scale clinical evidence generation platform and look after the clinical research portfolio. Meanwhile, iRhythm has lost its recently appointed CEO, Mike Coyle, whose sudden departure is reportedly due to “personal matters”. The former Medtronic senior exec had taken the helm in January, but it’s been an eventful initiation with Coyle having to deal with slashed Medicare reimbursement rates for the company’s long-term Holter monitoring product, Zio XT. iRhythm’s share price took a knock, unsurprisingly, even though the firm assured investors the leadership transition does not affect its business outlook for the year.


FDA gives nod to digital autism diagnostic aid 

Cognoa's Canvas Dx has become the first FDA-authorised diagnosis aid for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the primary-care setting. The solution uses AI to analyse caregiver information, given via an app, along with physician inputs to generate a result that doctors use as an aid to diagnose or rule out ASD and direct appropriate next steps in care. Canvas Dx is designed to shorten the diagnosis process to a few weeks, rather than the standard months or years.


Healthtech venture funding booms in May

May was the best month yet for venture funding activity. Deal volume was at its highest - albeit a slight increase over April - as was the total amount of investment dollars raised. Over $4.7 billion was invested, with precision oncology firm Caris Life Sciences bagging the biggest round at $830 million. But the VC that led the biggest round wasn’t the most prolific investor of the month - that crown is jointly held by Polaris Partners and Temasek. To find out which companies these investors backed and other details about May’s digital health venture deal flow (graph below gives some clues), go to Spotlight On: From May springs the best investment tally to date and Spotlight On: Polaris, Temasek top May investor list.


Babylon goes public-by-SPAC

Telemedicine company Babylon Health has finally put to rest rumours of it going public with news it will merge with special purpose acquisition company Alkuri Global Acquisition. The transaction will give Babylon an equity value of $4.2 billion and an estimated $575 million in gross proceeds. Since it was founded in 2013 in the UK, Babylon has expanded its reach to cover 24 million across Europe, North Amercia, Africa and 13 countries in Asia. Ali Parsa, the founder of Babylon, will remain at the helm after the merger completes.


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