Verily, Google’s life sciences arm, gathers in another billion to go…where? (updated for Study Watch FDA clearance)

Biotech/device company Verily added to its 2016 $800 million stake from Singapore’s Temasek a fresh $1 bn from Silver Lake Partners. with reported participation from Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan. Verily is majority-owned by Google parent Alphabet, which has added a new member to the Verily board, CFO Ruth Porat, and Egon Durbat from Silver Lake.

CEO Andrew Conrad, who is still there despite a brace of bad press two years ago [TTA 6 Apr 16], stated that “We are taking external funding to increase flexibility and optionality as we expand on our core strategic focus areas. Adding a well-rounded group of seasoned investors, led by Silver Lake, will further prepare us to execute as healthcare continues the shift towards evidence generation and value-based reimbursement models.”

One is tempted to say, ‘whatever that means’. They have had multiple ventures from contact lenses with Novartis’ subsidiary Alcon (reportedly discontinued but dating back with Google to 2014), diabetes with Sanofi, to sleep apnea with ResMed. VentureBeat reports they are cash-profitable and even venturing into areas such as small exploding needles that can extract blood through a wearable device–not precisely for the needle-phobic. There seem to be multiple projects in multiple directions that are primarily research. Certainly their finding at $1.8 bn is an outlier even at 2018’s big scale–but with Alphabet/Google as a parent and A-list partners, the risk is minimal. Mobihealthnews, Crunchbase

FDA clearance of Verily’s Study Watch. Late last week, Verily announced that their Study Watch was given a 510(k) FDA clearance. It records, stores, transfers and displays single-channel ECG. To date, there are no plans to use it beyond a handful of research studies primarily on cardiac disease. Mobihealthnews. Meanwhile, Google, not Verily, paid Fossil $40 million for a still under development smartwatch technology to fit into Google’s Ware OS area. It’s not known whether it is health related, but their CEO admitted that it was based on tech from the Misfit acquisition–and Misfit was focused on health tech. After the sale closing, it is predicted that some Fossil R&D staff will move over to Google. Back in 2015, Fossil paid $260 million for Misfit and their fitness tech but generally has stayed in the conventional smartwatch area. The story broke in Wareable. Also Mobihealthnews.

Can Big Pharmas hiring of digital execs actually ‘reimagine medicine’?

Reimagination or hallucination? In recent weeks, both Glaxo Smith Kline and now Novartis have hired digital analytics and marketing executives out of non-healthcare businesses to lead their digital transformation. For GSK, Karenann Terrell joined in the new position of chief digital and technology officer from six years as chief information officer for Walmart and CIO for pharma Baxter International. From Sainsbury’s Argos, Bertrand Bodson will be assuming the chief digital officer title at Novartis without any previous healthcare experience.

Both are expected to be transformative, disruptive, and ‘reimagine medicine’. Ms. Terrell’s experience and accomplishments appear to be the closest fit to her GSK’s job expectations of integrating digital, data, and analytics strategy with enhancing clinical trials and drug discovery, as well as improving professional and consumer interactions. Novartis’ mission for Mr. Bodson aims even higher. In addition to these, he will be ‘transforming our business model using digital technologies’, ‘reimagine (sic) medicine by leveraging digital on behalf of millions of patients and practitioners’, and ‘leading cultural change’.

Both companies have good starts in advanced technologies–GSK in AI, sensor technologies for managing COPD, and a medical device mobile app; Novartis with ‘smart pill’ Proteus, a pilot with heart medication Entresto tied to monitoring and coaching, and through its Alcon subsidiary with Google, a wired-up contact lens that detects blood glucose [TTA 17 July 14]. However, this last appears to be stalled in trials and Alcon on the block. According to the FT, Novartis is feeling the pressure to develop more digital partnerships, such as Novo Nordisk’s teaming with Glooko and Sanofi with Verily Life, all in diabetic management. Acquisitions may also be the way forward.

A significant impediment to all this integration is consumer and professional trust. If too closely tied to a pharmaceutical company or appearing to be too self-serving, remote monitoring and counseling may not be trusted to be in the patient’s (or doctor’s) best interest or objective as to better approaches. The overuse of analytics, for instance in counseling or patient direction, may be perceived as violating patient privacy–creeping out the patient isn’t helpful. The bottom line: will these digital technologies serve the patient and maintain medical best practices–or best serve the pharmaceutical company’s interests?

This Editor doesn’t question these individuals’ ability, but the organizations’ capability for change. But count this Editor as a skeptic on whether one or two digital execs can marshal the bandwidth and the internal credibility to transform these lumbering, complex, regulated, and long cycle businesses. Big Retail is fast moving by comparison. PMLive 31 July (GSK), 13 Sept (Novartis)  Hat tip to TTA alumna Toni Bunting

Diabetes management: the Next Big Health Tech Thing?

Big Data? Passé. Health IT security and hacking? At a peak. So what’s the Next Big Thing? If you’re tracking where the money’s going, it’s diabetes management. This week saw the joint venture Onduo formed by the controversial [TTA 6 Apr] life sciences-focused Verily (Google Alphabet) and Big Pharma Sanofi with a nest egg of $500 million. Onduo will be combining devices with services to help Type II diabetics. Based upon CEO Joshua Riff’s statements to MedCityNews, their platforms are yet to be developed, but “will be a digital platform that will involve software, hardware, and very importantly service” to change patient behaviors. Partnerships with Sutter Health in Northern California and Allegheny Health Network of western Pennsylvania will test their approaches in a clinical setting. Xconomy, Reuters

Verily’s other diabetes project include the £540 million bioelectronics partnership announced in August with UK-based GSK in Galvani Electronics [TTA 3 Aug] with a focus on inflammatory, metabolic and endocrine disorders, including Type II diabetes. With Dexcom, Verily is also building an inexpensive, smaller next-gen continuous glucose monitoring sensor; Mr Riff was coy about whether this sensor would be used but allowed that sensors might be used in Onduo’s approaches. Verily is also developing the well-known glucose-reading contact lens with Novartis [TTA 1 Sep 15].

Also this week, Glooko and Sweden’s Diasend announced their merger (more…)

Alphabet action versus diabetes with Life Sciences’ contact lens and Sanofi

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/google-contacts_1401174_616.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /] Monday’s Big Story. As previously reported [TTA 25 Aug], the new Google holding company Alphabet is bringing the Life Sciences group formerly under Google X into its own company, with a new name TBD. On Monday, Life Sciences and Paris-based pharma Sanofi announced a partnership on projects related to diabetes monitoring and treatment. According to BioSpace, “at least part of the partnership will be focusing on helping Life Sciences create small, Internet-based devices that either automatically adjust insulin levels, or make suggestions based on real-time monitoring. ”

Clearly Life Sciences’ raison d’etre includes a focus on this disease, others that may relate to it, and in developing devices that others may market. Your Editors have been tracking their research for well over a year. A roundup of Life Sciences’ partnerships include more than diabetes:

**Novartis division Alcon for the glucose sensing contact lens [TTA 17 July 14, patent report 27 Mar 15 ]

** DexCom to develop a Band-Aid sized wearable for glucose monitoring, announced 15 August

**A 10 year deal with Abbvie for age-related disease exploration (which relates to the accelerated aging associated with diabetes)

**Biogen for multiple sclerosis (MS) treatments

We continue to have doubts about the practicality of the contact lens and the viability of embedded sensors in lenses, as the eyes are extremely sensitive and especially vulnerable for those with diabetes. But directionally on this disease, which is expanding almost uncontrollably worldwide, the research and devices which Life Sciences can develop for a variety of companies looks promising. Business Insider, Re/Code, Digital Trends

Important: DHACA’s response to the RCP advice on medical apps

The Royal College of Physicians has just published app guidance that, according to EHI “doctors should only use medical apps with an official CE mark”. EHI goes on to clarify that the guidance “applies to medical apps that can be classed as medical devices, which are bound by EU law to carry the mark.”

The Digital Health & Care Alliance (DHACA), of which this reviewer is Managing Director, is extremely concerned that this advice may seriously impact on the beneficial use of medical apps in the UK as it places the onus of deciding whether an app is a medical device on individual clinicians, a decision that at times even experienced MHRA personnel can equivocate on.

As the original research done by this editor on the topic of medical app take-up demonstrated, clinicians (more…)

Medtronic, Covidien and what it might mean for digital health

“This acquisition will allow Medtronic to reach more patients, in more ways and in more places,” Medtronic Chairman and CEO Omar Ishrak

Cover the Earth? While the healthy Medtronic offer ($42.9 billion in cash and stock) for Ireland-headquartered Covidien plc is not a ‘digital health deal’, it does point to Medtronic’s strategy which includes digital health. There is of course the obvious: growth by acquisition and integration. Acquisitions require cash, and the highly controversial change of domicile to Ireland via ‘tax inversion’ will fatten the exchequer in two ways. First is through the lower overall Irish corporate tax versus the 35 percent US tax, one of the highest in the world. Second is much more flexibility in repatriating plentiful foreign earnings at lower Irish corporate rates rather than the high US rates which Medtronic has avoided. Third is increasing dividends, which can drive up stock price and investor interest. Of interest to the latter is also that Covidien adds horizontal (and global) competitive strength to Medtronic in the clinical area–surgical, vascular, respiratory and wound care.

More Ways-More Places. Not just staples and sutures, Covidien has developed its own advanced in-hospital mobile patient monitoring in Vital Sync as well as several hospital monitoring devices in their Nellcor line. In addition to technology collaboration, the next point of integration could then be with Medtronic’s post-acute telehealth devices from Cardiocom, purchased less than one year ago. We noted at the time that it gave Medtronic entreé into the “chronic condition management continuum– not only into telehealth via Cardiocom’s devices and hubs, but also their clinical and care management systems.”

Approval will take time. Both the US and UK, through various regulatory agencies, scuppered the Pfizer-AstraZeneca deal on similar tax domiciling and competitive grounds. If it does go through, there will be a lot of reorganization. But while it digests, this Editor will be watching Medtronic for its usual pattern of making smaller ‘more ways/more places’ deals in the interim with an eye to diversifying past US-taxable medical devices. One pointer is their just-announced partnering with Sanofi to develop drug delivery-medical device combinations and care management services for diabetes patients (MedCityNews).

Related reading: Medtronic hints at more acquisitions following $43 billion Covidien deal (MedCityNews); The Medtronic, Covidien Inversion Deal Is More About Dividends Than Tax (Forbes); Medtronic agrees to buy Covidien for $42.9b in cash, stock (Boston Globe); Medtronic’s $43B Covidien deal—and Irish tax move (CNBC)

 

‘Wired for health’, making case for mHealth

STSI (Scripps Translational Science Institute), directed by the famous Eric Topol, MD,  is undertaking a 200-person six-month research study to determine the results of telehealth monitoring for three conditions (diabetes, heart arrhythmia and high blood pressure) coupled with an active disease management program. Half of the survey group will receive a Withings Blood Pressure Monitor, an AliveCor Heart Monitor and an iBGStar Blood Glucose Meter delivered via Qualcomm Life’s 2net Hub and Platform to a web portal or mobile device; the remainder will not but will be part of the disease management program. Subjects will be drawn from Scripps Health employees and family, which to this Editor may be stacking the deck–most employees of a health system presumably are health-conscious.  Participants also include Scripps Health, HealthComp (third-party healthcare administrator which will monitor health status), Accenture and Sanofi Diabetes. Though the release promises ‘social networks’, the only reference this Editor could find is interactivity between the person and the health care team.  Scripps press release. MedCityNews  Hat tip to former QuietCare colleague José Molina (via LinkedIn)