News roundup: LabCorp CRO boosts Medable, Propeller Health gains 510(k), EU’s 34 medtech startups, Amazon’s healthcare moves, Google’s Arizona privacy lawsuit

It does seem ages since our last one! One major winning category for digital health is clinical trials. LabCorp has one of the largest CROs (contract research organization), Covance. LabCorp has partnered with startup Medable, a Palo Alto-based company that decentralizes the gathering and analysis of clinical trial data from recruited participants through apps and telemedicine. Mobihealthnews  Confirming this trend: earlier this month, Medable cleared a $25 million venture round from GSR Ventures. Crunchbase  This does make rival CRO PRA Health Science’s pickup of Care Innovations from Intel late last year, for an undisclosed amount, look like a prescient (and likely a bargain) purchase.

Propeller Health, which specializes in digital respiratory health with sensors connected to inhalers and apps, gained 510(k) FDA clearance for a sensor/app for use with AstraZeneca’s Symbicort inhaler. This medication is used for asthma and COPD. It does not seem that long ago (2014) that the startup was at trade shows like NYeC and mHealth Summit with an exceedingly modest display of popups and brochures. Their 2019 acquisition by ResMed for the stunningly premium price of $225 million made news in late 2018. Mobihealthnews

In Europe, COVID-19 has boosted at least 34 medtech startups, including 11 in UK alone, followed by Switzerland and Sweden. This is based on a study by Oxford University data visualization spin-out Zegami. One of them happens to be Zegami on a project in using a limited dataset to distinguish between x-rays of COVID-19 infections and infections caused by viral or bacterial pneumonia, as well as images of healthy lungs. On the list are (naturally) Babylon Health and the slightly mysterious Medopad. Sweden’s Kry (LIVI in the UK) is also on the list. Kry/LIVI last made some news when Juliet Bauer of NHS Digital ankled to Kry in early 2019, Med-techInnovationNews, Mobihealthnews

Amazon’s latest stretches into healthcare are noted in a brief Becker’s Health IT article which notes AWS’ deals with Cerner and addition of healthcare-specific features with hospitals using AWS. Mayo Clinic has partnered with Alexa for voice responsive ‘Mayo Answers’. Some Amazon employees now have access to telehealth benefits (this Editor wonders why not all, beyond those Seattle warehouse workers). Industry research company CB Insights is projecting that Amazon’s next move will be a benefits marketplace for employers and payers. Meanwhile, their partnership with JP Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, Haven, has stumbled with its CEO Atul Gawande, MD, leaving the post to return to practice after less than two years. Executive turnover has been high, and the company has yet to announce a major initiative. FierceHealthcare 

Meanwhile, Arizona’s attorney general has sued Google for violating state privacy laws. Seems like Android users are trackable, even if they turn off location on their phones, through Google apps like Maps and Weather. The lawsuit also charges that Google changed its default tracking settings without informing users, using data for targeted ads. Becker’s Health IT 

Some more views on (and by) Atul Gawande on the JP Morgan-Berkshire-Amazon health combine

Often the best indicator of the success of a person in a new venture is to examine their own words. An interview with Dr. Gawande in STAT a few days after the Big Reveal of his new position as CEO of the JPM-BH-Amazon healthcare nonprofit indicates that he has an excellent grasp of the task before him. His main points:

  • Before accepting the position, he established that the healthcare company would be an independent entity and not part of the three companies
  • It is also non-profit and not expected to return money to those companies
  • He will be devoting 100 percent to the new job and have it be the number one priority, but he will be with patients and his surgery through at least the summer
  • “My job for them is to figure out ways that we’re going to drive better outcomes, better satisfaction with care, and better cost efficiency with new models that can be incubated for all. That is a tall fricking order. But what they’re saying to me is that resources won’t be the problem. Human behavior will be. And achieving scale will be.”

His speech at AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans) annual meeting a day after the announcement pointed out that unnecessary tests and treatments account for about 30 percent of healthcare spending, that our system fails the chronically ill in their needs to be asked about what they want to achieve through treatment, and for doctors to deliver the right and considerate treatment especially in end-of-life care. “Precision medicine has to be matched by precision delivery.”  Healthcare Finance

For the 1 million employees of the three companies, there may not be a lot of chronic illness or end-of-life consideration (people tend to fall out of the workforce under those circumstances). What kind of model will apply to them and save on the 25 percent of estimated healthcare spending which is wasted? The article in Forbes by another ‘big thinker’, Robert Pearl MD, sees a 5-10 year time frame for Dr. Gawande’s task: “…to fundamentally change how healthcare is structured, paid for and provided. He was hired to disrupt the industry, to make traditional health plans obsolete, and to create a bold new future for American healthcare.”

But in the meantime, how will those bank tellers, packers, IT workers, ice cream slingers, and railway workers fare with their health? What will they benefit from in two to three years time? And will the long-term backing and the promises to Dr. Gawande remain after Mr. Dimon, Mr. Buffett, and Mr. Munger (of BH, and possibly why Dr. Gawande is on board) are gone?