I made this announcement to 56,667 members of the Digital Health group on LinkedIn. If you’re on LinkedIn, please do join the group, which allows you to opt in to receiving these announcements in addition to connecting with thousands of other global stakeholders in digital health. Note that I will continue to update this announcement up until sending out the final version via LinkedIn. I’m also now using Constant Contact to send an html and image-rich version of my announcements. You can subscribe to that version here.
My article in the Spring 2017 issue of Innovation & Tech Today is available for reading online: “Let’s Get Physical: How the Digital Age is Improving Health and Removing Costs”
I’ve published two issues of The Digital Health Newsletter since last week’s group announcement. I’ve copied and pasted the text from each newsletter below for better web-search (SEO) and archival purposes:
The Digital Health Newsletter for June 16
The Digital Health Newsletter for June 20
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The image below could be the first one shared publicly of J. Craig Venter’s digital-to-biological Converter (DBC). The system reconstructs binary digital representations of DNA using the (four-base pair) digitally-coded chemical building blocks of life: adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. As Venter explains it, the DBC is just like a printer in that it uses cassettes, but instead of colors, the cartridges hold bottles of chemicals.
The hope is that the DBC will one day be deployed in hospitals, clinics, businesses, and even homes so that if a viral outbreak hits, the specific vaccine can be rapidly developed and then sent digitally anywhere on the planet to stop pandemics in their tracks. For more, see the paper published in Nature Biotechnology: ” Digital-to-biological converter for on-demand production of biologics”
FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, just went all in on digital health. In a blog post, Dr. Gottlieb states that the agency will introduce a major initiative focused on fostering new innovation across its medical product centers with a critical aspect being a “Digital Health Innovation Plan”. The plan, he says, will include a “novel, post-market approach to how we intend to regulate these digital medical devices.” The intent is for developers to apply the FDA regulatory scheme on their own versus having to seek out the agency’s “position on every individual technological change or iterative software development.”
UK-based Thriva has raised £1.5M to scale its blood test-based health tracking platform that helps people reach peak fitness levels. The company plans to expand its offerings to include analysis of the gut (microbiome), heavy metals, and hormone levels. According to CEO Hamish Grierson, “In 5 years time we’ll look back and think it’s ludicrous how little most people knew about what was really happening inside their bodies. We’re motivated by a simple view: That the world would be a better place if more people felt it was OK to know their bodies. Your blood can tell an amazing story about your health. Our mission is to ensure that understanding and tracking your biochemistry becomes as normal as counting your steps or jumping on the weighing scales.”
Leroy Hood and Clayton Lewis’ Seattle-based startup Arivale has raised $13.6M to scale the company’s personalized health platform. The company uses health history and other personal data including genetic information to help people manage and improve their health. Similar to Thriva, Arivale analyzes blood and gut (microbiome) data. According to the company’s website, “The path to wellness isn’t a secret. It’s science.” and its program “takes an intimate and unprecedented look at some of the critical areas of your body and life—your DNA, blood and saliva, and lifestyle—to create a more complete picture of you and your wellness potential. Your Arivale Coach then translates the language of your body—your data—into specific, actionable recommendations to help you achieve your personal goals.”
Toronto-based Figure 1, aka “Instagram for doctors”, has raised an additional $10M. The company’s platform counts over 1 million healthcare professionals, who view medical conditions, discuss treatments, and teach one another. According to CEO Gregory Levey, “Anyone can join. In fact, we kid that it’s all journalists and VCs — people who are curious. But only medical professionals can post photos and make comments. Otherwise, you get a modified experience where you can see stuff but you can’t post or comment. If we verify you as a healthcare professional, you get access to different stuff, as well.”
San Francisco-based behavioral counseling digital therapeutics platform provider Omada Health has raised $50M. Health services company Cigna led the investment round and will also expand its partnership with the company. According to Omada CEO Sean Duffy, Cigna’s investment is “further validation that Omada’s behavior change approach to chronic disease prevention is driving real results in the real world. We look forward to working with the Cigna leadership to deliver personalized, adaptable chronic disease prevention to their membership.”
San Francisco-based sleep tracking system maker Rythm raised $11M. The company is planning to launch its Dreem machine headband that, according to its website “is a pioneering sleep solution that monitors, analyzes, and acts on your brain to enhance your sleep.” Moreover, it claims to have “taken years of sleep research and built highly effective audio programs that work in tandem with your mind and body to remove barriers that prevent you from falling asleep. As the Dreem headband can detect when you fall asleep, the sound gradually drown away so your sleep is never interrupted.”
San Diego-based Scientist.com raised $24M to continue growing its business providing “an Amazon-like approach to the business of hiring contract research organizations (CROs).” According to CEO Kevin Lustig, the company provides a way “to solve the fundamental problem facing the pharmaceutical industry, which is trying to do more with less. What Scientist.com can do is really transform the pre-clinical process of getting a drug to market.” Through its online system, he states that “you can get to clinical stage on a tenth of the money.”
Greenville-based ChartSpan Medical Technologies raised $16M to grow its patient care coordination services. According to the company’s website, “ChartSpan is a free, secure app empowering patients with the ability to organize, request and send their entire family’s health records (immunizations, medical, dental, vision, prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, x-rays, lab results, etc.) from their smartphone.”
Given that millions of people lack health insurance or have insufficient coverage, it should come as no surprise that almost half of all money raised via crowdfunding websites is for covering medical expenses. On GoFundMe, medical campaigns accounted for about $930M of the $2B raised on the site. And the same ratio holds true for YouCaring, where medical campaigns accounted for nearly half of the $800 million raised on the site. According to GoFundMe CEO Dan Saper, “Whether it’s Obamacare or Trumpcare, the weight of healthcare costs on consumers will only increase.”
Former director of the National Institute of Mental Health Tom Insel recently left Google/Alphabet’s Verily to join Mindstrong, a startup seeking to leverage smartphones and other tools in an effort to both diagnose and help treat people with mental health disorders. One of the first concepts the company plans to study is correlating keyboard use patterns with depression, psychosis, and mania. According to Insel, “Looking at speed, looking at latency or keystrokes, looking at error—all of those kinds of things could prove to be interesting.
For the first time ever, scientists have watched DNA being copied up-close. According to a statement by UC Davis, “Almost all life on Earth is based on DNA being copied, or replicated, and understanding how this process works could lead to a wide range of discoveries in biology and medicine.”
The headlines stating or implying that robots (AI and automation) will take all of our jobs seem to be never ending. But a new report from International Data Corporation (IDC) released by Salesforce predicts that AI will actually produce a net of about 800,000, up to a potential 2 million jobs by 2021. According to the report, “The forecast embodies an assumption that AI will lead to net-positive financial benefits, which will drive job growth. Some roles may be eliminated, and others will be created or enhanced, not unlike the change in jobs in IT departments during the advent of the cloud.”
This is true of previous great waves of sociocultural evolution, where new technologies and commensurate economic disruptions also created more jobs on net. The below graphic is from my keynote presentation.
Most recently in the United States, per-worker productivity has continued to improve with total employment keeping pace, that is at least until the most recent recession, which is explained by other factors.
This anomalous divergence of tracking trends (see graph at right) has spawned a canard that automation (also known as “productivity growth”) led to the loss of manufacturing jobs in recent, recessionary years in the United States. In fact, it was actually largely due to trade, as economist Dean Baker points out: “We have been seeing gains in productivity in manufacturing ever since we started manufacturing things. The extraordinary plunge in manufacturing jobs in the years 2000 to 2007 was due to the explosion of the trade deficit, which peaked at just under 6% of GDP ($1.2T in today’s economy) in 2005 and 2006. This was first and foremost due to the growth of imports from China during these years, although we ran large trade deficits with other countries as well.”
When it comes to employment in the U.S. healthcare industry, there were one million vacancies as of April. However, only half a million people were hired in the month. This is the largest absolute gap of any sector in terms of vacancy-to-hire rate. While there are jobs to be filled, many are low-skilled and low-paying, e.g. home and personal health care aides, which explains the tepid interest on the part of workers to fill them. The Department of Labor estimates that these types of roles will represent 70% of healthcare jobs in existence in 2024.
Given that there is no skills gap and automation has not had a negative impact on the overall number of jobs, it’s unlikely that healthcare will see resultant overall job losses from AI anytime soon. This supports Vinod Khosla’s statement that technology will disrupt and automate “physicians’ diagnostic, prescription and monitoring, which over time may approach 80% of total doctors’/internists’ time spent on medicine”, but it won’t necessarily create job losses or, as he puts it, it’s “not to say 80% of physicians will be replaced, but rather 80% of what they currently do might be replaced so the roles doctors/internists play will likely be different and focused on the human aspects of medical practice such as empathy and ethical choices.”
Apple was recently granted a patent for a potential Apple Watch feature to measure respiration rate using multi-band plethysmography. The company’s innovation seeks to overcome signal noise due to motion artifacts by receiving light information from two light sensors (one an emitter the other a sensor) that measure the perfusion of blood in the skin of a wearer.
Apple is also teaming with Health Gorilla to enable users to access their medical records on their iPhone. The records can also be shared with various healthcare providers as Health Gorilla states that it provides a “truly universal electronic medical record.” It’s presumed that this and other efforts will help to expand Apple’s CareKit and HealthKit platforms.
VR AND WEARABLE TECH
Xsens bodysuits—which are used primarily for game development and movies (including VR), but also in sports applications—are getting even better at motion capture. The sensors in the company’s updated bodysuits no longer get thrown off by metallic objects, so they can now be used to track movement in more diverse settings, including driving a car or skydiving. The suits have a self-contained power system lasting 10-12 hours and can even detect when people lie.
AxonVR has raised $2M and been granted a patent for haptic tech that can simulate life-like touch in VR. Users moving through a virtual environment will be able to feel the size, shape, weight, texture, and even the temperature of virtual objects. CEO Jake Rubin stated that the patent “provides comprehensive protection for the novel microfluidic technology at the heart of AxonVR’s HaptX Platform.”
Varjo’s new VR headset technology promises to rival the visual fidelity of the human eye. Designed primarily to provide creative professionals with a premium VR experience, the headset is capable of enabling users to see the 20/20 line in a digitally-rendered VR eye chart. By using a high-resolution OLED display and a lower-resolution panel, the headset can be used in applications like high-precision graphics work.
The German football association (DFB) is partnering with STRIVR to explore ways in which VR can change how sport is consumed as well as how it might help improve athletic performance. The STRIVR VR training system is claimed to have helped improve recollection of key concepts (by professional athletes using it in the United States) by more than 30%.
A company named Acurian is paying Walgreens for data so that it can then send Walgreens’ pharmacy customers recruitment letters based on the medications they’re using. The company apparently may also be gathering or deducing people’s health information by paying another company. which reportedly is able to determine the identity of website visitors based on the information they are searching for related to a medical condition.
Australia’s New South Wales Government plans to reveal details of a$536M digital health infrastructure spending plan. According to Finance Minister Victor Dominello, health ICT investment is the most exciting part of the new budget due to the potential it has to deliver both better health outcomes and drive efficiencies across the economy. Dominello says that the money represents “a huge investment in digital infrastructure in health.”
A new partnership between Monsanto and Atomwise seeks to protect crops with AI. Monsanto will use Atomwise’s technology and expertise in an effort to speed the discovery of molecules. It’s hoped that deep learning algorithms will cut the development time and cost for bringing a new pest- and disease-resistant crop to market.
Copyright © 2017 Paul Sonnier
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