All eyes have been on the U.S. since Donald Trump won the election last November. So far, outcomes have been mixed: on one hand, the Dow Jones Index has witnessed a historical surge since his election win, rising from just below 18,000 to above 21,000. The U.S. Dollar Index has seen similar benefits, strengthening from just below 97 to nearly 102 in early April. While these factors play along with Trump’s campaign slogan to “Make America Great Again,” not all policy changes were welcomed and many have seen substantial criticism. Continue reading
McDonald’s, the world’s largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, distributed fitness tracking wristbands as Happy Meal toys. Distribution of the fitness trackers began on August 9, 2016 and lasted until August 17, 2016, after which the company issued a voluntary safety recall.
- McDonald’s offered activity tracking wearables with 500-calorie Happy Meals as a replacement for traditional toys. The activity tracker, dubbed “Step-iT,” came in six colors and could count steps and blink according to the speed at which the wearer moved.
- The company received several dozen reports of skin irritation and burns following usage of the Step-iT trackers.
- McDonald’s discontinued distribution of the devices on August 17, 2016, a little over a week after they were initially launched. A total of 29 million units were distributed across the U.S. and Canada during this period.
- The company issued a voluntary safety recall. Consumers were advised to return the Step-iT band in return for a replacement Happy Meal toy and either a free yogurt tube or a free bag of sliced apples.
- McDonald’s is now “aggressively investigating this issue” and has yet to pinpoint the reason for the incidents.
Following the recent acquisition of Withings, Nokia has announced a partnership with Helsinki University Hospital, a leading hospital specializing in neurological diseases, to create solutions for outpatient care. The first project in this collaboration will focus on remote patient monitoring to enable doctors to track the rehabilitation progress and gain access to the critical information they need, when they need it, regardless of the location of the patient. Continue reading
“Pokemon Go,” an augmented reality (AR) game developed by Niantic for mobile devices, has made a big splash in the news during the past few weeks. The game, which allows users to catch Pokemon in the virtual world as they travel the real world, has been praised for its ability to get users to be more active. The success of the game can be clearly seen in its large user base: As of a month following the release of the app, the game was downloaded by more than 75 million people worldwide. For comparison, Fitbit has 9.5 million active users. What is it about “Pokemon Go,” then, that enabled it to gain 7.5x more users than Fitbit in a fraction of the time? Continue reading
While traditional medicine puts an emphasis on affected organs or systems, digital solutions are exploiting commonalities between seemingly unrelated medical conditions. These commonalities are redrawing the disease landscape, thereby impacting medical care and disease management. To understand these commonalities, a disease-connection framework is needed between the six key facets of digital health – monitoring, diagnostics, predictive analytics, therapeutics, assistive technology, and behavior augmentation – and key conditions of today and the future. For simplicity, we can focus on 12 conditions with a wide range of causes, symptoms, and severity levels as examples. Critically, while these conditions may seem unrelated on the surface, over 65 unique connections can be made through digital health’s six key facets, thereby defining where the best opportunities lie and where white spaces exist.
Of all disease management aspects, behavior augmentation has the most connections among the 12 diseases shown. That is because behavioral risk factors are common to numerous diseases, including diet and exercise, for example. While behavior augmentation has the most connections, it ties with both monitoring and assistive technologies for the most diverse set of connections, or the most types of connections. This is not surprising, as solutions that fall into these three categories – monitoring, assistive technology, and behavior augmentation – are not necessarily required to be disease-specific, and can therefore be applied across the disease spectrum.
Looking instead from a disease perspective, epilepsy is most connected, with 17 facet-based connections to other diseases. Continue reading
Digital health’s focus on the “quantified self” and on providing convenient access to medical information and expertise on-the-go has led to the development of over 165,000 mobile health applications available through either the Apple or Android app stores. This number is on the rise, and it is estimated that 58% of smartphone users have downloaded mobile health applications onto their smart device. While many in number, most mobile health applications have a common thread: they exploit existing functionalities of the smart device – whether it be communication, documentation, display, or connectivity – for new purposes. These applications use the smartphone or tablet device in one of four ways: As a means of communication, particularly for telemedicine; as a tool for documentation, particularly for keeping track of self-reported data such as consumed calories; as a means of information display, e.g. to educate patients on their condition; or as a means of control, e.g. external devices such as insulin pumps and blood pressure cuffs. With these applications consumers use the phone’s native functions in new ways: they can video chat not only their friends, but also their doctors; and they can control through Bluetooth not only the song choice in their car, but also their amount of insulin administered.
More recently there has been a growing fifth category that looks to use mobile phones as a health device, as opposed to a communication and record keeping device. Applications in this category utilize hardware components in smart devices, particularly the camera, display, microphone, or motion sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer) for health purposes. These mobile applications, examples of which are included in the table below, do not re-purpose native functionalities of the smart device, but rather they exploit hardware components to attribute to the device new functionalities, use cases, and applications. Now, a smartphone or tablet is not only a communication device; it is a melanoma diagnostic tool [(see SkinVision’s profile) client registration required], a stethoscope (see iStethoscope), and a stool analysis tool (see PoopMD) that also has built-in communication and connectivity protocols.
Up until now, mobile app developers have been thinking of innovative ways to exploit streamlined hardware components in mobile devices for medical purposes. Continue reading
In 2015, Lux Research analysts profiled 1,189 companies across 20 different emerging technologies. As the year end approaches, we polled the analyst team to select the top 10 companies we covered in 2015 that are poised to make a significant impact on their target industries. These companies may be targets for partnership, investment, or acquisition, but their success also points to new growth areas and business opportunities that clients can capitalize on.
As always, each firm gets a “Lux Take” that ranges from “Strong Caution” to “Strong Positive,” to provide a bottom-line assessment of its prospects, with a “Wait and See” rating for companies that still face too much uncertainty for a definitive call. Full access to the detailed information and analysis in the profiles is for clients only, but the list with a brief explanation of each is available here for everyone.
- NeuroSky (Positive – BioElectonics; Sensors) — NeuroSky develops a number of bioelectrical signal detection and processing systems, most notably its electroencephalography (EEG) sensors that have enabled mind-reading brain-computer interface devices like Uncle Milton’s Star Wars Force Trainer – and will also enable future diagnostic and monitoring solutions as health care shifts to digital technologies.
- Organica Water (Positive – Water) — In addition to providing significant reductions in energy consumption, sludge production, and overall footprint for wastewater treatment, Organica builds low-cost greenhouses around its treatment plants to reduce odor, allowing it to locate plants closer to wastewater sources and enabling cost-effective reuse within cities.
- PFP Cybersecurity (Strong Positive – Connected Objects and Platforms) — PFP uses a physics-based approach to detecting cyber threats by analyzing the electrical patterns of processors, ideal for securing for Internet of Things (IoT) devices that can’t support modern security software or are limited by memory or compute constraints.
- Norsk Titanium (Positive – Advanced Materials) — 3D printing is best known for producing customized but pricey plastic pieces – Norsk’s plasma arc deposition allows it to 3D-print parts from titanium that are up to 70% cheaper than those made via conventional machining methods, due to greater material utilization.
- Nutrigenomix (Positive – Food & Nutrition) — Offering genetic testing to provide individualized recommendations on seven specific dietary components, Nutrigenomix is a step in the right direction for personalized nutrition.
- Fulcrum BioEnergy (Positive – Alternative Fuels) — Biojet fuel and renewable diesel are going to be major plays in 2016 and Fulcrum is well positioned to make both fuels from municipal solid waste (MSW) – it has strong partnerships along its entire value chain, and is the only Fischer-Tropsch biojet process developer with proven production at some scale.
- Zerlux (Positive – Exploration and Production) — The use of lasers in the oil and gas industry isn’t widely known, but Hungarian player Zerlux is a leader, with high-powered lasers for well stimulation, hard-scale removal, and subsea pipeline remediation.
- Hillcrest Labs (Positive – Sensors) — As the number of sensors in products from cars to mobile phones continues to grow, sensor fusion – integrating the interpretation of data from different sensors – is becoming more critical; strategic relationships with Bosch, Atmel, and ARM position Hillcrest to be a dominant player in this market.
- ENS Europe (Wait and See – Intelligent Buildings, Sustainable Building Materials) — More efficient electrostatic filters from ENS Europe can help clean indoor air, much like a HEPA filter does, but the technology has the potential to scale up to clean smog and address other city-wide air quality issues.
- AgDNA (Positive – Agro Innovation) — Finding successful business models for precision agriculture has been challenging, but AgDNA has been able to get traction licensing its technology – which integrates data from existing equipment into a decision-support system for growers – to OEMs like John Deere.
Other notable companies nominated by the analysts earned an honorable mention:
- Alsentis (Positive – Wearable and Flexible Electronics; Sensors) — Touch screens don’t work in high-noise environments – with wet surfaces or gloved hands – but Alsentis is changing that with its multi-touch sensor chips, used now in industrial and automotive applications with planned release for consumer devices in 2016.
- Elevance Renewable Sciences (Positive – Bio-based Materials and Chemicals, Alternative Fuels) — Elevance already has commercial scale production of specialty chemicals from crude palm oil (CPO), and is planning to expand by building or retrofitting plants in the U.S. and in Malaysia – notably deploying its technology outside the “conventional” regions of Europe and the Americas.
- Mapdwell (Wait and See – Solar) — Using Lidar data and an online portal, Mapdwell allows consumers to estimate the solar potential of any rooftop in cities it covers, helping to bring down soft costs associated with customer education, targeting, and system design.
- Sakti3 (Caution – Energy Storage) — Solid-state batteries are one of the key technologies for enabling higher density energy storage beyond the current Li-ion batteries today; while its unproven production process is reason for caution, its acquisition by Dyson later in the year could give it the boost needed to make the leap to commercial production.
- EasyMile (Positive – Autonomous Systems 2.0) — Lightweight, driverless, electric automobiles could revolutionize urban transport and change the current paradigm of car ownership. EasyMile – a joint venture of Ligier Group and Robosoft – is developing autonomous shuttles that could be the basis for future personal rapid transit systems.
Attending conferences is a key way to learn about innovations in today’s fast-growing health technology industry. In order to get a comprehensive view of the Digital Health and Wellness conference landscape, we compiled a global list of conferences in the space. In total, there are 86 conferences in Digital Health and Wellness and information on them is available here. Although many other health care conferences exist, these selected events showcase technology innovation specific to Digital Health and Wellness.
The field of Digital Health encompasses a wide spectrum of themes, including Diagnosis, Consumer Health & Wellness, Therapeutics, Monitoring, Remote Health, and Health IT. Conferences in this insight are classified according to these disciplines. With 34 events, Consumer Health & Wellness will be the most widely covered subject for health care conferences in 2016. Twenty-nine conferences will cover Diagnostics, 23 Remote Health, 22 Health IT, 15 Monitoring, and 14 Therapeutics. The graph below shows the theme-specific conference distribution (Note that a single conference can cover more than one topic, and therefore be accounted for in more than one bar.)
While Digital Health and Wellness conferences span all major geographic regions, with 52 events (or 60% of the total), the largest number of conferences will be hosted in the Americas. In contrast, only 24 take place in EMEA and 10 in APAC.
Conference landscapes serve as a representation of the focus of a given industry, and with the hype surrounding wearables like Fitbit and Jawbone, it is not surprising that Consumer Health & Wellness will be a large focus area for 2016 health care conferences. However, with the expansion of Digital Health from the consumer to the clinical setting and its increasing role in tackling traditional medical problems, expect Digital Health conference activity to shift towards disease care and treatment focus areas in the future. Diagnostics, one such focus area, will already be drawing attention in 2016 Digital Health conferences, perhaps showcasing the decentralization of health care from large hospitals to local clinics and patients’ homes, creating a need for new, more portable and affordable disease diagnosis techniques. As the field of Digital Health matures and more digital Remote Health, Health IT, Monitoring, and Therapeutic technologies emerge, expect to see fewer traditional medical conferences and a greater number of conferences covering these digital disciplines.
It started with a vision to solve major health challenges facing mankind by using powerful computing – Google formed Calico in 2013 to develop technologies to tackle health issues related to aging and, in parallel, continued working on other technologies aimed at chronic diseases like diabetes through its secretive Google X lab. Over the last several years, we heard of a nanodiagnostics platform, a cardiac and activity monitor, a contact-lens-based continuous glucose monitoring device, and the Baseline Study (an effort by Google to collect genetic and molecular information from hundreds of people to establish a baseline of a healthy human body). With the recent corporate restructuring, they saw a creation of the parent company, Alphabet. They told the news that one of the entities under its umbrella will be Google Life Sciences, led by Andy Conrad as the CEO.
In and of itself, the creation of a separate Life Sciences company indicates an intent to start generating revenues in a relatively short term. However, even more intriguing is one of the first steps the newly formed company made – on September 15, 2015 they announced that they hired Thomas R. Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, to head the company’s efforts in neurology and mental health (client registration required). Dr. Insel has spent more than a decade at the helm of the agency and has recently spearheaded U.S. President Obama’s BRAIN initiative.
The official line is that he will lead initiatives aimed at finding more effective solutions for early detection and prevention of mental disorders and neurological diseases – all very noble causes – but we wonder if there are more financially tangible underlying motives behind the hire. One project Dr. Insel discussed is detecting psychosis early using language analytics by picking up the semantic signature of the disorganized thinking characteristic of this disease. Other ideas revolve around utilizing technology to identify and more precisely address the sources of depression and anxiety, including social interactions or sleep disruption. A common theme for all these ideas is continuous tracking of an individual’s brain activity and mental state to enable physiological data analytics-based behavioral studies. There we get to the true potential of the technology – in addition to improving health, this can also be used to enhance consumer behavior profiling in the advertising industry. According to Statista, Google controlled almost 10% of the half-trillion-dollar advertising industry in 2012. This is, in our opinion, the right segment of the medical industry for Google to focus on, as having a technology that can “read” consumers’ minds can only help the company increase its market share. It also won’t hurt that neurological diseases are one of the fastest growing medical conditions with an annual economic burden in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
We will leave with a discussion of the potential implications of an advertising giant controlling the sensitive health care information of a large number of individuals for another time.
What They Said
Lux recently attended BIOMEDevice Boston 2015 and the Wireless Medical Devices breakout session. During a panel titled “Product Development Opportunities for a Highly Regulated Environment,” panelist Rick Hampton, Wireless Communications Manager for Partners Healthcare, expressed his generally cautionary approach to wireless device integration at the major Massachusetts healthcare provider. Hampton said, “We treat every wirelessly connected device as a potential vulnerability in the hospital, so every device must use the WPA2-PSK certification protocol and unique 24-bit security keys.” He went on to add that medical device companies should avoid adding wireless communications on devices that do not require them, such as large, stationary equipment. Furthermore, when asked about his openness to iPhone and other smartphone-based medical devices, Rick said that Partners would need to individually encrypt each device and not allow any outside server connection.
What We Think
The sentiment shared above should not surprise those developing novel technologies for medical environments. Healthcare providers are notoriously conservative when faced with technology that could compromise their patients’ health or privacy, and rightfully so for moral and regulatory reasons. More importantly, Hampton’s emphasis on acting as a gatekeeper for wireless devices, only allowing those deemed necessary and safe from tampering to connect to the hospital’s wireless network, presents a major barrier to adoption for wirelessly connected medical devices on the whole. Such a policy would seriously damper the potential value of any smartphone-based devices for hospitals. However, those developing wirelessly connected medical devices should look increasingly to the home and less stringent clinical environments, such as doctor’s offices and long-term care facilities, as the major avenue for adopting their products. As healthcare providers and patients increasingly focus on preventive care models, general technology adoption will grow much faster in non-hospital settings, presenting a relatively open and potentially more lucrative market going forward. Those focused on wirelessly connected devices should accept that the barriers to adoption make the hospital market a relatively risky proposition compared to less-centralized care markets, despite the latter’s relative immaturity.