Digital health news update: Symptom search revamp and a digital assist for the president's precision medicine push

July 14, 2016

Author: Matthew Arnold, Principal Analyst

 

  • Google’s revamped symptom search function, just rolled out in the US for mobile, aims to get consumers better health search info but “will have no interaction with ads.”
  • An arm of the President’s personalized medicine initiative with use “will use mobile apps, biosensors, the internet and more to keep tabs on key health metrics for 1 million Americans,” and the head of the NIH says it will revolutionize the practice of medicine.
  • Facebook announced a change to their algorithm that will prioritize posts from friends and family over those from followed pages or brands, sharply depressing publishers’ organic reach. Incidentally, advertising baron Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP said Facebook will be the network’s second-biggest media partner after Google by 2017, and the Google-Facebook media hegemony was the dispirited talk of the town at the recent Cannes festival (AKA ad nerd prom). Meanwhile, Snapchat shook up the image-sharing space by introducing Memories, a function which allows users to save images for later use, thereby complicating the channel’s ephemeral, in-the-moment brand values and edging into Instagram’s turf.
  • Just when you thought the once-hyped augmented reality was going to go the way of Google Glass, Pokemon Go has mainstreamed it into an overnight fitness craze.
  • There’s a scramble on to develop tech solutions that diagnose disease based on speech – Watson’s in the chase, as are a number of scrappy startups.
  • Pfizer is running a 190-patient clinical trial testing an app for RA patients which incorporates elements of remote care. The app “will deliver daily surveys to participants about their pain, function, and disease activity. A population health manager will view the cohort's survey answers on a dashboard app and connect patients with their healthcare providers as needed.”
  • A study aiming to test the feasibility of using decentralized (and largely-digital) patient data in lieu of traditional clinical trials came up short on recruitment, citing high patient interest but low uptake due to disengaged providers.
  • Patients are being caught up in a battle between insurers and providers over who will pay for care – and being stuck with surprise bills for thousands of dollars, in some cases. The move to narrow networks is to blame, as patients inadvertently see out-of-network doctors, including ER docs, and get hit with a case of sticker shock as a result.
  • GSK’s innovative virtual reality migraine simulator for Excedrin Migraine is winning kudos – and picked up some Cannes Lion Awards.
  • The World Health Organization plans to convene stakeholders to develop a “fair pricing model” for prescription drugs that will incorporate an understanding of what’s driving price hikes as well as R&D costs. Meanwhile, Bill Gates, whose foundation spends a ton on medicines for the developing world, says the U.S. system of drug pricing “is better than most other systems one can imagine.” “The drug companies are turning out miracles, and we need their R&D budgets to stay strong,” Gates told Bloomberg.
  • President Obama authored a journal article, of sorts – a scholarly assessment of his Affordable Care Act published in JAMA that somewhat controversially credited the law with holding down healthcare spending and much less controversially, with greatly reducing the number of uninsured Americans. He also called for a public insurance option, a plank of Bernie Sanders’ campaign that Hillary Clinton has now embraced, and blasted pharma industry profit-seeking, saying greater transparency around drug manufacturers’ R&D costs is needed, as well as direct price negotiating powers for CMS.
  • As part of their Get Old corporate advertising campaign, Pfizer is crowdsourcing ideas through a contest with crowdfunding company Indiegogo.
  • Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the scandalized blood testing tech firm Theranos, has been banned from operating a medical laboratory for two years. She has, the Wall Street Journal reports, “continued to put a positive spin on her embattled blood-testing company – while broadly keeping employees in the dark on many issues – even as Theranos’ regulatory and legal troubles mount.”
  • How hot is the oncology space right now? Medivation, which has candidates in the pipeline for prostate and breast cancer, is speed-dating Sanofi, Pfizer, Celgene and maybe a half-dozen other companies, according to reports.
  • However, one of the most potentially revolutionary cancer treatments currently in development, Juno Therapeutics’ CAR-T treatment, which involves weaponizing a patient’s T-cells and injecting them back into the body, hit some speed bumps following several patient deaths. The FDA quickly gave Juno the green light to proceed after pulling a chemo add-on from the trial, but a cloud of doubt has settled over the emerging class of candidates.
  • FDA’s authority to regulate promotion of off-label or unapproved uses for prescription drugs is eroding, as courts keep ruling against the agency on free speech grounds, and could be redefined by legislators in next year’s reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, the mechanism by which pharmas fund the bulk of FDA’s drug-regulating work. Here’s a policy brief on the topic.
  • Health advertising giant Publicis held a tech innovation challenge and funded, among other things, a startup working on the use of image recognition tools to detect skin cancer.
  • Type 2 diabetes has skyrocketed among Americans under the age of 20 over the past decade.
  • Meanwhile, on the other end of the age spectrum, CMS is moving toward reimbursement of digital diabetes prevention tools.
  • Read Stat’s Game of Genomes series on a science reporter’s journey to unlock the mysteries encoded in his genes.
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