Digital health news update: An Apple Watch a day, and Facebook puts the screws on advertisers

January 19, 2018 Matthew Arnold

by Matthew Arnold, Principal Analyst

  • Facebook is giving its news feed algorithm a major overhaul, deprioritizing branded content in favor of posts from family and friends. This means several things: One, digital publishers are largely locked out of Facebook’s walled garden unless they pay the entry fee; Two, marketers can no longer depend on “organic posts” and brand pages to drive engagement; Three, Facebook’s advertising rates are probably due for a steep hike; and Four, influencer strategy just got a whole lot more important in social marketing.
  • Practice Fusion, the pharma-friendly cloud EHR vendor, sold to Allscripts, the much-larger and relatively pharma-friendly enterprise EHR vendor, for $100 million – a massive letdown for investors (who plowed $157 million into the firm). Practice Fusion got into hot water with the feds a few years back over patient data privacy.
  • An Apple Watch-wearing lawyer credits the device with having saved his life when it woke him up while he was having a heart attack in his sleep. The 50-year-old had recently undergone a battery of stress tests due to a family history of heart disease and got a clean bill of health. Without the watch (and the HeartWatch app), he might not have caught the infarction – or woken up.
  • Apple explored incorporating a noninvasive glucose meter into its Apple Watch due to Steve Jobs’ frustration with finger-pricks – before pivoting to heart health. They’re still working on both the diabetes and cardiovascular fronts, though, aiming to incorporate glucose meter and EKG functionality into the wearable while partnering with outside companies like Alivecor (which makes an FDA-approved EKG band for the watch) and Dexcom (currently awaiting the nod from FDA to market its CGM with the Apple Watch). Omron is about to launch a rival BP-reading watch as well.
  • Each of the big tech giants – Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Intel and Microsoft, has irons in the fire of digital health, and each is playing to its strengths, The New York Times notes – Google in data, Apple in devices, etc.
  • People who use voice assistants use their smartphones less as a result, an Accenture/Harris Interactive survey suggests. Two-thirds of those surveyed agreed with the statement: “Since I got my digital voice assistant device, I use my smartphone for fewer activities.” Among that group, more than half (56%) used their smartphones less for search.
  • Drug price transparency startup GoodRx has developed an Alexa Skill that lets Alexa users access its database hands-free. When activated (“Alexa, start GoodRx”), users give a drug name, and are then prompted to verify the dosage and formulation, after which Alexa tells them where they can find it at the lowest price, and gives a range of prices for different pharmacies.
  • HIPAA is holding up some applications of AI for healthcare – but there’s plenty of AI-enabled technology coming online. Nice roundup from Wired.
  • 23andMe is looking to recruit 100,000 people for a study into the genetic basis of weight loss. Big data!
  • The journal Nature has launched an instant must-read, the Eric Topol-edited npj Digital Medicine, and their inaugural spread includes a disquieting meta-analysis finding “limited evidence to substantiate claims” of remote monitoring’s impact on patient outcomes, raising some prickly questions about the utility of health trackers and other sensor tech.
  • GSK Chief Digital Officer Marc Speichert is ready for his close-up, now, Mr. DeMille, and he has some interesting things to say about digital content: “There’s a perception that people want everything shorter … once you get them to something that they’re really interested in, they actually want depth.”
  • Novo Nordisk and HITLAB awarded bragging rights in their innovation challenge (plus $50K) to Lighthouse, a startup developing voice-activated disease education for diabetes patients. Keep an eye on them, along with their fellow finalists My Diabetes Coach, T2D2 and Palette. Another one to watch: Pear Therapeutics, with its therapeutic apps.
  • Coming soon to a voice assistant near you: sponsored content. Amazon is working with P&G and other giants of consumer marketing to develop advertorial content for Alexa.
  • Remember the advertising jingle? It’s back as part of what ad nerds are dubbing “Sonic branding” – the use of audio tags as core component of brand identity in the age of voice assistants and hands-free computing.
  • GE and Roche are partnering to co-develop a clinical decision support tool for oncologists that draws on both companies’ data – GE’s imaging and monitoring data and Roche’s biomarker, tissue pathology and genomics data.
  • A group of large hospitals, frustrated with high prices even on some generics, is banding together to cut out not just the middleman but the manufacturer, as well, with plans to manufacture their own generics.
  • Speaking of middlemen and manufacturers, here’s an interesting update on how pharma’s efforts to redirect public ire over drug prices onto PBMs is going (TLDR; it’s working because it’s basically true).
  • In 2017, several pharmas, under fire for taking generous price hikes on all their medicines, in some cases repeatedly, vowed to hold price hikes to less than 10% -- and many rang in the new year with increases just a hair under that number.
  • Brace yourself for a tsunami of mega-mergers and acquisitions in pharma and biotech as companies flush with cash from U.S. tax cut legislation go shopping. Celgene is on a tear, having announced plans to buy Impact Biomedicines and opened talks to acquire Juno Therapeutics (both deals would bolster Celgene’s blood cancer portfolio). Takeda picked up cell therapy specialist TiGenix. Meanwhile, J&J looks to offloading its diabetes business, and Pfizer announced it would cut bait on its Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s efforts after a string of disappointing results, reorganizing its R&D efforts around four categories: oncology, inflammation/immunology, vaccines, and rare diseases/internal medicine.
  • J&J chief Alex Gorsky says pharma should get ready for an Amazon entry into healthcare; won’t say whether or not J&J is in talks with Amazon about potential partnerships. Hmm. Amazon, incidentally, is looking to hire a HIPAA compliance lead  (oh, no reason -- why do you ask?). And a host of companies, from pharmas to PBMs to distributors, tried to sound blasé about Amazon’s impending market entry at the JP Morgan confab. FDA chief Scott Gottlieb, on the other hand, says “the drug supply chain is ripe for disruption and there are margins that can be recaptured in ways that can also be beneficial to consumers.”
  • 2017 was a banner year for new drug approvals, with 92 new drugs (including generics) approved in the EU and 46 in the U.S., while China also took measures to speed approvals. Those U.S. approvals figures do not include the truly revolutionary new genetic treatments, which are tallied separately.
  • 2017 was also a banner year for DTC TV advertising in the U.S. – spend rose to $3.45 billion, led by Humira (341M), Lyrica ($216m) and (Xeljanz ($166m).
  • Stat’s crystal ball says that this is the year digital platforms finally begin to siphon off a bigger share of pharma marketing dollars. We agree!




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