Digital health news update: CVS kicks off a scramble for Amazonian scale

December 12, 2017 Matthew Arnold

A periodic roundup of news of note in digital health and pharma from the team at DRG Digital

by Matthew Arnold, Principal Analyst

  • CVS announced plans to buy Aetna, pitching the deal as an effort to make CVS’s vast retail pharmacy footprint a new “front door” for American healthcare, and to complement its bricks-and-mortar empire with the use of remote care and big data to improve the healthcare customer experience (and with it, adherence and outcomes, yadda, yadda).
     
  • Aetna rival UnitedHealth promptly took some of the air out of that balloon with its announcement that it was buying the primary and urgent care business of DaVita Inc., which serves 1.7 million patients through 300 clinics throughout 6 states, thereby greatly expanding its provider network.
     
  • Lurking in the background of these vertical integration deals is, of course, Amazon, which could bust into the healthcare business in any number of ways – by buying an insurer, or a PBM, or a retail pharmacy chain like Rite Aid – and could simply test the waters by distributing medical devices but not drugs, as some readings of legal filings suggest.
     
  • Another retail pharmacy giant, Walgreens, is rebranding to appeal to younger demographics with “beyond the counter” offerings (think wellness and personal care).
     
  •  Apple is making its cardiovascular monitoring aspirations for Apple Watch official with the launch of the Apple Heart Study app, “a first-of-its-kind research study using Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor to collect data on irregular heart rhythms and notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation.” Apple is partnering with Stanford Medical for the real world study, which will make use of the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor, which uses green LED lights to detect blood flow through the wrist. Anyone over age 22 with an Apple Watch Series 1 or later can participate in the study, which the company’s COO hopes “can save a lot of lives.”
     
  • FDA issued a draft guidance on decision support tools for patients and professionals. The upshot, per Fierce: “analytics technology intended to support clinical diagnoses that provides room for a physician to independently review the basis of the software’s recommendations would not be regulated by the FDA … However, software that analyzes medical images or laboratory or medical tests would remain under FDA oversight.” It’s a gray area in which companies “have been begging for clarity” for years, but some are disappointed with FDA.
     
  • FDA also released a first-ever guidance on the use of 3D printing for medicines and medical devices (!).
     
  • Akili Labs put a video game designed to treat ADHD through clinical trials and announced that it has established effectiveness at improving attention and impulse control among 348 children with ADHD. The tablet-based game, Project: Evo, was designed “as the delivery system for targeted algorithms that act as a medical device to activate certain neural networks,” writes Stat. “That’s a different category than existing apps and games that help patients manage their disease, such as those that deliver cognitive behavioral therapy or help patients track symptoms or monitor their glucose levels.” Next stop: FDA, as the company seeks approval to market the first prescription video game.
     
  • Get ready for a glut of immunotherapy products – there are over 2,000 in development.
     
  • President Trump nominated a new surgeon general, Indiana health commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams, to replace Dr. Vivek Murthy, an Obama appointee who was shown the door in April. Adams is an anesthesiologist, and has been outspoken on the need to address the opiate abuse epidemic (as he was in pushing needle exchanges when an HIV epidemic ripped through a rural southern Indiana county a few years back). His fellow Hoosier Seema Verma is head of CMS.
     
  • Pfizer’s Viagra is finally facing loss of exclusvity. MM&M has a great capsule history (ducks) of the iconic diamond-shaped pill and how it changed the way prescription medications were marketed in far-reaching.
     
  • FDA approved Mylan’s biosimilar of Roche’s breast cancer drug Herceptin, making it the second oncology biosimilar to be approved in the U.S.
     
  • Scenes from the coming convergence of AR, VR and AI: soon you’ll scroll your phone over an orange to learn what grove it came from; VR as “Google Analytics for your brain” and more. 
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