A NEW BIO Convention forum on Digital Health was added to this year’s agenda. Throughout the day on Tuesday, it attracted hundreds of attendees and was a tsunami of engaging discussions, meetings, Q&A and interviews. The sessions highlighted digital health’s role in all phases of healthcare, from discovery of new drugs, to monitoring clinical trials, mobile prescription handling, and preventive medicine apps. Digital health, also known as mHeath or mobile health is facilitated through development of new devices, apps, and data management tools, but at its core, it is really about connecting. Connecting people with data and adapting this info to help them make more informed healthcare decisions. Panel discussions, presentations and Q&A sessions by key thought leaders were moderated by Wainwright Fishburn, Jr., founding partner of Cooley LLP’s San Diego office, and a prominent venture capital attorney.
The Digital Health Forum was well on its way and the discussion quickly focused on the healthcare epidemic in the US. Whereby, the US annual healthcare spending hit $3.8 trillion this year and is estimated to crawl to $4 trillion by 2015, according to a report by Dan Munro in Forbes. These numbers are very concerning and can seem daunting but some would argue that this is really where digital health can make a substantial impact. If we can get real-time data on how patients are responding to drugs in a clinical trial, obtain fast, non-invasive diagnostics devices and derive personal health data directly to the patient in a readable format, this not only makes healthcare choices wiser but less expensive.
With the influence of accurate and up-to-date information, doctors, nurses, clinicians, researchers, patients can be making better decisions. For example, drug companies will know what drugs to focus on because clinical trial data will be delivered in real-time, rather than after a couple years of pushing paperwork. Right now, so-called blockbuster drugs are only successful in a proportion of people taking them. So will digital health eliminate blockbusters drugs? Not really, it will let us determine what the blockbusters really are.
Moderator Mr. Fishburn says “We’re beginning to see a lot of early success stories. There has been a wave of consumer adoption with rudimentary fitness sensors, like googleFit. In the last 3 years combined, we’ve seen $3B in investment in digital health yet we’ve already seen $2B investments in the first half of this year.” When asked where the funding was coming from, Mr. Fishburn continues, “The funding is coming from classic venture capital but also cross-over investors which signal the maturing nature of first generation of companies in this sector so, large scale financing is starting to take place”. In fact, just this week, a Boston based start-up, Whoop, just rose $6M for continuous heart rate wristband. Also, a recently published paper in Nature Nanotechnology (1) describe the development of a smartphone for cancer diagnosis via breath analysis. Looking ahead to keep the momentums moving was panelist Aenor Sawyer of UCSF Center for Digital Health Innovation who discussed how they have leveraged the bridge between healthcare needs and technology with collaborations with tech savvy engineers at Samsung and brilliant scientists at UCSF. She noted that we need more partnering like this to enable us to move this field faster and make a real difference in people’s lives.
Right here in San Diego, there is a history of merging of healthcare and digital world with partnering of Qualcomm and J&J Innovation Center. And thanks to the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance, who actively engage the community to identify ways in which wireless health can achieve more efficiency and global access to care, education and partnerships between a diverse group of people are enable effective changes. Here in San Diego with over 450 biotech companies, thousands of technology companies, and incubator programs like CommNexus, this sort of collaboration will only grow larger in the coming years therefore it was only fitting that San Diego was the place to kick-start this new session at BIO on Digital Health.
1. Peng G, Diagnosing lung cancer in exhaled breath using gold nanoparticles. Nature Nanotechnology 2009; 4:669-73 PMID: 19809459