Digital news round-up: AZ taps into China with robots, and ECG app wars

AstraZeneca is planning to expand its role as a drug supplier in China to becoming a wider provider of healthcare through its use of robotics and other tech.

The pharma giant will use artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and digital applications to boost the way that diseases are managed in the country.

Products such as diabetes kits, smarter and faster cancer diagnostics and using AI to improve the way people with chest pain are moved to hospital will not have a huge impact on the company’s bottom line, but will help to embed the business in the Chinese healthcare market through strong relationships.

AstraZeneca’s CEO Pascal Soriot says that digital technology has allowed patients timely access to medicines in China’s crowded healthcare system.

Speaking at the World Internet of Things Exposition in Wuxi, China, Soriot told Reuters that tech could help to transform diagnosis and disease management.

Such measures could be particularly beneficial as China’s health needs are soaring as the population ages and the incidence of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, rises sharply.

Innovation, says Soriot, will help patients to access AstraZeneca medicines far more quickly than they would be able to otherwise.

Earlier this year, pharmaphorum reported on AstraZeneca’s investment in an R&D site in Wuxi City after striking a deal with WuXi App Tec a few years ago.

AliveCor aims to outdo Apple with 6-lead ECG mobile app

Apple made headlines earlier this month with its announcement of a new watch with an FDA-approved electrocardiogram (ECG) reader to indicate the wearer’s cardiac health.

But not to be outdone, AliveCor, which had previously produced a competing ECG-on-a-phone smartphone app and reader device has pledged to introduce a more accurate six-lead competitor in the coming months.

Apple launched its new product shortly after receiving FDA clearance, and can detect if a person’s heart rate is too low or is going into atrial fibrillation.

But AliveCor is hitting back, after already getting its product FDA-approved to detect high potassium levels in the blood.

Now the TechCrunch website reports that AliveCor wants to compete with Apple by providing a “never-before-seen” six-lead ECG reader smartphone app.Vic Gundotra.

The number of ECG leads can vary, with more leads producing more accurate results. In clinics patients can have up to 12 leads or stickers placed across their chest to pick up cardiac data.

Apple’s system has just one lead, but the six-lead system could be more accurate and pick up more information.

AliveCor CEO told TechCrunch the six-lead device could pick up about 100 different diseases.

This would importantly include ST elevation, a key factor associated with the onset of a heart attack, which could get a person on their way to hospital before they begin to display physical symptoms.

Owlstone hires ‘serial entrepreneur’ David Richards

Owlstone Medical, a UK diagnostics company developing a breathalyser for early disease detection, has announced Dr Andy Richards has joined its board.

The company described Richards, who joined as non-executive director, as a ‘serial entrepreneur’ and business angel with an established track record in founding and scaling up innovative biotech and health technology companies in the UK.

His early career spans positions with ICI (now AstraZeneca) and PA Technology, and he was a founder and executive director of Chiroscience plc until its merger with Celltech in 1999.

Since that time he has founded, invested in and helped to scale more than 25 innovative ventures including Vectura, Arakis, and Cambridge Biotechnology Ltd. He received a CBE for services to life-science investment in 2015.

Richards said: “Since its founding in 2016, Owlstone Medical’s development and growth have been remarkable. Given the potential of its Breath Biopsy platform to transform precision medicine and the early detection of disease I have no doubt that this will only continue, and I am very pleased to be able to play a part as the business scales.”

UK project uses deep learning to de-risk drug research

A UK R&D project has secured a government grant to help its artificial intelligence (AI)-based drug discovery project.

Government-backed agency Innovate UK is backing the  £1 million project, which is a collaboration between two small tech businesses and the Medicines Discovery Catapult, a government-run initiative.

The project will see Optibrium, which creates software to improve the efficiency and productivity of drug discovery, and Intellegens, a spin out from the University of Cambridge which is focused on the specific form of AI called ‘deep learning’, work with northwest based Medicines Discovery Catapult over the next two years.

High failure rates mean that 9 out of 10 potential drugs fail somewhere between phase 1 trials and regulatory approval, greatly adding to the costs of creating new medicines.

The aim of the project is to harness the power of AI to learn from complex data and guide scientists in the design and testing of potential new drugs and cut failure rates.

Drug discovery generates a huge quantity of complex biological, chemical, clinical and safety information that needs to be collected, analysed and presented in a way that it can be best used to make evidence-based decisions.

The research partners are seeking a means of providing better insights into how a drug interacts with the body, improving the efficiency and productivity of drug discovery.

The project will use novel deep learning methods to create a next generation platform that will better predict the absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion and toxicity of new drug candidates.

Optibrium has developed software, which could be combined with Intellegens’ deep learning toolkit, to assess the drug candidates.

The aim is to improve the scope and reliability of drug design parameters, currently inaccessible or unavailable, for the first time.