Digital health round-up: Google hires Geisinger CEO to lead move into health sector

Google has hired Geisinger Health CEO David Feinberg to provide strategic leadership as the tech giant moves into the health sector.

This is a significant development as Google is one of several big tech firms looking to move into healthcare, with Amazon being a notable potential competitor.

In a statement the Pennsylvania-based health firm Geisinger said Feinberg is leaving on 3 January, with chief medical officer Jaewon Ryu taking over as interim president and CEO until the company finds a permanent successor.

A graduate of University of Health Sciences/Chicago Medical School, Feinberg also served as CEO of UCLA’s hospitals and associate vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences, as well as president of UCLA Health System.

According to reports, Feinberg will be tasked with organising Google’s fragmented health initiatives, which are situated in different business groups.

Among the groups in health care are Google’s search team,  its cloud business, and its Google Brain artificial intelligence team.

CNBC reported that another area of interest is a health team within Google’s Nest business to help manage users’ health at home, and help monitor older people choosing to live independently.

David Feinberg

What’s unclear is how Feinberg will work with other companies involved with healthcare owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet.

This includes Verily, its life sciences research and development group, and DeepMind, another group focused on artificial intelligence.

CNBC’s sources say that the role is focused on Google, but could be influenced by executives at the company with a strong interest in healthcare, including Alphabet president and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, former CEO Eric Schmidt, and Verily CEO Andy Conrad.

Citing several contacts familiar with the matter, CNBC reported that Google has been searching for a suitable candidate for several months.

NIH awards cancer wearables R&D project to Litmus Health

Health data firm Litmus Health has been awarded a contract with the National Cancer Institute of the US National Institutes of Health, to use “real-world” digital data to improve drug development.

Litmus has been awarded the $225,000 contract, which will involve using data from wearables, smart devices and home sensors to improve drug development.

The company aims to collect the data in a format that enables it to be easily analysed and audited, and compatible with common data science toolsets and systems.

Increasingly, innovative clinical trials are using wearables in order to collect real world data. As of 2016, close to 300 clinical trials had wearables incorporated into their studies, the company noted.

The institute had called for a “centralised software platform to obtain wearable, implantable, and/or external device data and to facilitate analytics over multiple data streams to help aid cancer patients, clinician assessment, and clinical trial design.”

It invited small businesses to submit proposals, and Litmus said its platform was a good match because it has already been used in a 500 patient, three year study funded by Takeda and run by the Digestive Diseases Center at the University of Chicago.

Litmus said its work with the centre run by Dr David Rubin has enabled it to gather reliable data from smartphones and Fitbits to help better understand the relationship between sleep, activity and flares in Crohn’s and Colitis patients.

This demonstrated the capabilities of the Litmus platform at collecting, positioning, and parsing information that will eventually be used to better predict disease.

In conjunction with the announcement, Litmus published the company’s first ever Device Census Report, which profiles the wrist and body-word wearables market, comprised of over 170 brands and manufacturers. The report recommends the top 15 devices for clinical research based on a detailed scoring rubric.

Lancor device aims to improve cervical cancer test accuracy

UK startup Lancor Scientific has secured funding to launch a medical device that aims to use artificial intelligence (AI) to detect cervical cancer with 90% accuracy and at a lower cost than currently available tests.

Conventional smear tests have an accuracy of 60%-70%, but the company hopes its Tumour Trace will produce results that are 90% accurate after securing backing from the Austrian government.

Smear tests cost around £30 plus lab processing costs, but Lancor said Tumour Trace will be able to do the same procedure in just two minutes and at £5-£10  per test.

The portability of the device also makes it suitable for use in the developing world.

A London-based medtech company, Lancor has already conducted successful trials with the NHS and improved upon the current accuracy of 60%-70% for certain cancer screening tests by pathologists.

Lancor Scientific says Tumour Trace can detect early cervical cancer at 90% accuracy, and can screen for multiple types of cancers.

With a CE mark for cervical cancer, Tumour Trace will go to market next year and the company plans to produce at least 10,000 devices in the next five years.

The aim is to deliver accurate, low-cost and near real-time cancer screening at scale, using the device’s ability to measure change of electromagnetism within tissue on quantum levels.

Lancor Scientific’s new laboratory in Graz, Austria, will open in partnership with the Technical University of Graz, the Medical University of Graz and the Sigmund Freud University Vienna, to lead trials on cancer screening at a global level.

The company will receive grants over the first five years from the Austrian Government for facilities including office, research equipment, access to academic expertise and clinical trials management.

The lab will also have a registry to securely store patient data.

Exscientia buys Kinetic Discovery to boost AI drug development

There is a huge focus on the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in drug discovery –  and Exscientia is another UK company building its capability in this area.

Oxford-based Exscientia said it has acquired the privately owned biophysics specialist, Kinetic Discovery.

Exscientia said the acquisition builds its capabilities for tackling novel drug targets to create first-in-class drug targets.

The company hopes to do this by seeding algorithms with data generated through the use of fragment screening and structural biology.

The hope is that Kinetic’s expertise will allow the biotech to create a drug discovery company that goes rapidly from gene to clinical candidate for any druggable target of choice.

The acquisition of Kinetic is part of Exscientia’s growth strategy to develop a proprietary drug pipeline and to enhance its support of existing and future partnerships.

Kinetic Discovery has specialist protein engineering, biophysical screening, and structural biology expertise that is “highly synergistic” to Exscientia’s drug design, pharmacology and computational science platform.

Kinetic Discovery’s operations and employees will relocate from their current facilities at Harwell, Oxfordshire to Exscientia’s new facilities in The Schrödinger Building on the Oxford Science Park.

Kinetic’s founder and chief scientific officer, Dr Iva Navratilova, will join Exscientia as its chief biophysicist. The merging of Kinetic will increase Exscientia’s head count to 35 employees, representing 16 different nationalities.

Exscientia also has offices in the UK and Japan and is collaborating with several leading pharmaceutical and life sciences companies, including GSK, Sanofi and Evotec.

Last year GSK and Exscientia signed a deal worth up to £33 million to discover small molecule drugs for up to 10 disease-related areas, based on targets nominated by GSK.

Exscientia also signed a similar deal with Sanofi worth 250 million euros in May last year.