The Digital Health Newsletter by Paul Sonnier
August 9, 2017
News, Insights, and Context on the Digital Health Revolution
Greetings!
In another shot across the bow of pharma by digital health, a non-pill contraceptive solution developed by Swedish startup Natural Cycles is the first app in the world to be approved as a contraceptive. The app helps women with their fertility and contraception needs and allows them to collect their own temperature and monitor their cycle trends. The results of a major clinical trial of 4,000+ women showed that just 7% of women who used the app got pregnant, compared to 9% using a birth control pill. The app is certified in the EU (as of Feb of this year), but it's available worldwide in around 160 countries.
Also on the pharma business disruption front, in a Truthout op-ed, " The Zika Vaccine: The Miracle of Government-Funded Research", economist Dean Baker writes that the U.S. Army-financed development of a Zika vaccine shows that direct government funding can be used to successfully develop drugs. French drug company Sanofi developed a Zika vaccine, which still needs to go through testing, but already appears to be effective. The company has rejected the Army's request for ‘fair’ pricing for the drug, funded by the Army itself.
Sanofi's refusal prompted U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to  introduce a bill that would reinstate a drug pricing rule that the Clinton White House helped pharma lobbyists repeal. The legislation would tie the prices of drugs made with government funding to costs in other economically advanced countries and pharma companies would have to enter into “reasonable pricing” agreements with the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. In a  New York Times op-ed, Sanders wrote that “Under this insane system, Americans pay twice. First we pay to create these lifesaving drugs, then we pay high prices to buy those drugs. Our government must stop being pushovers for the pharmaceutical industry and its 1,400 lobbyists.”
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DEFINITION
"Digital health is the convergence of the digital and genomic revolutions with health, healthcare, living, and society." - Paul Sonnier
Image/Video: President Trump meeting with American pharmaceutical executives in Jan, asking them to "greatly reduce drug prices, promising to reduce regulation and lower taxes to help them compete."
WEARABLE TECH 
CNN Money ran an article on digital health addressing the opioid addiction epidemic. Startup SPR Therapeutics, which used Facebook to help enroll participants in a clinical trial of its wearable Sprint PNS System, was featured, as was NeuroMetrix's Quell wearable. I recently highlighted two startups that are also seeking to address the opioid epidemic: Resolve Digital Health and NeuraLace Medical.
The new  Apple Watch may have cellular connectivity that would untether it from its reliance on the iPhone's Internet connection. The smartwatch would contain a wireless radio chip connecting it directly to cellular networks. Intel (not Qualcomm) will supply the cellular LTE modems. Up until recently, Qualcomm has been the main supplier of cellular chips for the iPhone and Apple's other devices. However, the two companies are currently in a major legal dispute.
According to the makers of the Neurovalens Modius device, if you wear their neurostimulation headset for 45 minutes a day you could hack your body into burning more fat. The system supposedly works via the transmission of low-level electrical impulses to your vestibular nerve, which activates the hypothalamus and thereby "fools the body into thinking you’re a physically active person, even though you’re sitting down watching Netflix."
LIVING & SOCIETY
While an article about a  mushroom-identifying app describes it as "highlighting the dangers of bad AI" and being ‘potentially deadly’, I would argue that there is value in the app, but as with any guide (even a paper guidebook), blind trust or not understanding the limits of the information provided, is the real issue. The app and smartphone do not have a sensor to replicate the human sense of smell, for example, which is of life-critical importance when it comes to identifying which mushrooms found in the wild are safe to eat.
Canadian researcher Oldooz Pooyanfar has invented a new system to track the health of bee hives and address colony collapse disorder. The so-called 'Internet of bees' system uses microphones, temperature sensors, and humidity sensors.
Tactics used by social media giants are driving children to consume online time 'like junk food'. According to Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England, "Children are in danger of seeing social media like sweeties, and their online time like junk food. None of us as parents would want our children to eat junk food all the time. For those same reasons we shouldn't want our children to do the same with their online time."
If you are reading this email on a mobile device or computer screen, you may experience "tech neck", i.e. neck, shoulder, and/or back strain caused by looking at your smartphone or working on your computer. CNET has a great short video diving into the subject and offering tips for relief.  
A WSJ article (behind a subscription paywall) " The End of Typing: The Next Billion Mobile Users Will Rely on Video and Voice", discusses how the Internet’s global expansion is entering a new phase where, instead of typing searches and emails, newcomers, aka "the next billion", are communicating more with images and using voice assistants and activation tools. This is especially true for the world’s less-educated, who are benefitting from low-end smartphones, cheap data plans, and assistive apps.
In a  Facebook post, Shahak Shapira writes: "Over the last months, I reported about 300 hate tweets. Twitter failed to delete most of them, so I sprayed them in front of their office. #HEYTWITTER". Facebook, unlike Twitter, was much more responsive to his reports. Shahak decided that if Twitter was going to force him to see these hate tweets, then they would have to see them, too. So he painted them on the sidewalk outside Twitter's office in Hamburg.
Amsterdam, aka the 'World's Cycling Capital', has banned app-based and dockless bike sharing. The move came as a result of commercial bikes being left in public area as a means of handoff between users. A spokesman for the city stated that “In the past year we invested to create more bicycle parking spaces, and we do not want these to be taken by the many commercial bike sharing systems.”
New government guidance in the UK is  telling car makers to do more to stop hackers taking over Internet-connected vehicles. The move comes amid fears that hackers could target these vehicles and access personal data, steal them, or even cause accidents. Engineers developing software for smart vehicles will have to strengthen cyber protection measures and strive to eliminate hacking.
A new study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon has demonstrated that analysis of your smartphone data (e.g. when you texted friends, decreased spelling accuracy, and diminished neuromotor skills when using a touchscreen) can tell if you've been drinking alcohol with 96.6% accuracy. It can also distinguish episodes of binge drinking 90% of the time.
PRIVACY & CIVIL RIGHTS
Verizon’s new 'Verizon Selects' rewards program lets it track your browsing history. Information gleaned from users includes their web browsing history, app usage, location, services used, demographic info, zip code, email address, and your personal interests. The data also gets shared with Verizon’s 'Oath' combination (AOL and Yahoo), as well as other Verizon vendors and partners.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has approved a new cybercrime law that will reportedly further tighten the noose on Palestinians’ freedom of expression, online privacy, and may also lead to more human rights violations. The law was prepared discreetly and approved without any input or discussions with Palestinian civil society organizations or Internet service providers.
An Indian regulatory body is  calling Apple ‘anti-consumer’ as a result of the company's refusal to approve an app designed to block spam calls. While Google has approved the app, Apple states that the app is invading user privacy by looking at banking info. Indian regulators responded that it should be up to users, not Apple, to decide what data they would like to share with third parties.
RESEARCH & INNOVATION
New surgically-implanted lenses in development by Omega Ophthalmics may one day create a space for augmented reality inside the eye. Company co-founder and board-certified ophthalmologist Gary Wortz says that “Inside of the eye we are creating this biologically inert space that is going to stay open for business for whoever wants to develop an implant that will sort of fit hand-in-glove.” Wortz first sees the platform having broad applications for 70-somethings wanting to maintain independence and even detect when something is medically wrong. Broader consumer applications and use by soldiers in the military are also on the roadmap.
Scientists have developed a potentially-wearable electronic wafer that successfully reprogrammed damaged skin cells on a mouse's leg to grow new blood vessels and help a wound heal. The device works by sending an electrical pulse onto the skin cells' membrane, which opens a tiny window on the cell surface (about 2% of the cell membrane) then, using a microscopic chute, the chip injects new genetic code into the cell so that it can begin reprogramming the cell for healing.
A system developed by MIT uses radio waves and AI to more accurately track and study sleep. Many other systems use radio signals to monitor sleep, but this is the first claiming to be 80% as accurate as a wearable EEG recordings. MIT's system uses deep neural networks and AI algorithms to analyze the data and then translate it into usable sleep data. The first planned use of this system is to study how Parkinson's affects sleep.
FUNDING
Buoy Health has  raised $6.7M for its AI chatbot diagnosis platform. The startup aims to take on WebMD and other, less sophisticated online symptom checkers. The tool works by taking into account your age, gender, location, and other salient information paired with data from millions of health records related to your symptoms. The algorithm then provides further guidance and possible diagnoses.
GENOMICS
John Zhang, the doctor who created a genetically modified “three-parent baby”, has been reprimanded by the FDA and told he needs to stop marketing the procedure, which they say is unapproved and experimental. Zhang, CEO of the New Hope Fertility Center in New York, received quite a bit of media coverage when he successfully combined the DNA of three people in order to enable a mother who was a carrier for a genetic disease to conceive a baby. 

In 2016, Dr. Zhang had sought permission from the FDA to conduct clinical research on the procedure. But since the FDA is legally barred from considering requests to modify germline genes (the genes of an embryo that could then be inherited), he could not do so. The UK has approved this technique, but only in cases where it is meant to prevent a child from inheriting a genetic disease. Experts have recommended that this be allowed in the U.S., but it is still banned here.
C-SPAN aired a great interview with genomics pioneer Jennifer Doudna, head of The Doudna Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. In the video, which was filmed at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Walter Isaacson, President and CEO at The Aspen Institute, speaks with Jennifer about the future of genomics and the potential that the gene-editing tool CRISPR holds to control evolution. He even asks her about the ongoing patent battle over CRISPR.

As I shared in Feb, the U.S. Patent Office has decided in favor of the Broad Institute (over the California University System), saying that it can retain its patents for the use of CRISPR technology, primarily in plant, animal, and human cells. In other words, the most valuable application areas. Recently, however, the California University System (which Berkeley is a part of), the University of Vienna, and Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier filed an appellate brief seeking reversal of the U.S. Patent Board's decision on CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing.
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