Beyond Covid; what happened in digital health in 2020?
There is no doubt that Covid-19 has changed the world that we live in. It has driven innovation in the healthcare sector beyond our imagination. From the development of contact tracing apps, home test kits and test scheduling to apps that remind users to wash their hands, and remote flu symptom monitoring, Covid-19 has been a silver lining for many digital health start-ups..
With the unprecedented need for clinically validated therapies combined with relaxed regulatory measures, digital health companies across the therapeutic spectrum were given the opportunity to showcase their chef d'oeuvres. But, with all eyes on Covid, these rarely made the headlines. Here we give air time to the non-Covid highlights and trends over the last twelve months, Our team has handpicked four major therapeutic areas to delve into and capture the most impressive and far-reaching highlights just for you!
In the Cardiometabolic space we saw an explosion of the use of sensors for remote monitoring, particularly in the area of cardiac arrhythmias. In April, Belgium-based FibriCheck, launched a new version of its smartwatch capable of scanning for atrial fibrillation while the wearer is asleep. Their approach, which is based on photoplethysmography (a simple optical technique that measures the rate of blood flow to capture heart rhythm measurements) constitutes the first solution to offer nocturnal AFib screening. Following suit last month we saw VitalConnect launch its VitalPatch® RTM, which leverages a unique AI-based ECG analysis to monitor for 21 types of cardiac arrhythmia. The solution also offers an interim diagnostic report after five days, which is a first-step towards shortening monitoring periods for select patients.
In early Autumn Samsung and Fitbit took the spotlight on the regulatory stage following FDA clearance of their smartwatch and ECG app, respectively, both of which are indicated for use in tracking heart rhythm irregularities.
Activity in the metabolic domain was sporadic and exotic. In January, one research team at POSTECH developed a Smart Light-emitting diode contact lens that can diagnose diabetes and treat diabetic retinopathy. This manoeuvre vitalises a new trend for ocular wearable diagnostics and therapeutics in diabetes. A few months later in May, Lumen released their home Metabolism Tracking Device revolutionising the way we approach nutrition decision making and denoting the first step to tracking an individual's metabolism outside the lab. Abbott has always been active in the cardiometabolic space owing to its diagnostic product portfolio and this year was no exception. In September, Abbott took one step further to embracing the next-generation user experience with the release of the world’s smallest & thinnest glucose sensor.
Given the global psychological burden bestowed by the pandemic, it was of little surprise to see the mental health segment gaining momentum. With the FDA’s temporary policy changes and regulatory reprieve, companies developing digital solutions for psychiatric disorders in 2020 benefited from fast-tracked and breakthrough approvals. Swedish pharma company Orexo was among the most active companies in this area with the rolling out of three new digital therapeutics for treatment of schizophrenia, depression, and alcohol use disorder over the course of the year.
In June ResApp Health announced the launch of the first at-home sleep apnoea screening tool, SleepCheck. The application, which analyses a user’s breathing and snoring represents the first clinical-grade, regulatory-approved, screening tool for sleep apnoea that is directly accessible to consumers. A few months later Ellipsis Health launched its Rising Higher mobile app, a pioneer in behavioral health and semantic-based assessments for detecting anxiety and depression.
We have probably all heard mention of Akili, the frontline player in the mental health space this year. The company was floodlit for the regulatory success of its ADHD digital therapeutic EndeavorRx. EndeavourRx personifies the first-of-its-kind, non-drug treatment option and first game-based therapeutic approved by the FDA for any condition. This move pivots the treatment of psychiatric disorders towards the direct targeting of neurological function and therapeutic entertainment.
Neurology is up there among the most active therapeutic areas when we reflect on milestones in digital health during 2020. Pain management was one of the most active and progressive use cases within this segment on foot of several exciting product launches. Abbott’s FDA -cleared radiofrequency ablation device IonicRF, and OmniPEMFs electromagnetic headband for pain relief set the scene in digital analgesia. The neurodegenerative area saw least activity with few product launches and regulatory approvals. Parkinson's Disease was the exception. Abbott’s device-controlled, deep brain stimulation system received expanded indication at the beginning of the year for the management of medication-induced dyskinesia. Cala Health received recognition later in the year when its wrist worn neuromodulation therapy received FDA Breakthrough Device Designation for the treatment of action tremors. These moves exemplify an evolution of holistic, patient-centric care in the neuro-digital space.
In June, Masimo announced the launch of Bridge, a wearable neurostimulator designed to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms. The device, which sits just behind the ear illustrates a critical first step toward successful illicit opioid cessation and treatment.
Artificial Intelligence met its greatest partner for success in oncology diagnostics. In 2020 oncology set the bar high in terms of leveraging digital to address unmet needs. AI-powered solutions for prostate (Ibex Medical Analytics) and breast cancer detection (University of Waterloo) showed their potential in 2020. Similarly, there was development in the haematology space with FDA clearance of the first-in-world hematology App by Scopio Labs. The AI-powered decision support system gives laboratories an unprecedented ability to capture digital scans, opening the door for morphology-based diagnostics and treatments for various blood cancers. Hologic jumped on the AI-oncology bandwagon, but in cervical cancer. Its novel Genius Digital Diagnostic platform which combines an AI algorithm with advanced digital imaging showed it can help detect pre-cancerous cells in women, and marks one of the first CE-marked cervical cancer screening tools. Genosity took a less familiar and exotic route; detecting relapse. It's biospy monitoring platform was recognised for its ability to earlier detect relapse. Sema4 marked its broad and holistic approach to oncology with the introduction of “Sema4 Signal™”, a family of data-driven precision oncology solutions, one of the first tools that support oncologists throughout a patient’s journey, from risk assessment to remission.
Remote monitoring has always typified an opportunity in oncology so it is no surprise that 2020 also saw activity here given the urgency to transfer care to the home. In July, Careology launched a remote monitoring platform for cancer care that allows patients to connect with their clinical team and gives clinicians a real-time view of their patients’ health status. Only time and experience will tell, but it is expected that remote monitoring will facilitate early and proactive intervention by clinical teams, having the potential to be lifesaving.
Ending on a high note we witnessed the CE-marking of Oleena, Voluntis’ oncology digital therapeutic only last month. This move paves the way for future commercialisation of digital therapeutics in oncology.
Covid-19 presented an opportunity to stress test every assumption, system, and solution in the digital health industry. And it did. Both disruptive and transformative, the crisis has fast-tracked many healthcare trends that were simmering below the surface. It’s been a whirlwind of a year for digital health beyond the direct effects of the pandemic. Can 2021 measure up?