Pharma and tech create innovative solutions
Verily Life Sciences, an offshoot of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is no stranger to health tech. The company is also known for its ambitious projects, which to date include a smart contact lens to monitor blood sugar levels, and a wearable that aims to detect the early onset of certain cancers. And this year we’ve seen Verily cosying up with two pharma giants….
The first collaboration with British company GlaxoSmithKline has produced Galvani Bioelectronics; their goal is to create electrical implants which can be used to treat diseases. Verily’s second joint venture, a $500 million investment with French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, will aim to address the global diabetes epidemic.
Diabetes could be one of the most lucrative avenues of health research in the years ahead. Rates of diabetes are rising and nearly 600 million people worldwide are expected to have the disease by 2035, so there’s money to be made in developing a comprehensive, easy-to-use blood glucose monitor.
With so many companies vying for health-consumers’ time and money, it’s somewhat comforting to know that Google itself is making a foray into the health sector, by creating tech to assist those who are battling an illness or have a medical, physical or mental health condition that requires constant monitoring with a wearable or via an app.
The health app market is plagued with untested software, many of which have no clinical foundation at all. A recent study by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that of the 1054 depression-related apps featured on the five major mobile phone platforms, less than a quarter met the study’s basic inclusion criteria. Those that did not targeted health professionals rather than consumers, failed to feature the word ‘depression’ in the title or description, or simply were not available in English. The study concluded that finding an appropriate depression app may be challenging due to the large quantity available.
In a similar study of apps designed for the prevention of unintended pregnancies, the researchers found that ‘most apps miss opportunities to provide users with valuable information, interactive decision aids, and evidence-based interventions for unintended pregnancy prevention.’ Some of the apps studied ‘may increase the likelihood of unintended pregnancy due to the low effectiveness of the contraceptive methods promoted.’
Academics at the University of Florida recently reviewed thirty free and popular fitness apps on the iPhone and graded them against official guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine. The study found that just one app – Sworkit Lite Personal Workout Trainer – met more than half the criteria laid out by the ACSM.
As the app phenomenon and health consumerism continue to grow, it’s important that we can trust the tools made available to us. Apps are not required to undergo scientific clearance processes, and so they aren’t tested as rigorously as new drugs and medical devices. While Google, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline look to the future of health tech, those of us who would like a useful app for a health condition should make sure that the app is at least reputable, is frequently updated and above all doesn’t have bugs.