A grand test of the Apple Watch in health & a giant leap for data access

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A giant leap for data access?

The Biden administration’s plan to drop the paywall on federally-funded research carries enormous implications for digital health and AI research, promising to expand access to data and improve the reproducibility of scientific findings. But the extent of those improvements depends on the data infrastructure developed in response to the federal order. Will data generated by studies be machine-readable, so that they can be more quickly accessed and put to use? Will methods used to analyze the data be fully disclosed and computable? And of course, how will fees associated with data access be structured? In short, the order has the potential to dramatically improve access to taxpayer funded research — and finally make more research reproducible — but the devil is in the details of data access.


A grand test of the Apple Watch in cardiac care

A newly announced study, set to launch next year, will test whether the Apple Watch can make meaningful improvements in care. The wearable has an FDA-cleared algorithm that can detect irregular heart rhythms, and researchers at Northwestern University will now test whether those alerts can help target the use of blood thinners. The drugs can help prevent strokes, but come with the risk of dangerous bleeding. So one group in the 5,400-person study will get automated directions to take the meds only when the Apple Watch detects rhythms suggesting prolonged atrial fibrillation — hopefully, maintaining stroke protection while reducing bleeding as a side effect. Read more on the ambitious project in Mario’s report.


Setting the stage for data privacy battles

As the repeal of Roe v. Wade shined a spotlight on all the ways current health regulations are insufficient to protect sensitive patient data, multiple branches of government were already winding up to establish and enforce security-minded practices across industries. In Congress, the proposed American Data Privacy and Protection Act would be a sweeping federal data privacy law that stands to upend the U.S. data brokering business, including targeting based on sensitive health data revealed through tracking. As Politico reports, the biggest names, including Experian, TransUnion, and Acxiom are lavishing lobbyists on the issue. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission has sued data broker Kochava for selling location information that can track individuals to “sensitive locations” including reproductive health clinics and addiction clinics.

AI can’t tackle drug prediction for seizures just yet

Picking the right anti-seizure medication from a toolkit of more than 30 drugs mostly comes down to trial and error. But research in JAMA Neurology points to the potential for artificial intelligence to predict which prescriptions are most likely to work for specific patients. After testing six machine learning models on records from about 1,800 adults with epilepsy, none delivered a knockout punch: The best-performing algorithm generated an area under the curve of 0.65, and accuracy, sensitivity, and specificity were similarly modest. Commenters from the University of California, San Francisco take the results as a promising —  if small — step toward personalized medicine, noting that algorithms may need to get much better before they perform better than an experienced clinician’s gut.

Money for mental health & a new data trader

  • CuriMeta, a real world health data company, launched with a $6 million seed funding round led by Washington University School of Medicine and BJC Healthcare. The company plans to help health systems and life sciences companies compile and analyze data to develop drugs and diagnostics, with a focus on creating transparency into how and when data are used.
  • Alma, which develops technology to support independent mental health practices, raised $130 million in a Series D round led by the software investment firm Thomas Bravo, with participation from Cigna Ventures. Alma provides practices with teletherapy tech and software to automate billing and scheduling.
  • Psych Hub, which uses technology to support mental health education and care navigation, raised $16 million in a funding round led by HC9 and Frist Cressey Ventures. The company was founded in 2019 by CEO Marjorie Morrison and former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy.
  • The venture capital firm General Catalyst inked a deal with the Pennsylvania-based provider WellSpan Health to embed tech innovations backed by the VC firm into WellSpan’s care and business operations. It’s General Catalyst’s fourth innovation partnership with a health system.
  • Plume, a virtual care provider for transgender people, raised $24 million in a Series B round led by Transformation Capital. The company is looking to create nationwide coverage for its virtual primary care services.

Promotions and pink slips

  • The AI and precision medicine company Sema4 tapped Kevin Feeley to be its chief financial officer. Feeley previously served as CFO of Bioreference Laboratories and GeneDx.
  • Digital health companies are experiencing a wave of layoffs, but so are traditional providers. The jobs cuts are affecting health systems across the country. Columbus-based OhioHealth is laying off more than 600 workers, including many in IT and revenue cycle positions. Tennessee-based Commonwealth Health is laying off 245 workers, due to the closure of a psychiatric hospital and other facilities.

What we’re reading

  • Why Amazon and other corporate giants are in a bidding war for home health technology, STAT
  • I was there when: AI helped create a vaccine, MIT Technology Review
  • Amazon and One Medical: Minding the data gaps, STAT First Opinion
  • Hackers have laid siege to U.S. health care and a tiny HHS office is buckling under the pressure, Politico
Source: STAT