By Pierre-Georges Roy and Van Hamilton Barbeau, Results Healthcare
Having transformed the way we connect, shop and entertain ourselves, Alphabet (parent company of Google), Amazon, and Apple are now making big bets on bringing transformative technology to another aspect of our lives, health. The three technology giants are gaining a significant foothold in the $3 trillion US healthcare market and have started activating their existing healthcare infrastructure to invest and acquire in certain high growth healthcare subsectors.
For decades, caregivers have struggled to consolidate patient data into one centralized location. Having healthcare information in disparate locations has created gaps that often lead to missed diagnoses. Apple has started addressing the issue of interoperability, by seeking to turn the iPhone into a tool that aggregates, stores, and shares medical information. Apple started working towards this goal in 2016 when it acquired Gliimpse, a personal health data aggregator, and has since continued its efforts through a partnership with Health Gorilla to bring diagnostic information to the iPhone. Not to be outdone, Amazon’s 1492 has identified drawing health data from electronic health records as one of its focus areas. 1492 is still in its infancy, but with cash on their balance sheets, we can expect both Amazon and Apple to pursue cloud hosting companies as acquisition targets to develop their data aggregation capabilities.
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Amazon and Alphabet have been very active in terms of using data analytics to proactively ensure that patients are healthy. GV, Alphabet’s investment arm, recently entered the data analytics sphere by participating in Freenome’s $65 million Series A. Freenome is a data-driven company that uses machine learning to determine what biomarkers are the most important in spotting cancer and autoimmune diseases. Freenome is a direct competitor to Grail, a data science company that received an investment from Amazon as part of a $973 million Series B. Having two technology giants investing in competing data analytics companies will likely create opportunities for other data-driven companies looking to raise capital or exit.
Telemedicine has seen increased interest from Alphabet and Amazon. At this point, we can only speculate what Amazon’s telemedicine goals are, however the idea that Amazon will break into the online pharmacy business was underscored in late October when the company received wholesale pharmacy licenses in 12 states. In contrast, Alphabet has made concrete steps into telehealth through GV’s participation in Science 37’s $29 million Series C. Science 37 aims to provide a site-less solution for clinical trials by serving patients at home, therefore increasing participation rates. As GV continues to pay attention to telemedicine, and Amazon solidifies its ambitions, the telehealth industry will likely continue its trend of growing through acquisitions.
Since the arrival of Fitbit, sensors and wearables have been appealing healthcare subsectors. It is important to note Apple’s new patent detailing how the iPhone could be used as an electrocardiogram (ECG) reader as well as a sensor that tracks blood pressure, body fat, pulse rate, and other health data. The idea that Apple plans to develop the iPhone into an all-encompassing health sensor is bolstered by the company’s acquisition of Beddit, a company that uses sensors to track sleep data. Alphabet is also focusing on sensors, but is doing so through medical research. Alphabet’s life sciences arm, Verily, has developed a Study Watch that has been used to track heart rate, electrical conductance of skin, and record ECGs. AliveCor, a mobile ECG solution provider, could be an interesting acquisition target for Alphabet and Apple as they explore wearable strategic growth options for medical research and consumers respectively.
Alphabet and Apple have played the largest role in health technology so far, as is demonstrated by the FDA announcing that Verily and Apple were selected as two of the nine companies in the FDA’s pre-certification program pilot. In contrast, Amazon has been more covert in its healthcare pursuits. When Alphabet, Amazon, and Apple pay attention to an issue, the rest of the world usually follows suit. This phenomenon can be expected in healthcare as well. As a byproduct of the big three’s interest in certain subsectors, we foresee the healthcare industry’s largest players acquiring in the same areas for fear that they will be left behind.