Health Tech News This Week – January 8, 2022

What happened in health care technology this week – and why it’s important.

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First sickle cell patient treated with CRISPR gene-editing still thriving

NPR’s Morning Edition featured this story by Meredith Rizzo. Victoria Gray, who has sickle cell disease, volunteered for one of the most anticipated medical experiments in decades: the first attempt to use CRISPR’s gene-editing technique to treat a genetic disorder in the United States. For more than a year, Victoria Gray’s life had been transformed. Gone were the sudden attacks of horrible pain that had tortured her all her life. But one big question was: Would getting her blood cells genetically modified keep working, freeing her from the complications of sickle cell disease that had plagued her since she was a baby? More than another year later, the answer appears to be: Yes.

“You see the change almost immediately after patients leave the hospital, where they are feeling better and able to resume their lives normally without the horrible complications that can happen.”

Haydar Frangoul, M.D., Sarah Cannon Research Institute

Why it’s important – The advantage of this approach is that it uses the patient’s cells with no need for a donor. Also, the gene manipulation does not use a viral vector as with other gene therapy studies but is done with electroporation (quick production of pores into the cells with high voltage) which is known to have a low risk of off-target gene activation. The technique can be used not only in Sickle cell disease but also in beta-thalassemia and other congenital blood disorders.

Infographic of the week – Retweeted by Helen Branswell, 1/2/22, originally posted by @BusyCactus – Time to rethink what “your bubble” really means: everyone in your “bubble” is part of other “bubbles” too. I absolutely LOVE this…..

2022 forecast: Competition in retail healthcare will heat up. Here’s what to expect from Amazon, CVS and Walgreens

As Rebecca Torrence reports in Fierce Healthcare, the biggest U.S. retailers are placing huge bets on healthcare. As patients increasingly demand lower costs and convenient care delivery, retailers like Walmart, Amazon, CVS, and Walgreens have stepped in to meet their needs where traditional providers lack the resources to do the same. All four companies have accelerated their investments in healthcare this year, stepping into new areas from primary care to telehealth. And the retail healthcare boom isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon. Next year, industry experts anticipate that retailers will ramp up their investments in critical technologies and tackle issues like social determinants of health and data sharing to provide personalized healthcare experiences to their customers.

Why it’s important – Don’t write off the retail sector push into health care just yet. The five predictions highlighted in this article are spot on and represent the next wave of investment in health care by the big retail players. The one that interests me the most is the omnichannel strategy. CVS has gone all-in on omnichannel care delivery this year, with offerings from prescription delivery to primary care. The company announced in November its plans to close 900 physical locations over the next three years and create three types of stores: one for primary care, one for its HealthHUB sites, and one for its traditional retail model. Health systems need to adopt a similar omnichannel approach to blunt the potential impact of retail players in their markets.

2022 forecast: Investors will double down on these hot digital health markets

In another article in Fierce Healthcare, Heather Landi reports on five digital health markets that will get serious investment in 2022: telemedicine 2.0, wearable health, digital mental health apps, digital Women’s health, and digital therapeutics.

Why it’s important – Investment in these sectors is driven by the exponential growth value of the convergence of multiple technologies. Each of these digital health companies leads the way in healthcare innovation using artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, and telehealth. The market potential for each segment is enormous. Watch for telehealth players to build out their offerings across the chronic care landscape. Deloitte predicts strong demand for wearable wellness technology in 2022, with 320 million consumer health and wearable wellness devices expected to ship worldwide in 2022. By 2024, that figure will reach 440 million units. Deloitte Global predicts that global spending on mobile mental health applications will reach close to $500 million in 2022. Digital health startups focused on women’s health saw a sudden meteoric rise in 2021, surpassing $1 billion for the first time as the sector pulled in $1.3 billion in funding across 26 deals in the first three quarters. And the global digital therapeutics market is projected to hit $13.1 billion by 2026, up from $3.4 billion in 2021, according to a Markets and Markets report.

Predicting preeclampsia from a blood test holds promise for pregnancy complications

Elizabeth Cooney in Stat reports on new research published Wednesday in Nature that shows how RNA molecules sequenced from a single blood sample could predict preeclampsia months before symptoms appear, holding promise for detecting and treating this and other pregnancy complications before they cause harm.

“We hope to look at other clinically meaningful deviations, such as, potentially, gestational diabetes or growth restriction or other areas. Once we basically have a road map of normal cases, where there’s a deviation off of that map then becomes much easier to discern.”

Thomas McElrath, M.D., OB-GYN, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Why it’s important – Not only have the authors developed a predictive test for pre-eclampsia, but the study’s findings also have the potential to provide insights into typical pregnancies and fetal development and to advance the design of rational, precision therapeutics that can improve pregnancy care. This paper is also fascinating from a biological standpoint, identifying the path of a physiologic process as it is happening before it manifests clinically in a person without needing to rely on additional clinical information.

Stryker to buy Vocera Communications for nearly $3B

Stryker has agreed to acquire Vocera Communications for $2.97 billion, kicking off MedTech M&A in the new year. As Ricky Zipp reported in Healthcare Dive, Stryker’s early 2022 buy continues last year’s MedTech spending spree. Stryker CEO Kevin Lobo said during an October third-quarter earnings call that the company would be looking to do more deals as the debt was paid down and cash built up over last year. Lobo said in the Thursday announcement that the Vocera acquisition will “help Stryker significantly accelerate our digital aspirations to improve the lives of caregivers and patients.”

Why it’s important – As I noted in my recent Health Care Disruptors to Watch in 2022 and Some Straight Talk on Voice-Enabled Technology in Health Care posts, the use of voice technologies is viewed as the next “killer app” in health care. Investments and acquisitions like the one this week reinforces that message. Hands-free, voice-enabled applications can improve care delivery, speed reporting and eliminate “keyboard fatigue” for front-line staff.

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