Qualcomm Foundation Awards Scripps Health $3.75M for Digital Health

Xconomy San Diego — 

The Qualcomm Foundation has awarded a three-year, $3.75 million grant to San Diego’s Scripps Health and its Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) to help advance the development of diagnostic tests, wireless devices, sensors, and other digital health technologies.

In a statement today, the institute says the funding is intended to support the kind of clinical trials needed to validate innovative technologies. The statement quotes Scripps CEO Chris Van Gorder as saying, “The generous grant from the Qualcomm Foundation reinforces our efforts to translate innovative discoveries into transformative clinical therapies.”

In this respect, STSI appears to be taking on a crucial role in technology commercialization that was intended to be a key part of the mission at San Diego’s West Wireless Health Institute. The West Wireless Health Institute, established in 2009 with Scripps Health as a founding health care affiliate and Qualcomm as a founding sponsor, announced plans that same year to conduct a clinical trial of wireless heart monitoring technology developed by San Jose, CA-based Corventis.

Eric Topol, director of STSI and chief academic officer for Scripps Health, underscored the importance of validating new wireless health technologies in a 2009 interview with CNBC about the West Wireless Health Institute. Topol also was an instrumental figure in founding the West Wireless Health Institute, and he served as the board’s vice-chairman and chief innovation officer.

But the wireless health institute—now known simply as the West Health Institute—changed course, and a West spokeswoman confirmed today that Topol officially stepped down from the West’s board last week. His departure follows a major overhaul the institute began last year, as it sought to back away from its close association with Qualcomm and to recast itself as an independent center focused on reducing the cost of healthcare—with funding provided solely by philanthropists Gary and Mary West.

Yet as Scripps Health spokesman Keith Darcé said by phone this afternoon, there is still a crucial need to get new digital technologies validated.

“One of the challenges that Dr. Topol has talked about is the difficulty in getting [an innovative technology] out into the market place, [and] in proving that it works,” Darcé said. Tech startups are typically not funded to carry out clinical trials, “so what’s happening here is that the Qualcomm Foundation is stepping up to provide some funding, so this kind of research work can go forward.”

Darcé also noted that the Qualcomm grant is not limited only to funding clinical trials of new wireless health technologies. “This money is going to support research activity, it’s not to support a particular study,” Darcé said.

In particular, the Scripps Translational Science Institute said it plans to use the Qualcomm funding to focus on three high-priority programs:

—Clinical trials to validate wireless biosensor systems that use micro-sensors in the bloodstream to detect signs of such health problems as heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, and cancer.

—Developing mobile apps and embedded sensors that can be used to identify specific type of proteins or antibodies that are generated by the body’s response to changing medical conditions.

—Developing 20-minute diagnostic tests that could be used in pharmacies to determine whether a person is genetically compatible with prescribed drugs such as Plavix, Metformin, and Interferon that have a varying range of effectiveness.