Digital Health Event Highlights Innovation, Wireless Clinical Trials

Xconomy San Diego — 

Last summer, a team of researchers at San Diego’s Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) began a clinical study called “Wired for Health” to assess whether wireless sensors and related technologies could “bend the curve” on health care spending. At the time, institute director Eric Topol said it would be “one of the first robust, cross-industry studies using multiple mobile medical sensors to determine whether we can lower health care costs and resource consumption through wireless health technology.”

The study followed the appointment of Steven Steinhubl as director of a new digital medicine program at Scripps Health, signaling an expansion beyond the institute’s initial focus on genomics and precision medicine. The significance of Scripps’ move into digital health and wireless clinical studies became manifest last month, when former Qualcomm executive Don Jones became the institute’s first “chief digital officer.”

In the 11 years he spent at Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), Jones led many of the company’s strategic initiatives in wireless health and has been recognized for his expertise in applied wireless technologies, mobile health, and in creating “network effects” in fitness and healthcare products, apps, and therapies.

Now, he brings that experience and expertise to Scripps. In an e-mail to me Sunday, Jones writes that “Scripps Digital Health has published trials recently about the Zio patch from iRhythm (Francis Collins recently blogged about this trial), GE’s VScan, etc. STSI is performing regulatory trials, validation trials, comparative efficacy trials, and Phase 4 trials, all of which involve connected, digital health technology of one kind or another—some to gather data, some to validate the device/technology, some as part of a series of trials to develop a new product which may include digital technology.”

Jones and Topol are set to talk tomorrow evening about their vision for the future of precision medicine and digital health, and how their work fits into a broader revolution in connected health innovation and the “Internet of things” that is taking place throughout San Diego.

The headliners event, organized by Qualcomm Life and CommNexus, the San Diego nonprofit industry group, includes Rick Valencia, who oversees Qualcomm Life; Resmed (NYSE: RMD) COO Robert Douglas; Kevin Patrick, director of the UC San Diego Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems; and Greg Lucier, the former chairman and CEO of Life Technologies, now part of Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE: TMO).

“Eleven years is the longest I’ve stayed with one company and it was a great time to be at Qualcomm and to introduce the healthcare industry to wireless technologies,” Jones writes. “We built out a phenomenal ecosystem of university programs, master degrees for engineers and physicians, investment funds, innovation programs, the Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize, FDA relationships, standards bodies, regulatory and policy groups, and much more.”

At tomorrow’s headliner event, “my topic will be that mobility in healthcare is here to stay, connectivity made it happen and now the challenge is to get a network effect,” he added. “Part of that network effect will be driven by clinical and economic validation of connected digital health solutions—hence my focus on digital health clinical trials at the Scripps Translational Science Institute.

“Pharma, medical device [makers] and health payers all accept clinical validation as a necessary hurdle to adoption and reimbursement. Increasingly, consumer electronic companies, telcos, and even international food and supplement companies are planning and conducting clinical trials of their digital health products.”

At Scripps new digital medicine center, Steinhubl is overseeing the design and execution of the mHealth technology clinical trials. The Qualcomm Foundation provided a $3.75-million grant to Scripps Health in 2012 to help establish the program, and some additional funding came from $29 million that the National Institutes of Health awarded through its Clinical and Translational Science Award grant last fall.

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