Veritas Breaks The $1,000 Genome Sequencing Barrier

Cambridge, MA-based genetic sequencing vendor Veritas Genetics announces that it will begin sequencing patient genomes for $999, undercutting the long awaited $1,000 tipping point and offering not just test results, but also professional analysis and a video call with a genetic counselor. New originally broke that Veritas had broken the $1,000 threshold in September 2015, when it offered the service to patients enrolled in the Personal Genome Project, a Harvard University-based research study focused on precision medicine. The Personal Genome Project is run by Harvard professor and Veritas co-founder George Church. At the time, Church noted that while other vendors have reported sequencing DNA at a cost of $1,000, no vendor had found a way to sell both testing and interpretation services at that price point.

Veritas Breaks The $1,000 Genome Sequencing Barrier

Now, Veritas is extending its offer beyond Personal Genome Project participants and allowing doctors to order genetic tests for any patient at the same price point. The company hopes that the test will replace all stand-alone genetic tests because Veritas’ test sequences the full genome, inclusive of all six billion letters in the genome. By sequencing the genome once, patients will have test results from any screening a doctor may need to run now or in the future. An algorithm will analyze each letter and highlight any medical conditions that the patient would be genetically predisposed to.

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Researchers Use VR To Help Teach Addicts How To Cope With Cravings

Researchers from the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work have created a virtual reality house party, complete with heroin using party guests, that it will use to help local addicts learn to cope in environments that would ordinarily trigger cravings and potentially a relapse in their recovery. The method has yet to be validated, but researchers are hopeful that by guiding addicts through the environment with the coaching of a therapist, the tool could replace traditional role-playing as a teaching aid.

Researchers Use VR To Help Teach Addicts How To Cope With Cravings

Called the “heroin cave” addicts can move around the virtual environment and engage with digital avatars at the party. Some of those avatars are snorting heroin, while others are injecting the drug. A therapist guides addicts through the home, and uses the encounters with the presence of drugs as an opportunity to evoke the kinds of cravings that users will feel in the real world. Patrick Bordnick, one of the lead researchers on the study, explains, "In traditional therapy we role-play with the patient but the context is all wrong. They know they’re in a therapist’s office and the drug isn’t there. We need to put patients in realistic virtual reality environments and make them feel they are there with the drug.”

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IBM Launches ResearchKit App To Study Sleep Apnea

At HIMSS16 this week, IBM and the American Sleep Apnea Association unveiled a new sleep tracking app designed for the Apple Watch or iPhone called SleepHealth. The app is built on the ResearchKit framework and is being rolled out as part of a larger effort by the American Sleep Apnea Association to collect data on sleep patterns and its impact on overall health, as well as daytime activities, productivity, and behavior. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that 10 percent of American’s suffer from chronic insomnia, while 25 million suffer from sleep apnea, many going undiagnosed for years.

IBM Launches ResearchKit App To Study Sleep Apnea

The new app uses the Apple Watch heart rate monitor to detect when a user has fallen asleep, and then uses motion sensors found in either the Apple Watch or the iPhone to record movements during sleep. The app will also capture daytime physical activity and will test alertness by administering a test measuring reaction time to stimuli. Users will be able to log when they are feeling alert or sleepy throughout the day, and will be able to activate nighttime settings on their phones with a preconfigured button that disables notifications and turns down the brightness of the display. A daily questionnaire will also allow researchers with a means of asking additional questions for the study.

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UnitedHealth Partners With QualComm On Wearable Inclusive Health Plan

UnitedHealth Group has partnered with Qualcomm to create an incentive program aimed at getting subscribers to pursue more active lifestyles. Called the UnitedHealthcare Motion program, the new initiative will offer subscribers a free fitness tracker and significant financial incentives if they walk a minimum number of daily steps. The new program was announced during this years annual HIMSS conference in Las Vegas. Availability is still fairly limited at this point. Subscribers who receive their UnitedHealth insurance through an employer, and who work for a company with between 100 and 300 employees, are eligible to participate in the program. Additionally, the he program will initially be limited to subscribers from Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, DC. UnitedHealth noted it its announcement that it intends to expand availability into new regions during 2016.

UnitedHealth Partners With QualComm On Wearable Inclusive Health Plan

Subscribers who sign up for the program are given a Trio Motion fitness tracker designed specifically for the program. It measures not only steps taken, but also the frequency and intensity of the steps taken. This information is sent to the UnitedHealth Motion app via Qualcomm’s Life2 interface engine. Here, users can see their daily goals and how much they can earn for accomplishing each. Users will earn $1.25 per day for each day that they walk 10,000 steps. Additionally, an “intensity” goal of walking 3,000 steps within 30 minutes will earn users $1.125per day, and a “frequency” goal of being active for at least five minutes six times per day will earn users and additional $1.50 per day. In total, users that max out their potential earnings can bring in $1,460 per year. Employers also stand to benefit, earning premium savings based on the company’s overall performance.

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Health Catalyst Raises $70 Million Series E

Salt Lake City-based data analytics vendor Health Catalyst announced Monday that it has raised another oversubscribed $70 million in funding in the form of a Series E investment round. The round was co-led by UPMC and Northwest Venture Partners, a firm with strong history of digital health investments and a history with Health Catalyst. Northwest led the startups $33 million Series B in 2013, and returned to participate in both the Series C and D, before stepping up to lead the most recent Series E. UPMC, a Health Catalyst customer, has also made news recently as it continues to buy equity stakes in startups that it is a customer of. The health system also announced that it had co-led the population health vendor Vivify Health’s $17 million Series B earlier this week. Prior investors Sequoia Capital, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, Partners Healthcare, Sands Capital, Epic Venture Partners, Leavitt Equity Partners, CHV, and Tenaya Capital also returned to join the round. OSF Healthcare and MultiCare Health System, both Health Catalyst customers, also joined the round as new investors. The new funding brings Health Catalyst’s total raised to $222 million since its 2008 launch.

Health Catalyst Raises $70 Million Series E

IPO speculation has been prominent since Health Catalyst closed a large, and oversubscribed $70 million Series D round in 2015. At the time, CEO Dan Burton denied rumors that he was preparing the company for a short-term IPO, noting that the company did eventually intend to go public, but not before allowing the company to scale up more. Since those comments, the company has doubled its bookings, revenue, and customer base. It has also grown its employee base from 230 to 400.

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Vivify Health Closes $17 Million Series B To Scale Remote Patient Monitoring Business

Plano, TX-based population health startup Vivify Health has closed a $17 million Series B funding round led by UPMC and with additional investments from Envision Healthcare Holdings and LabCorp. The funding round was initially publicized in November 2014, when the team announced that it had raised $15 million but would continue soliciting investments. More than a year later, the company has finally closed the round, adding an additional $2 million for a $17 million total round. The new funding brings Vivify’s lifetime funding level to $23 million since its 2009 launch.

Vivify Health Closes $17 Million Series B To Scale Remote Patient Monitoring Business

Vivify launched with the goal of building a data integration engine that would be marketed to health systems interested in capturing more information from medical devices and integrating that data with EHRs and patient portals. The company expanded on this vision later, adding a suite of tools that will engage with patients in the post-acute space while also aggregating and risk stratifying this data to help health systems more effectively allocate clinical resources. The company has sought out and secured investors with not only a financial interest in seeing the startup grow, but also a business interest. LabCorp CEO David King noted in the November 2014 announcement that the company was not only interested in the company’s financial future, but also in the potential collaboration opportunities that it could benefit from. UPMC, the lead investor on its current round, has also announced that it will not only be an investor, but also a customer as it implements Vivify’s software to reduce its overall cost of care burden.

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The White House Precision Medicine Initiative Begins To Take Shape

During his 2015 State of the Union Address, President Obama unveiled a new Precision Medicine Initiative that would be funded with $200 million and given the mission of advancing the way that a broad set of diseases are detected and treated. Based on years of evidence suggesting that treatments for diseases like cancer and certain mental health conditions may be more effective if tailored based on individual genetic traits, the funding will be distributed to public and private organizations engaged in research that will yield new findings in these areas.

The White House Precision Medicine Initiative Begins To Take Shape

This week, after a year of recruiting public and private partners to join in on the mission, the White House announces a number of tangible commitments from organizations interested in participating, with a strong representation of digital health companies among those listed.

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Fitbit Shares Drop 21 Percent On Adjusted Financial Projections

Fitbit reported Q4 and annual results this week. Quarterly revenue grew 92 percent to $712, adjusted EPS $0.35 vs. $0.21, beating expectations on both. Profits also grew, totaling at $64 million, up 64 percent from the same quarter last year. Analyst consensus estimates had forecasted revenue of just $648 million and EPS of $0.25, so Fitbit beat both by a wide margin and demonstrated strong profit growth. Despite the positive financial results, shares plummeted in after hours trading on Monday, and continued to fall through both Tuesday and early trading Wednesday after the company adjusted its 2016 earnings and revenue forecast sharply downward.

Fitbit Shares Drop 21 Percent On Adjusted Financial Projections

Fitbit projected a Q1 revenue of between $420 and $440 million, falling short of analyst expectations of $483 million. More concerning, however, is the projected quarterly earnings of $0.00 to $0.02 per share, falling far below analyst expectations of $0.23 per share. The lowered earnings projections reflect one time costs associated with launching two new products, the Alta and Blaze. Fitbit is absorbing manufacturing and distribution costs, along with marketing costs, as it prepares for its global launch for the new devices. The company based its decision to issue lowered guidance on the impact those costs will have on its Q1 financial performance. In its earnings call, CFO William Zerella explains, “The channel is draining their inventory levels of Charge, and we stop shipping Charge in Q1. We’re transitioning in the channels preparing for Alta… our guidance assumes that we will be getting initial shipments out of Alta into the channel, but that because of the timing that no reorders will hit revenue in Q1.” Because Fitbit expects no reorders for either its Alta or Blaze units from distributors during Q1, the company is expecting significantly reduced earnings.

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