Google Hires Top Digital Research Cardiologist Specialist in Moves to Ultimately Expand Fitbit Medical Research Competitive Position

Dec 14, 2019 | Apple Watch, Apps, Decentralized Clinical Trials, Fitbit, Google, Smart Devices

Google Hires Top Digital Research Cardiologist Specialist in Moves to Ultimately Expand Fitbit Medical Research Competitive Position

A prominent figure in digital healthcare (including medical devices and AI) was approached by Google Health, reporting directly to Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Chief Health Officer. Dr. Jacqueline Shreibati leaves AliveCor where she served as Chief Medical Officer to take on an ambitious agenda at Google. It is yet another signal that Google is diving deeper into medical research via its Fitbit acquisition and, hence, why is a point of interest for TrialSite News.

Google, of course, recently announced its intention to buy FitBit, which represents its intentions of a major investment in technology to drive medical research, among other endeavors. The Google/FitBit deal is currently being reviewed as part of an antitrust probe led by the U.S. Department of Justice. As reported by Zachary Hendrickson of Business InsiderAliveCor, the maker of mobile and wearable electrocardiogram (EKG) devices, competes with Apple Watch and its freshly integrated EKG capabilities. Google’s move to poach Dr. Shreibati indicates intensifying smart device competition in medical and clinical research.

Fitbit as a Medical Research Tool

As explained by Mr. Hendrickson, Shreibati’s background as a cardiologist and health outcomes research specialist aligns with Google’s direction to supply the algorithms delivered via a multiplicity of channels to power medical research. After all, the decentralized and “patient-centric” clinical and medical research movement is set to explode with a rapid adoption of smart devices (including wearables) and mobile phones enabling more clinical data collection opportunity in the comfort of a patient’s home or work.  

Harvard Business School research informs that more than 1,000 clinical trials use connected smart devices by 2017. A whole new clinical trials digital app ecosystem offers research sponsors and investigators a myriad of opportunities to fundamentally evolve clinical research, supporting a more engaging and patient-centric model.

Fitbit Success

Already, Business Insider reports evidence of Fitbit success in significant health tracking markets. For example, it inked a deal with the Singapore Government to offer Fitbit devices to hundreds of thousands of patients—powering the government-led diabetes prevention program known as Live Healthy SG

Moreover, the UK National Health Service will sign up to 8,000 people with Fitbit devices as part of its own Diabetes Prevention Program.

Coming Smart Device & Research App Wars

Fitbit product diversity and price points possibly afford some advantages of market juggernaut Apple in the market for medical and clinical research wearable devices. In broad-based enterprise and government deals, price can matter. Fitbit’s product catalog focuses on health tracking, and price points can be compelling, which as Business Insider acknowledged, can make them more competitive on a per-unit cost basis than Apple Watch for instance—the latter having a $350 price tag and perhaps a suite of features not relevant to medical research operations.

On the other hand, Apple has advantages over Fitbit. For example, for largescale health and research partnerships, Apple Watch’s 4’s clinical grade EKG offers researchers exciting potential for redesigning certain cardiovascular-centric trials. 

After all, Stanford used this product for the 400,000-person study on the effectiveness of wearables for atrial fibrillation (Afib) detection and monitoring. The Apple Watch isn’t the only direct-to-consumer EKG-enabled device. Hence, this is where Dr. Shreibati may fit in nicely—AliveCor has an FDA-cleared comparable product called KardiaMobile and KardiaBand for the Apple Watch, offering users access to an EKG outside of the physician’s office.

Generally, there are pros and cons when comparing the Apple Watch and Fitbit for research studies. The Fitbit represents the fitness world, and Apple pretty much dominates everything else—healthcare being the battle ground—and if Google can close the Fitbit deal, then the stakes become exponentially bigger. According to one analysis, Fitbit beats Apple watch mostly on fitness-originated themes but Apple pulls ahead with much else, including healthcare.

Feature/CapabilityApple WatchFitbit
Setting Goals X
Heart Rate Monitor X
Heart Irregularity CheckX 
Calorie CountDrawDraw
Sleep Monitoring X
Fitness Related Activity X
Everything ElseX 

Apple’s landmark heart health study, although mixed in terms of actual results, generated even more interest in the medical research community. Hence, they recently launched Research app for connecting Apple users to clinical trials across a range of health fields.

The window of opportunity is now but, according to Zachary Hendrickson with Business Insider, timing is not on Google’s side in that Apple isn’t standing still and already commands a dominant position in healthcare research smart device space. Mr. Hendrickson suggests Fitbit (under Google’s umbrella if deal goes through) will need to deliver on upgraded products that meet or exceed Apple Watch for health research in 2020. Otherwise, the Cupertino-based powerhouse may pull too far away in healthcare.

Conclusion

Google, assuming its Fitbit deal goes through, will make a run at Apple’s dominant position in the nascent market for medical and clinical research smart devices and app. This emerging battle will raise the bar and increase the stakes. Other vendors, such as Garmin, also will invest heavily to win market share. The hiring of Dr. Shreibati makes sense as the cardiologist will leverage her deep medical and scientific expertise with her significant exposure to digitally-enabled product development at AliveCor. A battle commences to expand the source of data collection, not to mention improving the interpretation of mass amount of collected research data. With the emergence of big data tools in clinical trials heretofore not possible, analyses are possible.

This represents an important, strategic and lucrative market. The world’s population has grown older and richer, and it demands research options that fit into how people actually live their lives today. The traditional notion of a centrally run clinical trial will become less of the norm. 

Biopharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostic sponsors—as well as research centers—understand this. Hence, why there is an inevitable march toward more decentralized, patient-centric trials, leveraging the power of smart device platforms and a growing ecosystem of research apps. Clinical trials sponsors and investigators will increasingly seek compelling digital tools to support their decentralized, patient-centric clinical trials at every stage—from trial design and feasibility to patient identification and site selection to patient recruitment, screening and enrollment to ongoing study conduct through closeout and ongoing post-market approval surveillance. Smart devices represent a contributing element to what will be an ongoing disruption and transformation of the drug, device and diagnostic development research process.

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