Susana Machado • July 14, 2017

The Friday Roundup is a collection of five stories that you need to know about each week. From policy, to innovations, look to us to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the healthcare industry.

Digital Health has Lucrative Second Quarter

Investors contributed $3.8 billion to the digital health industry. The quarter alone was larger than the combined total annual funding for 2010 and 2011, according to Startup Health’s 2017 Mid-Year report. In addition, 2017 has seen more unique investors so far than the entirety of 2014, showing that the industry is attracting and keeping attention from investors new to the space. To date, there have been 306 deals in 2017 coming to a total of $6.5 billion.

 

Though the number of deals is consistent with earlier years, the size of deals has continued to grow, with more $100M+ deals projected for this year. The most active subsectors were Big Data/Analytics and Education/Training. The first one is hardly a shock, but the second shows the industry recognizes the shortage of healthcare professionals and is investing in solution to fix it.

First Sickle Cell Drug in 20 years Approved by FDA

Endari is a drug created by Emmaus Medical Inc. and has been approved to limit side effects of Sickle Cell that occur in the lungs and pain that is caused by the disorder.

 

Fortune Health points out that the situation with Sickle Cell — the fact that there hasn’t been a drug for many years and when there is, it only really helps manage the disorder — is indicative of how difficult it is to create “groundbreaking medicines.” Treatments for diseases like Sickle Cell, which affect a small portion of the population (about 100,000 Americans), often make slow progress. Though the FDA has attempted to focus more on rare diseases, it has come with missteps like the approval of a $89,000 decades-old muscular dystrophy treatment.

Department of Defense Backs Brain-Computer Interfaces

The U.S. is contributing $65 million to six different organizations with the goal of developing a way to record data from millions of neurons in the brain.The funding comes from the Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program, a project meant to support President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative.

 

“By increasing the capacity of advanced neural interfaces to engage more than one million neurons in parallel, NESD aims to enable rich two-way communication with the brain at a scale that will help deepen our understanding of that organ’s underlying biology, complexity, and function,” NESD program founder Phillip Alvelda said in a statement.

 

This kind of information stream could eventually be the key to treating paralysis, speech disorders, and many other neurological based issues.

Outside Experts Recommend FDA Approval of CAR-T Cancer Therapy

Though the FDA’s final announcement of approval will not come until Oct. 3, the future of Novartis’ CAR-T therapy is promising. CTL019 is the first CAR-T therapy to reach the FDA and is proposed to treat children and young adults with advanced leukemia. CTL019 works by “programming” a patient’s white blood cells to focus on tumors.

 

The treatment was supported unanimously by the outside advisory board and has boasted impressive results such as an 83 percent remission rate.

 

Several other companies are working on CAR-T treatments, including Kite. The support Novartis earned from the advisory board bodes well for them and the future of CAR-T therapy, Kite’s CEO noted in a blog.

AI Bests Cardiologists in Detecting Cardiac Arrhythmias

Using data from the Zio patch created by SF-based startup iRhythm Technologies, researchers from Stanford developed an AI algorithm to detect cardiac arrhythmias. The program can detect 12 different types of arrhythmias and did so with more accuracy than the average cardiologist.

 

This kind of high-accuracy ECG-based diagnosis can save a lot of time for physicians and, when coupled with accessible ECG systems, will hopefully increase access to care without increased misdiagnosis.

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