Brainstorm Health: Apple Watch and J&J, Ideal Diet, FDA Diabetes Vote

January 17, 2019, 11:51 PM UTC

Hello, readers.

The specter of Big Tech’s entry into the health care space has certainly elicited plenty of ink, deserved or otherwise. In recent months, it seems like Amazon has sucked up a large part of the conversation (understandable, given the PillPack acquisition that moved it definitively, if somewhat obliquely, into the pharmaceutical space).

But the latest Apple announcement appears to feed the narrative that this other maker of our most-used products and services is going all-in on the health sector. On Thursday, the company announced a collaboration with pharma giant Johnson & Johnson to use its built-in Apple Watch EKG tech to conduct a heart health study.

Here’s what the firms had to say: “The study will investigate whether a heart health app by Johnson & Johnson, combined with Apple Watch’s irregular rhythm notifications and ECG app, can accelerate diagnosis and improve outcomes for people with atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is a condition that affects 33 million people worldwide and can lead to blood clots, stroke and heart failure. The study will be based in the U.S., the companies said, and subjects will be individuals 65 years or older.”

It’s important to note that the Apple Watch Series 4 EKG app for A-Fib isn’t technically considered an official medical device. (Those of you who own its have likely seen those notifications.) But the fact that a company like J&J is willing to hitch its wagon to the technology in a wide-ranging health study is striking – especially given the the skepticism from certain cardiologists over the potential for false positives with the Apple device. Then again, trials like these may prove to be the only legitimate way to work out such kinks.

If you have any thoughts on this, please send me a note. I’d be happy to call out the most interesting observations.

Read on for the day’s news.


Curb Your Neuroscience. I'm going to cop to some bias on this one - I love Larry David, that wonderful codger and society-skewer of our times. My colleague Laura Stampler has a fun writeup of a University of California, Irvine study meant to fuel Alzheimer's and dementia research. Specifically, they took a bunch of college kids, shoved them into an MRI, and then force-fed them Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes to track how they, well, keep track of time and temporal memories. The most depressing part for me also happened to be a boon to the research team: “Interestingly, while the show is hilarious for some of us, it did not seem to instigate a lot of laughter among the college undergraduates we tested,” said a lead researcher, adding that the reaction (or lack thereof) was actually “excellent for us, as we needed to keep their heads inside the scanner.” No accounting for taste, I suppose. (Fortune)


A rare FDA panel deadlock. FDA advisory panel decisions tend to be extremely lopsided (and the agency itself almost always sides with the advice of this external expert panel). So it's not an exaggeration to say that a split decision is extremely rare for these committees. And yet that's exactly what happened on Thursday vis-a-vis Zynquista, a type 1 diabetes treatment co-developed by drug giant Sanofi and Lexicon Pharmaceuticals. The FDA advisory panel voted 8-8 on whether or not the treatment should be approved, setting up a high profile showdown in the agency by a March deadline. The controversy largely centers on serious side effects seen in clinical trials. (New York Times)


The "ideal" planetary diet. British scientists have released recommendations on a diet that would, ostensibly, be beneficial to both everyday people and this planet that they live on. It involves "a doubling of consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and a halving of meat and sugar intake," according to Reuters. File this one under "probably easier said than done." (Reuters)


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