News / Economy

Apple on Medical Tech Hiring Spree

FILE - Apple's new iPhone 5S is displayed at an Apple shop in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district, Japan, Sept. 20, 2013.
FILE - Apple's new iPhone 5S is displayed at an Apple shop in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district, Japan, Sept. 20, 2013.
Reuters
Apple Inc. is building a team of senior medical technology executives, raising hackles in the biotechnology community and offering a hint of what the iPhone maker may be planning for its widely expected iWatch and other wearable technology.
 
Over the past year, Apple has snapped up at least half a dozen prominent experts in biomedicine, according to LinkedIn profile changes. One prominent researcher moved two weeks ago, and Apple is recruiting other medical professionals and hardware experts, although the number of hires is not clear, said two people familiar with the hiring, who declined to be named.
 
Much of the hiring is in sensor technology, an area Chief Executive Tim Cook singled out last year as primed “to explode.” Industry insiders say the moves telegraph a vision of monitoring everything from blood-sugar levels to nutrition, beyond the fitness-oriented devices now on the market.
 
“This is a very specific play in the bio-sensing space,” said Malay Gandhi, chief strategy officer at Rock Health, a San Francisco venture capital firm that has backed prominent wearable-tech startups, such as Augmedix and Spire. He was aware of several of the moves.
 
Apple is under pressure to deliver on Cook's promise of new product categories this year. The company has not introduced a new type of product since the iPad in 2010, a fact that weighs on investors' minds: its stock remains well off its highs despite a series of buybacks and dividend payouts.
 
Investor Carl Icahn tweeted his approval of Apple quarterly results and buyback plans on April 23. “Believe we'll also be happy when we see new products,” he added.
 
Apple has registered the trademark “iWatch” in Japan. Several Apple patents point to wrist-worn devices, and in February, Apple filed a patent for a smart earbud patent that could track steps and detect gestures of the head.
 
One mobile health executive, who asked not to be named, told Reuters he recently sat down with an Apple executive from the iWatch team. He said the company has aspirations beyond wearable devices, and is considering a full health and fitness services platform modeled on its apps store.
 
Apple spokesperson Steve Dowling declined to comment on the company's health-tech plans or its recent hires.
 
The med-tech community is betting on Apple to develop the apps-store style platform so startups can develop their own software and hardware mobile medical applications.
 
“There's no doubt that Apple is sniffing around this area,” said Ted Driscoll, a Silicon Valley-based partner at Claremont Creek Ventures, which specializes in digital health and medical devices. He said Apple seemed primarily focused on recruiting engineers with experience in “monitoring the body's perimeters.”
 
Apple has poached biomedical engineers from companies including Vital Connect, Masimo Corp, Sano Intelligence and O2 MedTech.
 
Masimo is best known for its pulse oximetry device, which non-invasively measures patients' oxygen saturation, an indicator of respiratory function. Vital Connect focuses on tracking vitals like heart rate and body temperature. O2 Med Tech also is experimenting with biosensors and developing new devices.
 
A LinkedIn search shows Masimo chief medical officer Michael O'Reilly; Cercacor chief technology officer Marcelo Lamego; and Vital Connect's Ravi Narasimhan, vice president of biosensor technology, and Nima Ferdosi, an embedded sensors expert, are among those who have moved over to the Cupertino company.
 
One source said Alexander Chan, a former biomedical engineer at Vital Connect, has also defected. His LinkedIn profile states he now works at a “technology company.”
 
Apple has also hired hardware experts Nancy Dougherty, formerly of wearable sensor company Sano Intelligence, and Todd Whitehurst, vice president of product at Senseonics Inc, a glucose monitoring product, according to their LinkedIn profiles.
 
And most recently, Divya Nag, founder of StartX Med, a Stanford-affiliated startup accelerator, joined an Apple research and development team two weeks ago to focus on an unspecified healthcare product, two people familiar with the matter say. Nag did not respond to requests for comment.
 
Attempts to contact the people on LinkedIn were not successful, except for Ferdosi, who declined to comment. Sano and Vital Connect declined to comment, Masimo and Cercacor confirmed the departures, Senseonics did not return an email requesting comment and O2 MedTech could not be reached.
 
“Just buying people”
 
Singularity University's Daniel Kraft, who chairs the FutureMed program that explores developing technologies and their potential in biomedicine, said the first version of the iWatch might track blood pressure and heart rate, among other vitals.
 
Eventually he expects Apple to release a device that could continuously monitor glucose levels without requiring a blood draw.
 
“Some of the talent (Apple recruited) has access to deep wells of trade secrets and information,” said Joe Kiani, chief executive officer of medical device firm Masimo Corp, who lost his chief medical officer to Apple in mid-2013.
 
Kiani said that Apple was offering sizeable salaries with little indication of what researchers would be doing. “They are just buying people,” he said. “I just hope Apple is not doing what we're doing.”
 
FDA question

 
Apple may face regulatory hurdles if it aims for devices which do more than monitor fitness. In January, The New York Times reported that Apple executives, including O'Reilly, met with senior officials at the Food and Drug Administration, including Bakul Patel, who drafted the FDA's final guidance for mobile health.
 
In fall of 2013, the FDA announced that it would focus on regulating applications that attempt to turn a smartphone into a medical device, or that are intended to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device. That might include apps and attachments to measure lung function or analyze urine, for instance, but not devices such as Nike's FuelBand, which tracks your steps but does not offer medical recommendations.
 
Apple also has witnessed rivals trying, and failing, to produce devices that reach a mass market. Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch was panned by critics and consumer reviews have been tepid at best.
 
A report from Endeavor Partners found that one-third of American consumers who have owned a wearable ditched it within six months. Key challenges include battery life, style, usefulness, and medical relevance, it said. And this month, Nike confirmed to Re/code that it had laid off some of its FuelBand team.
 
Meanwhile, Google is taking a different approach. In March, it pre-empted Apple by unveiling Android Wear, a version of its Android software tailored for wearable devices. Like Apple, it's shown interest in medical technology: it is exploring contact lenses that can monitor glucose levels in tears.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7798
JPY
USD
106.41
GBP
USD
0.6203
CAD
USD
1.1242
INR
USD
61.430

Rates may not be current.