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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9012
JPY
USD
122.90
GBP
USD
0.6400
CAD
USD
1.2582
INR
USD
63.438

Rates may not be current.