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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7768
JPY
USD
108.84
GBP
USD
0.6124
CAD
USD
1.0999
INR
USD
61.042

Rates may not be current.