Edition 15 — October 20, 2021
Good morning. 

In the last edition, we reported on smart toilets. For those of you who thought things couldn't get any more bizarre: Currently, a crowdfunding campaign for the first smart bath mat is running. 

This shows: Health sensors can and will be built into almost all devices and objects. The important question is: Will we use these devices? This brings us directly to this week's topics:
  • Why are earbuds better-suited as health monitors than smartwatches?
  • What is Best Buy’s rationale to go all-in on healthcare?
  • Which common diseases are internet users most concerned about?
As if that weren’t enough, we also interviewed Lina Behrens, the woman who gives wings to the German health tech ecosystem.

Have fun with our perspectives on the last two weeks in MedTech.

Apple is preparing to turn AirPods into health monitors

Illustration by Mary Delaney

This really shouldn't surprise anyone, but Apple is evaluating AirPods’ potential as health monitors. On the test bench are the improvement of hearing, the measurement of body temperature, and the monitoring of posture. 

As always with rumors, it's not clear whether this innovation will become reality. Apple declined to comment. But according to internal documents, Apple is already developing prototypes that measure the wearer's body temperature in the ear and check whether motion sensors could indicate bad posture. 

The distribution of wearable devices with health sensors has increased significantly in recent years and will continue to do so in the near future. According to research from Insider Intelligence, more than 80% of U.S. consumers are willing to wear fitness wearables. 

Currently, smartwatches and smart wristbands are dominating the health-tracking market. However, the decisive factor for success is whether people use these devices regularly. And here the figures are rather sobering. Studies show that many of the devices sold are no longer used after a short time.  

→ Ultimately, smart headphones’ potential as a carrier for health sensors lies in their widespread use. According to data from Statsta, almost 400 million hearables will be sold in 2024 compared to only 156 million smartwatches and 74.4 million smart wristbands. 

→ Hearables are not only more widely distributed but also more regularly used, whether for listening to podcasts while commuting or in video conferences. While fitness wristbands often hide in the corner, and even smartwatches are in many cases only used sporadically, AirPods are daily companions for most owners.
→ Apple is in an excellent position to win the market for health-tracking hearables. The company currently has a market share of almost 30% in wireless headphones. Although Apple does not publish sales figures, industry analysts have agreed on estimated sales of 72.8 million units in 2020. To put this in perspective, Apple shipped 34 million Apple Watches last year. 

→ To sum it up, we believe hearables will be the most important source of private health data in the future. And Apple is in an excellent position to dominate this market. 

Best Buy goes all in on healthcare and at-home care for baby boomers

Image: Best Buy

Last week, Best Buy announced it had acquired UK-based Current Health, which specializes in remote patient monitoring and telehealth. This follows Best Buy’s $800 million acquisition of Lively (formerly GreatCall) in 2018 and underscores its push into digital health. 

Current Health offers a home hub and wearables that collect data, as well as integration with medical device companies and electronic health records. Best Buy didn't disclose terms of the deal other than the fact that the company paid cash.

The acquisition is no coincidence, but part of the retail giant’s ambitious bet on the healthcare market. Back in 2019, Best Buy outlined their reasons for expanding into the healthcare market: The company believes technology is turning the home into a healthcare hub. The focus is on seniors, a group Best Buy wants to make sure can continue to live at home longer through technology and health services. At that time, they set the goal to serve 5 million seniors at home by 2025. 

This was a promising bet. Morgan Stanley estimated two years ago that healthcare could bring Best Buy $11 billion to $46 billion in potential long-term revenue. By 2025, revenues could reach $500 million to $2 billion. 

Best Buy's bet shows us three things:

→ Helping seniors stay at home longer by way of technology is a huge market. An aging population, better medical care, and falling birth rates have resulted in a greater population of people over 50. By 2023, there will be 54 million U.S.-based seniors, and 90% of them want to stay at home. 

→ The MedTech market of the future is not a walled garden. Established medical technology companies will be competing with consumer electronics brands. It is no longer only about winning doctors and clinics, but also about the patients and their homes. 

→ Disruption is not inevitable. While other brick-and-mortar retailers suffered heavy losses in the ecommerce boom, Best Buy took action early and leveraged its strength to conquer new markets. 

Zimmer Biomet’s smart knee reminds us to do our rehab exercises 

Image: Zimmer Biomet

Surgeons at the Hospital of Special Surgery in New York City performed the first-ever knee replacement using a smart knee implant in October. Called Persona IQ, the knee combines a proven knee implant from Zimmer Biomet (founded in 1927) with Canary Medical's (founded in 2013) implantable tibial extension sensor technology, which measures and determines range of motion, step count, walking speed, and other gait metrics. 

According to the press announcement, the data should give physicians and patients an accurate view of rehab adherence—a common phenomenon, according to research—and the patient's recovery process. 

Once implemented, the knee records a variety of data and transmits it wirelessly to a personal base station. From there, the data is transmitted to a cloud-based platform where surgeons can view and assess recovery progress after surgery. Previously relying on patient-submitted data and follow-up exams, this gives both the patient and the treating physician a much more objective dataset.

→ Even though this is certainly one of those "it was only a matter of time" innovations, the event has its place in history: We are entering the age of smart implants!

→ Certainly, we should be talking about the privacy, cleanliness, and vulnerability of new implants, as well as their battery life, replacement routines, data sovereignty, cybersecurity, insecure data architectures, and other IoT-related risks and threats. But more on that in a future edition.

→ Today, we'd like to highlight the productive corporate-startup partnership between Zimmer Biomet and Canary Medical. It has been our experience that the larger the company, the less likely innovation is to be aligned with industry challenges—and the more likely it is to suffer from departmental bias. A collaborative mindset that targets the medical technology ecosystem, with its inexhaustible source of external, intelligent, well-trained, experienced, and motivated talent, can help overcome these obstacles. 

→ Collaborating with startups can be critical to growing and driving innovation. Not only do startups grant access to new technologies, or allow corporations to outsource pilot and proof-of-concept projects, but they can also introduce digital skills and qualities, as well as new perspectives on customer needs. In short, it can be worth it. We will definitely keep an eye on the relationship between Zimmer Biomet and Canary Medical.

Google and listen to what the world wide web has to say.

The public’s overreliance on the internet to uncover health-related information is a frequent cause for concern. In fact, over one-third of people living in the U.S. routinely use online symptom checkers for both routine and urgent conditions, including chest pain.

Now, here is a little bit of trivia for you.

What do you think the most frequently-Googled health-related search terms are?

According to our analysis of Google Trends data, cancer, allergies, diabetes, and headache are searched for the most across the globe. 

This might be a little surprising, given the fact that all these terms fall into what us Germans might coin classic “Volkskrankheiten” (common diseases).

More interestingly is that most of these common diseases have grown in search interest over the past decade, illustrating the accelerating role the internet plays in giving us health-related information.

Comparing Google search volumes of each major disease in 2021 vs. 2010, headache and neck pain are the two symptoms that have grown the most in popularity.

Both of these pain sources might be directly related to people’s longer average screen times, especially with our mobile phones. As per eMarketer, the average U.S. adult spends 3 hours and 54 minutes on their mobile devices each day this year, up from less than 3 hours back in 2015.

Lina Behrens is the CEO of Flying Health, where she supports companies from the healthcare and consumer goods industry as well as digital health startups in all matters related to digital healthcare. She is an executive board member of the German Startups Association and a member of the Young Digital Economy Advisory Board of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Previously, she worked at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in the UK and at the company builder Polymath Ventures in Colombia, among other organizations.

For innovation to be put into practice, we need a closer integration of science and business.

Lina Behrens (CEO, Flying Health)

Early stage
Xaga Surgical raised SEK 4 million of venture funding through a private offering on October 11, 2021. The company promotes innovative medical needles to minimize the risk of infection.
MED-TECH NEWS (2021-10-11) ↗
Series A
DeepSight Technology, developer of hardware, software, and AI technologies designed for diagnostic medical imaging, raised $25 million of venture funding in a deal led by Deerfield Management on October 11, 2021. Wing Venture Capital, Alter, and Time BioVentures also participated in the round.
Series C
Digital twin
Twin Health secured $140 million in a Series C funding round led by Sofina, Helena Special Investments, and Corner Ventures. The California-based startup integrates IoT sensors, algorithms, and medical science to enhance metabolic health. 
HTWORLD (2021-10-13) ↗
Series B
Graphwear is developing a needle-free glucose monitoring device for the continuous monitoring of sugar and fluid levels without using any blood or urine. The company raised $20.5 million through a combination of debt and Series B venture funding in a deal led by Mayfield. 
FINSMES (2021-10-05) ↗
Series D
Catalyst OrthoScienc raised $12.3 million of Series D venture funding in a deal led by River Cities Capital and Mutual Capital Partners. The company is working on a  shoulder replacement system designed to make orthopedic surgery less invasive and more efficient. 
ORTHOWORLD (2021-10-07) ↗
Series A
OneProjects, an Irish-German developer of four-dimensional cardiac imaging technology, has received $17 million in funding. The round included an $8 million Series A and two grants worth $9 million.
SILICONREPUBLIC (2021-10-15) ↗

Last week I came across an intriguing article in The Atlantic: “We Accidentally Solved the Flu. Now What?”

The flu is a serious disease. Globally, the WHO estimates that the flu kills 290,000 to 650,000 people each year. 

Through the COVID countermeasures, we were able to reduce the spread of flu to a minimum last season. During the 2020-21 flu season, the United States recorded only about 2,000 cases, or 17,000 times fewer than the 35 million it recorded the previous season. 

With a hard lockdown, we could almost completely prevent the flu in the future as well. We all agree that this restriction of freedom is absolutely out of proportion.  But even less drastic measures like short circuit breakers, keeping your distance, regularly washing hands (not touching your face) or wearing masks on public transportation could prevent several flu deaths every year. 

I believe that already, the experiences from the corona period and a higher level of awareness can help to restrict the flu. But that is just my personal opinion, and the answer to the question that the article raises can only be given societally.

This article showed me once again that innovation in MedTech is never just about what is technically and medically possible, but about what is desirable for society at large. And thus, the decision can never be made by individuals, but only by society as a whole.