Medical Devices and Technology Take Wearables to a Whole New Level

Two powerhouses in their respective fields, Novartis’s Alcon division and Google, have recently inked a deal to create a “smart” contact lens to help diabetics track their sugar levels.  The device will work by analyzing glucose levels in the wearer’s tear fluid via minute sensors and passing that data onto a mobile device (no doubt an Android!) via a tiny antenna in the lenses.  In its press release, Google described the sensors as being “so small they look like bits of glitter” and described the antenna as “thinner than human hair.” It brings a whole new meaning to “wearables.”

This convergence of medical devices and high tech will mean that the patient will no longer need to test their blood sugar multiple times per day – an oftentimes painful process of finger pricking.  By having a continuous data stream, rather than a point-in-time snapshot, the patient (and his doctor) will have the ability to track patterns and potentially avoid the incidence of hypo- and hyperglycemic attacks in real-time.  For example, the smartphone could tell patients when they need to eat or lower their glucose levels.  And, yes, the lenses will also correct vision as well.  Given the large population size of diabetics (about 382 million people worldwide), this could be a solid revenue stream for both companies.

Novartis said that the medical technology used in the lenses could have other applications, which prompts a couple of questions:

  • Will we continue to see this type of convergence and partnership?
  • Will the tech industry synergize its skills in engineering and big data analysis with the health care industry?

We are just beginning to see other companies jump into the MedTech fray, from Apple’s HealthKit to Samsung’s Simband.  Today, it’s all about patient generated health data and how to leverage it to improve outcomes.   And, the dollars are following – in Q214, VC investment in MedTech spending rose 34% to $13 billion as compared to the previous quarter.

Generally speaking, one MedTech usability factor to consider going forward is how the patients will interact with their devices and collect the data.  Many devices today rely upon a combination of skin based sensors coupled with the expectation that the user will input additional data into their smartphone.  The issue with this model is that many users don’t want (or remember) to pull out a small-screened phone and log copious amounts of information, like what they ate or their stress level over the course of the day.  One of the good features about these new contacts is that the sensors do all of the work for the patient.  The more devices can automatically collect this data, like these new lenses do, the faster time to adoption, the more data available for analysis and the more utility the user will ultimately receive.

It’s clear that life sciences and high tech are converging, ushering in a new generation of medical devices to improve health monitoring and treatment. Now with smart contact lenses on the market, what do you think will be next? Let us know in the comments section below or send an email to danielle.arad@verix.com.