Alphabet’s research organization Verily is teaming up with iRhythm, a wearable heart monitor company, to create a device that can detect atrial fibrillation (AFib). This common heart arrhythmia is associated with strokes and other health concerns and affects over 5 million Americans. Through this collaboration, these two companies are aiming to provide consumers with a convenient and accurate wearable device that can help detect AFib.
This deal will couple Verily’s data analytics with iRhythm’s AI-based arrhythmia detection platform and requires iRhythm to make an upfront payment of $5 million to Verily and potential milestone payments of up to $13 million. The two are not the first who are integrating AFib detection into wearable devices, with the newest Apple Watch receiving FDA clearance for its electrocardiogram capabilities. This device can monitor for cardiac irregularities both actively and passively.
Kevin King, CEO at iRhythm, explained that his company’s device is designed “to help diagnose, manage, and eventually treat patients.” Speaking on what’s planned for the device, he told CNBC that “there are certainly under consideration wearable devices, and there might be apps.”
William Marks, who oversees Verily’s clinical neurology group, claimed that this service will be created with the physician population in mind. “We want to take the noise away from the signal and only present the signal,” he explained.
Shortcomings of the Existing Wearables
The iRhythm and Verily product sets itself from the Apple Watch in that it is intended for those who may not know if they have AFib but are at risk due to age or family history. In contrast, the Apple Watch is intended for a broad range of users. Several physicians have criticized Apple’s broad approach to identifying AFib, claiming that high rates of false diagnoses will result in patients seeing their doctor for no reason.
“The Apple Watch is too broad as it’s a consumer device,” said Nirav Shah, a neurology hospitalist who treats stroke patients and is currently developing a medical start-up. “I would think there’s a big opportunity in stratifying those higher-risk patients and make a diagnosis faster.”
“If you give the devices to people who might actually benefit, you are much more likely to see the benefit,” claimed Jeffrey Wessler, a New York cardiologist York who runs the HeartBeat health clinics.
Identifying the Patients Without Symptoms
These asymptomatic cases of AFib that iRhythm is looking to identify are common, with research finding that up to one-third of the patients with AFib are not aware of their condition. The partners did not say how they would go about finding people who are in this niche circumstance but did allude to possibly working with insurance companies to do so. Given iRhythm’s preexisting relationship with Aetna, this could be a feasible route of pursuit. The company recently revealed results from a study indicating that AFib patients who were diagnosed with a monitoring device experienced lower rates of hospitalization and ER visits than those who did not.
“We are excited to partner with iRhythm, a pioneer in ambulatory cardiac monitoring, to find innovative ways to deliver more efficient care to patients with atrial fibrillation,” said Dr. Jessica Mega, Verily’s medical & science chief. “With the high prevalence of cardiovascular-related health issues, we have an opportunity to not only improve how we diagnose, manage and monitor conditions like atrial fibrillation, but also develop patient-centric solutions that could ultimately prevent serious cardiac events.”
— Exponential Medicine (@ExponentialMed) September 5, 2019