Preying on Facebook Groups

Thanks to a confluence of rising rates of opioid addiction and the availability of insurance dollars for rehabilitation service, vulnerable people affected by addiction are increasingly being targeted with misleading marketing communications, making disingenuous claims and failing to disclose ties to for-profit addiction centers. In particular, members of Facebook groups are being directly contacted by marketers looking to pull them into these treatment centers. Marketers are compensated with anything from a flat pay rate to bonuses attributed to the number and quality of patient referrals.

Rehab marketing has been under scrutiny in various ways for making false and misleading claims targeting vulnerable individuals, but the infiltration of Facebook Groups takes the shady to a whole new level. Marketing scams used by unethical treatment centers involve private messaging group members in an attempt to get a client to their treatment center, absent of any clinical consultation or assessment.

This article from The Verge dives into detail around one such group, Affected by Addiction.

Marketers from the treatment center had to approve every post in the group, which gave them the first opportunity to privately message good candidates for their rehab and try to talk them into going to Windward in California.

Why it’s hot: If it continues, what impact will this bad apple behavior will mean for the future of Facebook Groups, a community-builder that Zuckerberg has been all-in on? (Communities seemed to be one of the saving graces of the platform during all the #deleteFacebook convesration). Will this and similar activity happening in other communities cause people to further lose trust in Facebook? Will they leave en masse (in favor of darker dark social) or again change how they use the tools? If it continues unabated and has negative impact on user engagement, there could be significant ripple effects felt by brands who rely on Facebook Groups for social listening insights as people move to experiences that are more difficult to monitor or maintain.

Birth Control Pill Emoji Officially Under Consideration

The process of getting an emoji added to the Unicode Standard is a surprisingly complex one. (If you’re interested in learning more, check out the 99% Invisible podcast episode linked below!) It involves submitting a lengthy application to the Unicode Consortium, who can then vote on the proposal, request revisions, or deny the proposal altogether, then getting final approval by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), in a process that can take over 18 months to complete. The Unicode Consortium is responsible for selecting and approving of all emojis, and their voting board comprised mostly of multinational American tech companies like Apple, Adobe, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Netflix, Oracle, and SAP. (The government of Oman is the only non-tech voting member.)

You have to be savvy about getting emojis approved because the voting members are huge corporations and, once approved, the emoji will literally populate every emoji-enabled keyboard in the world – so the voting vendors have to feel comfortable releasing the emojis in all markets and all cultures. For example, as Emojination co-founder Jennifer 8. Lee mentions in Engadget, the same-sex family emoji was scorned in Russia, and the alcohol emojis were a big issue in Muslim countries. (Unicode circumvented the alcohol issue by calling the emojis “wine glass” and “beer mug” instead of “wine” and “beer”.) In 2015, Durex submitted an application for a condom emoji, and that was pretty swiftly rejected. (Part of the reason may have been because it was submitted by a company who stood to profit financially from the popularization of the emoji – but still, yeah, that did not go over well.)

So, basically, to get an emoji approved, you have two obstacles: the thoroughly corporatized and self-interested voting board, and the complex cross-cultural norms and expectations. Within this framework, it’s easy to see why a birth control pill emoji would be a complicated one. But last month, two women, Nora Hamada and her friend Megan Giller, sent in a proposal for just that.

Hamada and Giller submitted their application with the support of the organization Emojination, a nonprofit dedicated to democratizing the emoji approval process through encouraging and supporting people in submitting emoji proposals to the Unicode Consortium. Some of Emojination’s successful projects include the dumpling, hijab, and ballet flat emojis.

The women came up with the idea after attending an Emojination workshop in NYC. Hamada says, “When you search for emoji to represent women and safe sex, the things that come up most often are breastfeeding and babies,” and she realized there should also be an emoji for women who are deciding not to have children. They were also inspired by the invention of the birth control pill in the 60s as a historical turning point for women. As Giller says, “the pill stands for equality and the right to choose.”

In their application, Hamada and Giller smartly named the emoji “pills in a circular case” – but that’s the only politically-minded concession they made. The rest of their application, in fact, is very explicitly political. They go into depth on the historical significance of the pill and how relevant and widespread it is in today’s society. And it’s no coincidence that their application coincides with the current devastating rollbacks in female reproductive rights in America. As Hamada says, “Our rights for birth control are being taken away. In a way, this is a small form of protest against that.”

In a positive development, the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee recently came back to the two women asking for revisions and more statistics. (The original submitted design is on the left above; revision is on the right.) The next steps are certainly not guaranteed to go well, but it’s a good sign that the Subcommittee showed interest and engagement with their proposal. Hopefully we’ll hear more news about this potential emoji soon.

Why It’s Hot: With their emoji application, these two women are forcing the hands of each voting member of the Unicode Consortium to vote on a symbol that represents so many things that corporations are historically total cowards about: feminism, female sexuality and sexual autonomy, womanhood separate from motherhood, etc. The emoji is politically charged for the corporations either way – which message will they decide to send?

Learn More: Engadget

99% Invisible podcast: https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/person-lotus-position/

Fitbit (FINALLY) Adds Period Tracking Functionality

Fitbit’s plan to launch “women’s health” tracking (aka period tracking – not necessarily just for women!) has finally come to fruition and was launched this week. The tracker is available on the Fitbit app and on two devices, the Ionic and Versa smartwatches. All Fitbit users who have self-identified as female will receive a notification that tracking is available; all other users who wish to use the tracking have to opt in manually.

The tracker offers four features, none of which are new or revolutionary at all:

  • In-app period tracking: Log your period, record symptoms, and get notifications alerting you to predicted period start date
  • Smartwatch integration: See where you are in your cycle directly from your smartwatch
  • “News You Can Use”: Tracker includes relevant content written by doctors
  • Community feature: Fitbit created new community groups focused on periods, birth control, trying to conceive, pregnancy, and perimenopause/menopause

One perceived benefit could be that users can now see their period tracking data alongside their other health data – but even that isn’t a value-add for Fitbit specifically, because many standalone period tracker apps integrate with Apple Health so that you can see all your data side-by-side through that platform.

What’s the most interesting about this development is how uninteresting it is, ultimately. The fact that Fitbit just now, in 2018, rolled out period tracking is pretty bad optics. Apple Health, after much outcry, added period tracking in 2015! As The Verge notes, Fitbit itself admitted that period tracking has been a top-five user requested feature for “a while” (sideeye). Is it purely a coincidence they’ve finally decided to focus on period tracking after a dismal holiday earnings report, a bad year last year, and the news that they are no longer the top wearable maker in the US? Their users currently are over half men, so creating this female-focused feature seems like a pretty transparent grab at a new audience segment.

Why It’s Hot: A seemingly thoughtful, well-meaning update meant to benefit a historically ignored population turns out to (probably) be a thinly veiled ploy to buy more customers.

Learn More: Engadget | The Verge

A coral re(li)ef

From Hawaiian Airlines’ initiative in April to educate visitors on the harmful effects that many generic sunscreens have on the coral reefs, Hawaii has become the first state to introduce a ban on the sunscreens with chemicals believed to harm the reefs! The bill was introduced on Tuesday and if all goes well, it’ll take effect starting January 1st, 2021.

Why it’s hot:
Years of tourism has brutally impacted the reefs and accompanying ocean life leaving Hawaii to step up as they try to preserve what’s left.

source: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/02/607765760/hawaii-approves-bill-banning-sunscreen-believed-to-kill-coral-reefs

Who doesn’t want to play amateur Maury Povich?

The 23 & Me craze has spilled into the animal kingdom for pet owners who want more info on their pet’s breed and medical predispositions. Companies such as Embark and AnimalBiome will gladly take your money to test your dog or cat’s dna. Is it worth it? Probably more for dog owners curious about their breed, but don’t spend too much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to see video.

Why It’s Hot

While there’s nothing wrong with digging into your pet’s dna, it does feel like someone is taking advantage of a larger trend.

AI Software Predicts Heart Attacks During 911 Calls

An AI program currently in use in Copenhagen, Denmark is set for wider rollout after a series of successful initial testing. The software, called Corti, listens in on emergency calls and detects common heart attack cues such as breathing patterns, tone of voice, and background noises. It then gives the call dispatcher recommendations in real time of how to proceed.

The phone dispatchers in Copenhagen can recognize cardiac arrest from phone calls around 73% of the time; Corti can improve that rate to up to 95% accuracy. This is key because when dealing with someone going into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital, time is of the essence–the chance of survival decreases about 10% each minute, so getting to a diagnosis quickly can literally save lives. Making that diagnosis can be challenging for dispatchers, who have to make sense of symptoms that are being relayed by a panicked friend or relative, often competing with a lot of background noise (sirens, yelling, etc) as well.

In one example, when the platform was in testing, it recognized that a man who had fallen off a roof was in cardiac arrest. The dispatcher on the phone deduced that the man had broken his back from the fall, so they gave instructions to the relative on the phone as though the man were otherwise stable. But the AI recognized because of the man’s breathing patterns that he had suffered cardiac arrest and fallen as a result. Since the software was in testing only, it did not alert the dispatcher, and unfortunately the paramedics were unable to revive him. But had the software been able to intervene, it could have alerted the dispatcher, who could have then given CPR instructions to a bystander, better prepared the first responders, instructed someone to find an automated defibrillator, etc.

Expanded tests will take place in four sites across Europe from September 2018 to April 2019, and the startup will soon announce their expansion plans in America as well.

Why It’s Hot: AI in medicine is not new. What about emergency medicine? Are we ready to let AI into our darkest and most fearful moments? In moments of panic, will we trust machines more or less than humans?

Learn More: Fast Company

Meet Tess: the mental health chatbot

If you’re experiencing a panic attack in the middle of the day or want to vent or need to talk things out before going to sleep, you can connect with Tess the mental health chatbot through an instant-messaging app such as Facebook Messenger (or, if you don’t have an internet connection, just text a phone number).

Tess is the the brainchild of Michiel Rauws, the founder of X2 AI, an artificial-intelligence startup in Silicon Valley. The company’s mission is to use AI to provide affordable and on-demand mental health support.

Tess mental health chatbot

A Canadian non-profit that primarily delivers health care to people in their own homes, Saint Elizabeth recently approved Tess as a part of its caregiver in the workplace program and will be offering the chatbot as a free service for staffers.

To provide caregivers with appropriate coping mechanisms, Tess first needed to learn about their emotional needs. In her month-long pilot with the facility, she exchanged over 12,000 text messages with 34 Saint Elizabeth employees. The personal support workers, nurses and therapists that helped train Tess would talk to her about what their week was like, if they lost a patient, what kind of things were troubling them at home – things you might tell your therapist. If Tess gave them a response that wasn’t helpful, they would tell her, and she would remember her mistake. Then her algorithm would correct itself to provide a better reply for next time.

Read more: The Guardian

Why It’s Hot
While the accessibility of support like this is appealing, Tess raises the usual questions of mis-use and ‘mistakes’.

FDA Approves Non-Supervised Diagnostic AI

We’ve talked a lot about AI in healthcare recently, with a big focus on AI being used as a diagnostic tool to process scans/images and find potential issues. All of this technology thus far has been created with the understanding that the AI’s results will be reviewed and evaluated by a trained, specialized medical professional. That is, the doctor is still the final decision-maker, and the AI is her assistant.

All that changed this week, when the FDA announced its approval of the first AI tool that is meant to operate and issue a diagnosis completely independently, without any supervision from a specialized doctor. The software program, named IDx-DR, can detect diabetic retinopathy, a form of eye disease, by looking at photos of the retina that a nurse or doctor uploads to the program. After checking the image to make sure it’s high-resolution enough, the program evaluates the photo and then gives a diagnosis.

This is great on one level – it means that any nurse or doctor can upload a photo, and patients don’t need to wait to see a medical specialist in order to review the AI results and get a diagnosis. So theoretically, medical care will be more accessible and sooner. But, the flip side is a tricky ethical situation… Who is responsible when the diagnosis is wrong?

Why It’s Hot: Wait, are robots actually coming for our jobs after all? And who do we blame when they screw it up?

 

Learn More: The Verge | FDA release

Tin Man had a Tin Baby?

A tin-foil baby sounds like something out of a black mirror episode, but here we are. Professors from Purdue University designed a baby made out of tin-foil, for science. The purpose of the baby tin man was to study how babies are exposed to harmful particles as they’re so close to the ground during infancy. Dangerous particles are found in higher concentration as you get closer to the ground, exposing babies to some seriously sickening stuff. Another issue is due to the fact that babies primarily breathe through their mouths, causing a lot of the filth to be deposited in the lower airways and just causes some bad effects in the long run.

Why it’s hot:
Oh, baby. It’s an interesting one for sure, but surprisingly not a lot of people care about where their babies crawl around and just let them play when they want to. This could help guide better and more cognizant parenting.

Source: Mirror

#DeleteFacebook. But can you?

The growth of a movement to “delete Facebook” is leaving consumers in a pickle. As Vox reports, “the emphasis has largely been on users making up their minds about how to deal with the company on an individual level.However, this emphasis fails to take into account both Facebook’s position in modern society and the stakes involved for anyone who chooses to leave a network that has spent more than a decade trying to make leaving it impossible.”

In short, “delete Facebook” is just not that easy.

Again from Vox:

1) Facebook is technologically embedded within a vast web of interconnected third-party apps and social media platforms

2) For many people, using Facebook regularly is a required part of their job or education

3) Facebook is, for better and worse, a tangible tie holding many people to their communities

 

 

Why it’s hot: While the media and some in the ad industry may be quick to oversimplify and describe the current scandal as a death knell for the platform, there’s more at stake and more to consider than what’s on the surface. This could be particularly vital to keep in mind for healthcare communications, noting the above tweet referencing disease-specific diaspora.

AI is helping hospitals in China cope with a doctor shortage

AI is quickly becoming a promising technology for healthcare around the world, but China is gearing up to become THE global leader in AI in healthcare in the coming decades.

Why China, and why now? Three reasons:

  1. China has a low doctor-to-patient ratio – 1.5 doctors for every 1,000 people in China, compared with 2.5 for every thousand in the US, so the need is pronounced
  2. The Chinese government announced last summer that they are pursuing global dominance in AI by 2030 through heavy investments in the industry
  3. The restrictions on AI tools and data in healthcare are fairly relaxed, allowing for quick approval and implementation

This market is also being targeted by China’s big tech companies. Both Alibaba and Tencent have research units for developing AI diagnostic tools, and a Beijing-based consultancy reported 131 companies currently working on applying AI to China’s healthcare industry. Per IDC, the AI healthcare market in China will reach nearly a billion dollars (USD) by 2022.

Though there are many different types of AI tools being developed, image processing is the biggest category now. The tools, which rely on image classification, play to the strength of the latest deep-learning algorithms. And, it’s one of the things doctors need the most help with from a volume POV. For example, next month, a hospital in Beijing that treats a jaw-dropping 10,000 outpatients every day will start running all its lung scans through an algorithm that expedites the screening process. The algorithm, developed by a Beijing-based startup called PereDoc, can quickly spot nodules and other early signs of lung diseases. It allows doctors who are overwhelmed by patient volume process these scans in an accurate and expedited way.

Why It’s Hot: The general consensus around AI, in the US at least, is that it’s COMING FOR OUR JOBS! But this is a wonderful example of how emerging technologies can actually fill urgent gaps in critical industries, allowing for faster and more effective treatment and a better patient experience.

Learn More: Engadget | Technology Review

Every bite you take – I’ll be watching you!

Researchers at Tufts University have engineered a tooth-mounted sensor that tracks your every bite (and what it contains).

Tooth Sensor

The device is two square millimeters in size and sticks to the surface of a tooth. The sensor is ingeniously simple — when its central layer changes encounters different chemicals (salt, ethanol), its electrical properties shift, transmitting a different spectrum of radio waves. Currently, the patch is set up to wirelessly transmit information about glucose, salt, and alcohol to a mobile device; its creators think it could be adapted to monitor even more metrics, including “a wide range of nutrients, chemicals and physiological states,” according to a press release.

But a tracker like this one could also have some negative side effects. Indeed, one 2017 study found that fitness tracking devices in general were associated with eating disorder symptoms among college students (though, strangely, the same didn’t hold true for calorie counting apps).

Source: Futurism

Why It’s Hot
For better and/or worse, wearable tech gets one step closer.

sell my old clothes, i’m off to the cloud…

In the latest episode of life imitating art is a Y Combinator startup whose proposition is essentially uploading your brain to the cloud. Per the source: “Nectome is a preserve-your-brain-and-upload-it company. Its chemical solution can keep a body intact for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, as a statue of frozen glass. The idea is that someday in the future scientists will scan your bricked brain and turn it into a computer simulation. That way, someone a lot like you, though not exactly you, will smell the flowers again in a data server somewhere.”

Why It’s Hot:

What’s not hot is you have to die in order to do it, but what’s interesting is the idea of exploring our consciousness as almost iPhone storage. That reincarnation by technology could be possible.

[Source]

Microsoft launches app that helps the visually impaired navigate cities

Microsoft launched Soundscape, a new app that aims to help people who are visually impaired navigate better by giving them 3D cues.

They don’t want to replace guide dogs or canes but enrich people’s perception of their surroundings. A guide dog can’t tell you that there’s a Nike Store just around the corner. Using GPS and the built-in compass on the phone, the app can give people audio cues.

“Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that,” said Erin Lauridsen, Access Technology Director, LightHouse for the Blind.“The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what’s of interest.”

The app offers three possible actions: ‘locate’ tells you where you are, ‘around me’ calls out four points of interest around you and ‘ahead of me’ provides the names of five landmarks in front of you.

Why it’s hot:
It might not be a groundbreaking innovation and in terms of technology, it might not be the most advanced thing. But there’s nothing better than seeing technology been used to improve the quality of life of people.

Source: TechCrunch

Apple to open medical clinics for employees

Apple announced that it is opening medical clinics called “AC Wellness” for its employees (of which there are over 120,000). It quietly launched a website, acwellness.com for the venture that says:

AC Wellness is an independent medical practice dedicated to delivering compassionate, effective healthcare to the Apple employee population.

The company will build two clinics, one in the Apple headquarters building, and one just north of it. The clinics are going to be concierge-style, with job postings ranging from medical assistants / nurses / phlebotomists to primary care doctors, health partners, clinical exercise coaches, and care navigators. Sources told CNBC that Apple “plans to use AC Wellness clinics as a platform for testing out products and services that it could eventually provide for all consumers,” but it’s pretty clearly being rolled out as an employee-only venture for now.

Why It’s Hot: This isn’t the first instance of tech companies moving into the deeply dysfunctional healthcare space – Amazon recently announced a partnership with Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase, though the details of that partnership are sketchy. But this seems to be the first move by a tech giant to opening a privatized medical care center. In a country that already uses healthcare to stratify economic classes via linking insurance to jobs, what does it mean that Apple employees get not just better insurance, but better CARE because of their ability to get a job at Apple? What will happen if job-based doctor’s offices become the norm for certain social/economic classes of people?

Read More: Engadget | Gizmodo

Scientists develop a 3D-printed smartphone microscope

Australian researchers at the Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, a transdisciplinary government network, have created a 3D-printed device that clips onto smartphones, transforming them into fully functional microscopes. The device was developed with the goal of helping researchers and scientists have access to this crucial tool in remote regions and developing countries.

The microscope works by clipping an additional lens to the phone’s camera lens, and then holding slides up to it. Users can use the phone’s existing flash to do bright field or dark field imaging, which means the microscope can visualize both plant and mammalian cells. It’s powerful enough to view specimens as small as 1/200th of a millimeter. All of this means that the microscope can be used for things like analyzing water cleanliness, testing blood samples for parasites, and diagnosing diseases including malaria.

There are other portable microscopes on the market, but they require external LEDs and power sources, and get bulky surprisingly fast. This microscope makes full use of the smartphone as a power and light source, requiring nothing other than the clip itself.

Best of all? The researchers have made the 3D printing files free to the public. Good job, team.

Why It’s Hot: The 3D printer is again an innovation powerhouse, creating lifesaving technology with an incredibly low barrier to entry. And in making the printing files free to the public, these researchers are making a fantastic statement on putting the common good above individual profit. Would this have happened if a corporation, not a government program, made this innovation?

Learn More: Engadget | Newsweek

FDA Approves Blood Test That Can Detect Concussions

The FDA has approved the first-ever blood test that can detect signs of concussions, a huge step forward in the quest to make concussion diagnosis faster and more accurate.

The two main ways of detecting concussions now are giving patients a neurological test or, frequently, a CT scan. The neurological tests are not always accurate because the medical professional giving the test often isn’t familiar with the patient’s baseline performance. And CT scans, while a powerful diagnostic tool, expose people to high doses of radiation – about the equivalent of 100-200 chest X-rays – and are very expensive.

So it’s not that we don’t have ways of diagnosing concussions, it’s that our current method is akin to using a sledgehammer to pound a small nail. What’s missing is a way to figure out who should be given a CT scan for further diagnosis, and who doesn’t need it. This is where the blood test comes in.

The blood test works by measuring two proteins the brain releases into the blood after a head injury. The levels of these proteins will indicate whether the patient has lesions on their brain that will be visible in a CT scan or not. And it’s very accurate – it can predict the presence of a lesion 97.5% of the time, and determine who doesn’t have a lesion 99.6% of the time.

Though sports – football in particular – immediately come to mind (no pun intended) on the topic of concussions, the urgency of this drug development was actually a result of military necessity. As traumatic brain injuries have mounted during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed forces have been desperately seeking a way to quickly predict whether a blow to the head has caused bleeding or bruising in the brain (and, therefore, what the best plan of treatment is). The development of this blood test, as well as the clinical trials preceding FDA approval, were largely underwritten by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. Test results can currently be obtained in 3-4 hours, but the Defense Department is working with the drug company to reduce that window to one hour.

Why It’s Hot: The funding and pressure from the armed forces had a huge impact on the speed of this blood test’s development and FDA approval. It will certainly benefit the men and women serving in the military, but it also has a massive wider impact on the general public, as well as other people at high risk for brain injuries (athletes, etc). What other medtech breakthroughs can we look forward to from unexpected sources?

Learn More: Engadget | LA Times

 

MDMA for PTSD enters final round of FDA trials

MDMA – aka ecstasy – as part of assisted psychotherapy is entering final round of clinical trials in Vancouver, clearing the path for Canada and the United States to approve the drug for therapeutic use as early as 2021. The therapy consists of three 8-hour sessions in which the participant takes MDMA, and 12 sessions without the drug. The entire process spans three-and-a-half months.

The FDA designated MDMA a “breakthrough therapy” for PTSD in August 2017, and they have agreed to approve the therapy if stage three studies show the drug is effective and there are no safety issues. They have also greenlit a third round of clinical trials in the US, but MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), the organization overseeing the research in North America needs to raise $25 million first to conduct the US study.

MDMA is an empathogen, meaning that it stimulates togetherness and trust among users. It also inhibits activity in the brain that treats fear and stimulates hormones that make people feel more connected. So the drug is powerful in PTSD therapy in particular because it allows participants to open up to their therapists and talk about their experiences in a trusting, bonded way.

Traditional PTSD treatments can last years and years, and focus on desensitization (aka reliving experiences) which can cause emotional pain and trauma. Just 10 to 15 percent of people recover, and the drop-out rate is high. MDMA-assisted therapy, on the other hand, usually lasts fewer than 4 months, and two-thirds of participants were free from PTSD one year after treatment.

“It wasn’t a party drug. There was no party. It wasn’t trippy. I didn’t see things. I didn’t have some miraculous spiritual experience. I didn’t get the urge to get up and dance. For the first time in years I was able to open up and talk painlessly. The fear, the barriers were removed and I was able to talk to these people.”
-Ed Thompson, former PTSD sufferer who participated in second-round trials

Why It’s Hot: The government has been incredibly slow to legalize psychedelics partly because, per MAPS founder Rick Doblin, pharmaceutical companies don’t stand to profit from studying compounds that are in the public domain and cannot be patented. This trial marks an important step toward legalization of a drug purely because of its therapeutic benefits, and not because of lobbying/fundraising/pressure from pharma companies.

Learn More: Newsweek | Globe & Mail 

FDA seeks to curb abuse of OTC anti-diarrhea meds via packaging

As a part of its efforts to curb the current opioid crisis in America, the FDA has requested that OTC anti-diarrhea medications modify its packaging to make overdosing more difficult.

These drugs, specifically Immodium A-D and various store brands and generics, are tied to the opioid crisis because in massive doses, the active ingredient, loperamide, works in the body the same way as heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. Some people suffering from addiction are buying the anti-diarrhea meds and consuming huge amounts of them – between 50 and 300 pills per day – in order to maintain their high or to self-treat their opioid withdrawal symptoms. Since the pills are relatively affordable, selling at big box stores at $10 for 400 pills, the drug is an appealing quick fix.

The FDA already added a warning to the product label in spring 2017 to warn against ingesting high doses of loperamide, including from abuse and misuse, but of course that warning label uh… didn’t help. (Shocker.) So they’re taking a design-based step and asking manufacturers to alter their physical packaging in order to change user behavior. For example, a retail package could contain eight 2-mg capsules, enough for two days of medication for its intended purposes. Think of how Sudafed, NyQuil, etc are packaged in individual and frustratingly difficult-to-open blister packs – it would take a lot of physical effort to gather and dose a huge quantity of those medications.

Why It’s Hot: Changing the physical packaging of medication to alter user behavior is a fascinating UX/product design strategy. It involves cost and effort on the manufacturer’s behalf to redesign and repackage the medication, but if it works, it’s a blunt and effective approach. What else could we physically alter in order to change users’ negative or self-harming behaviors?

Read More: CBS News | FDA

My obsession with ingestibles continues…

My last post on ingestible was about sensors powered by stomach acid. Now? It’s about a tiny robot that walks, crawls, jumps and swims.

The robot prototype is small enough to move around in a stomach or urinary system, said Metin Sitti, head of the physical intelligence department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, who led the research team.

The robot hasn’t been tested in humans yet, but the goal is to improve it for medical use — for instance, delivering drugs to a target within the body.

Source: New York Times

Why It’s Hot
First of all, totes adores! But the real magic is in the continued potential to make life healthier for us all.

What Amazon, JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway have in common?

“JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway have joined forces with Amazon to form a new healthcare company for all U.S. employees. Right now details are so sparse there’s not even a name associated with the new company. However, this is big news for the industry, and it could possibly have ramifications not only for health insurance giants, but also smaller tech companies that are open to either partnering with the company — or even being acquired by it.

The decision didn’t come overnight. According to reports, the heads of each company — Jamie Dimon, Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos — have chatted for years about how to fix the problem of high costs and a broken healthcare system.

‘The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,’ Buffet said in a statement out this morning. ‘We share the belief that putting our collective resources behind the country’s best talent can, in time, check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes.”

Why it’s hot:
If the system is not working, you have to break the system – probably that’s what these companies and its leaders have in mind.

Source: TechCrunch

Could genetic testing help thwart the opioid crisis?

Why some people become addicted to oopiods and some do not has become somewhat of a mystery in the medical community. But the story is familiar; patient gets prescribed an opioid pain killer, and by the end of their course of treatment, they have developed a dependency (knowingly or not). But what if a genetic test could signal whether a person is more likely to develop an addiction, and therefore at higher risk from the moment they enter the doctor’s office?

That’s exactly what the medical analytics company Prescient Medicine has set out to do with their LifeKit Test- a genetic test that determines within 97% sensitivity how addictive your genetic response to opioids will be. Using an algorithm they developed based on genes that signal addiction in neural pathways, they give each test subject a score out of 100, with anything 52 or higher showing an elevated risk of addiction.

WHY IT’S HOT

Perhaps LifeKit and advancements in genetic testing could be the preventative measure needed to stop this national health crisis, and even aid with substance abuse of all kinds. As genetic testing becomes cheaper and more ubiquitous, it may arm doctors with the knowledge to offer alternatives that could saves millions of lives.

SOURCE: https://www.fastcompany.com/40513391/is-genetic-testing-part-of-the-solution-to-the-opioid-crisis

FDA Reviewing 3D Printing of Medication

The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) announced this week it is continuing to look into the feasibility manufacturing medications with 3D printing technology.

3D printing of pharmaceuticals allows for a unique approach for the manufacture of solid drug products in various shapes, strengths and spatial distributions of the active and inactive ingredients. Designs ranging from a single compartment to designs with multiple drug compartments can allow the release profile of the active ingredients to be tailored to meet the needs of specific patients.

Some of the advantages this manufacturing approach could include producing unique dosage forms such as the instantaneous disintegration of an active ingredient, and other complex drug release profiles. To date, one FDA-approved drug—Spritam®–is manufactured using 3D printing technology. Spritam® tablets, for the treatment of epilepsy, are designed so that a large dose of active ingredient (1000 mg of levetiracetam) disintegrates within seconds after taking a sip of water.

The Office of Testing & Research is examining questions such as

  • What are the critical process and component material parameters that affect printability of drugs?
  • What are the critical process parameters for each 3D printing technology?
  • How can a determination be made regarding when and how a given 3D geometric design is underperforming?
  • What are the critical characteristics of the component products for 3D printing including printers, filaments, substrate, and cartridges?
  • What are the critical factors in this method of manufacture that affect the drug release rates and MOA?

Of course, with any new pharmaceutical manufacturing process, there are also regulatory hurdles to be managed as well. CEDR is examining to what extent the process can be managed to ensure quality control across the multiple components associated with 3D printing processes, namely printers, substrate, and intermediate products and processes.

Why It’s Hot

In a word where we are expecting increasing levels of personalized service in almost every area of our life, pharmaceuticals as a produce lag due to legacy constraints in manufacturing.

3D printing offers the ability to manufacture drugs on demand for a unique individual’s physiological demands and can have a significant impact on quality of life.

 

 

Breakthrough Bacterial “Live Ink” Developed For 3D Printing

ETH Zurich, a science & tech university, has announced the development of a new kind of ink that contains live bacteria. This ink has fantastic implications for several areas of science, including cleaning up environmental pollution and creating medical supplies.

For environmental pollution, the ink is key because it suspends bacteria in a polymer hydrogel, which keeps the bacteria alive and fed for a time. Once the bacteria eat all of the hydrogel, it can begin to process other materials – for example, toxins in water. ETH Zurich researchers printed a live ink grid embedded with bacteria that eat the hazardous chemical phenol, and then put the lattice in phenol-contaminated water. The water was completely purified in just a few days.

For medical supplies, this ink is important not because of the bacteria itself, but because of the strands of material that the bacteria create when they move: bacterial cellulose. Bacterial cellulose is pure, holds a lot of water, and is soothing to wounds on human flesh. And it’s a natural material, so human bodies generally don’t reject the cellulose. As a result, this material is perfect for materials like skin transplants and wound dressings. Until now, bacterial cellulose could only be grown in flat sheets, which isn’t conducive to the contours of bodies – but now with this 3D ink, researchers can print cellulose in the shape of someone’s elbow, or face, or ankle, etc.

Why It’s Hot: There are SO many possible applications of this technology. 3D printing is relatively easy to access, and there are a million kinds of bacteria (unscientific estimation) that could be used and modified to achieve a multitude of goals. For example, researchers are already eyeing bacteria that could be genetically modified to secrete medicine to speed wound healing, and before you know it we’ll all be buying bacterially enhanced Band-Aids!

Read more: The Verge | Science News

This video game is also an ADHD prescription medicine

Akili Interactive just announced incredible results from a pivotal study of their investigational digital medicine, AKL-T01, aka a VIDEO GAME, in treating pediatric ADHD. This sounds bonkers but it’s true, I swear.

In a randomized, controlled trial of 348 kids and teenagers with ADHD, AKL-T01 showed a statistically significant improvement compared to an active control on the primary goal of changing the subjects’ Attention Performance Index, a measure of ADHD symptoms. With these study results in hand, Akili plans to file AKL-T01 with the FDA for clearance as a novel treatment for pediatric ADHD.

AKL-T01 is built on Akili’s proprietary Project: EVO tech platform that “enables selective targeting and activation of specific cognitive neural systems in the brain that exhibit deficiencies from various medical conditions” (BusinessWire). Basically, the game uses algorithms to deliver stimuli that engage targeted neural systems in the brain, and the algorithms automatically adjust the level, aka dose, of stimuli depending on the particular patient. The treatment looks and feels like a video game, with art, music, storytelling, and rewards to keep kids engaged for maximum compliance.

Why It’s Hot: IT’S A VIDEO GAME THAT IS ALSO A PRESCRIPTION FOR CHANGING NEURAL PATHWAYS IN PEOPLE. That is bonkers. If the FDA approves this as a medication, and the platform is expanded to treat other brain/neurological disorders, the possibilities are endless.

Learn More: BusinessWire | Reuters

Pharma Trend Spotting for 2018

Going into the final month of the year, we should take a look at what could impact pharma marketers in 2018, and it’s identified half a dozen high-level trends for the year ahead.

Those trends range from maturing technology innovations to marketing around patient hero stories that inspire but also normalize people with chronic conditions. And they’re “changing the opportunities and focus for our clients,” Leigh Householder, managing director of innovation at inVentiv Health, said.

Some of the big-theme trends originated in 2017 or even earlier, but they’re just now maturing to opportunity status. For instance, technology innovations like artificial intelligence and augmented reality will begin to play a bigger role in healthcare next year as they move from novelty experiments to real-world tools. A pilot program by England’s NHS, for instance, uses AI as a first contact point for patients and puts a machine in the place of what would traditionally be a human healthcare provider, Householder noted. The NHS pilot actually incorporates another trend, too: the shifting front door to healthcare.

The shifting front door, whether a new kind of technology interface or pharmacists taking on a larger role in ongoing contact and care of patients, has been evolving for years, but it’s become more important for pharma companies to understand and incorporate it into their strategies.

Another trend she pointed to is the emergence of hero stories, in the past year showcased by individuals who broke through with poignant or meaningful tales of helping others, such as boaters in Texas who braved dangerous hurricane floodwaters to help victims. In healthcare and pharma, those can manifest as showing more real people who are living complex lives with chronic diseases, for instance—people who are simply “living normal,” Householder said.  MRM has partnered with WebMD to showcase how patients with bipolar depression live, and it’s very compelling.

Source:

WebMD presents Bipolar Disorder: In Our Own Words

“You can imagine why this is happening now when so many once life-ending diagnoses have become chronic diseases. Whether you’re talking about COPD or cancer, cystic fibrosis or AIDS, people are living for decades longer than maybe they ever expected,” she said, pointing to an outspoken advocate, Claire Wineland, who has cystic fibrosis. Wineland has talked to media outlets about “‘what happens when you have an illness and you’re never going to be healthy? Does that mean you’re never going to be anything other than the sick kid?’ We’re increasingly hearing from voices like that of people who just want to normalize disease,” Householder said.

Another example is the introduction of Julia, a muppet with autism, on “Sesame Street.” Julia helps kids understand what autism might look like in another child, and although she has differences, she’s just another one of the gang.

Householder is working on a follow-up white paper about what these trends mean for pharma, but she offered some initial thoughts about ways pharma can adapt. Understanding how people use technology and creating better user interfaces more quickly, for instance, is one area where pharma can improve. Another is at the new and shifting point of care.

“In the new journey in healthcare, how do we be relevant, useful and impactful at the new points of care? Whether that means an artificial intelligence interface, a call delivery of a prescription or a true care interaction with a pharmacist, how are we going to take the plans we have today and evolve them to the places that people are increasingly receiving care and making healthcare decisions?” she said.

Why It’s Hot

As pharma marketers, we need to evolve with how people interact with not only brands but more importantly, conditions.  Offering support in a variety of ways is a smart way to ensure that patients get as much help as they need.

 

Source: https://www.fiercepharma.com/marketing/pharma-marketing-trends-for-2018-include-hero-stories-technology-maturity-and-frontline

Apple Watch Gains Momentum as Key AFib Diagnosis Tool

Two developments this week are putting Apple Watch front & center in the ongoing search for better atrial fibrillation (AFib) diagnostic and management tools. AFib is a condition where your heartbeat is irregular, and it often has zero symptoms and goes undiagnosed. It’s currently the leading cause of strokes, and related deaths and hospitalizations, in the US.

First, the FDA has cleared the first EKG band as a direct-to-consumer – meaning, you don’t need a prescription to purchase or use it – Apple Watch accessory. The KardiaBand, a device made by startup AliveCor, can capture your EKG in 30 seconds. The band’s algorithms can then detect whether signs of AFib are present in the EKG. The band also makes use of the Apple Watch’s heartbeat sensors and will alert you if your watch is picking up fast or irregular heartbeats, and prompt you to complete an EKG test on the spot to further analyze any symptoms you may be feeling.

Second, Stanford has launched an irregular heartbeat study using the Apple Watch and an app available on the App Store called Apple Heart Study. Users just download the app and consent to participate, and then their data is automatically collected and analyzed by Stanford. If AFib is detected, the app will send you a push notification as well as provide a free consultation with a Stanford doctor and an EKG patch for further monitoring. With Apple’s recent release of HealthKit and ResearchKit, this study is another step toward positioning the Apple Watch as a versatile, reliable health monitoring device.

Why It’s Hot: These two developments are cracking the facade of a time-honored medical tradition of keeping information about your own body behind expert oversight. The KardiaBand being direct-to-consumer indicates a big step forward in companies being able to build hardware and software that rival medical technology to a level that the FDA will approve it. And the Stanford study is working directly with Apple Watch users, not requiring any subjects to go into a medical facility for testing and data gathering. Is this the first step toward breaking down the expert oversight firewall? But of course, on the other hand, what are the ramifications of people’s health data being shared and stored on their devices?

Learn More: EKG band | Stanford study

Brands Put Pressure on Agencies to Develop Alexa Capabilities

“As the Bezos behemoth continues along its unstoppable, disruptive path, brands are increasingly requesting Amazon-tailored services. Agencies have been ramping up their capabilities on the platform and even launching dedicated practices as a response.”

“Many marketers now view Amazon as a legitimate competitor to Facebook and Google, according to 22squared vp, director of media planning Brandy Everhart. ‘What they bring to the table is an extensive data set that you can’t get anywhere else,’ she said. ‘We’ve seen a lot of successful campaigns that are focused on driving conversions on the Amazon platform.’

Even brands that don’t sell on Amazon are asking questions due to the power of its search reach and the benefits of its data sets. ‘Clients want me to increase their engagement in every possible way,’ said Matt Bijarchi, founder and CEO of digital brand studio Blend. ‘We’ve learned ecommerce is also a brand-building opportunity.'”

Article here

Why It’s Hot

This is hot for 2 key reasons: data and customer engagement.

As VRT devices like Alexa and Google home start to infiltrate the home and the office, it will be increasingly important to understand what information users are asking these devices for, and what content people are consumers – making it a perfect addition to our SENSE offering.

For pharma specifically, Alexa and similar devices offer opportunities to support and engage both patients and HCPs in office and at home. Building relevant skills for these audience could help:

  • support physician discovery and work as a valuable sales resource
  • Provide guidance for patients when self-administering at home and track adherence
  • Help patients track symptom improvement
  • Improve infusion experiences at home and in-office with original and curated content tailored to patient’s interests/needs

Podcasts: Trust, Immersion & Convenience

Podcasts are far from new. However, they provide opportunities to reach and engage a very active group of consumers in an environment that they trust, for long periods of time during moments that are convenient for them.

Source

Why It’s Hot

Trust content is hard to come by these days. Additionally, consumers increasingly expect information that’s tailored to their needs and interests. Podcasts provide opportunities to engage these consumers around complicated topics for long periods of time when it’s convenient for them.

For pharma companies looking to engage and educate HCPs around new treatment options or opportunities in digital health, this could provide opportunities for content creation and/or partnership. The same can be said for B2B and technology.

FDA Approves First-Ever Digital Pill

The FDA has approved a pill called Abilify MyCite that can digitally track whether it’s been ingested, and when. The point of the medication is to increase patient compliance, the thought being that if the patient is being held accountable by their medication, they’ll be more likely to take their pills. Non-compliance is a huge issue – not only does it decrease patient outcomes, it’s also can create drug resistance, and in the case of overdosing, can create dangerous drug dependency.

The pill works via a sensor in the actual pill made of copper and magnesium that sends out an electric signal once the sensor hits the stomach acid. The patient wears a patch on their ribcage that receives the electric signal, and sends it along to an app that records the date and time of the pill digestion. The app allows for data sharing with doctors and family members (and sharing permissions can be revoked at any time).

Though the technology is promising, there are big ethical questions raised by this new pill. First, Abilify is an antipsychotic medication prescribed primarily to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The FDA’s approving of this particular kind of medication reflects a concerning disregard for the mental wellbeing of patients – Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman told The New York Times, “there’s an irony in it being giving to people with mental disorders that can include delusions. It’s like a biomedical Big Brother.” And his colleague Dr. Paul Appelbaum, Columbia’s director of law, ethics and psychiatry, pointed out that “drugs for almost any other condition would be a better place to start than a drug for schizophrenia.”

Second, the authority figures wielding this level of surveillance could easily manipulate patients. Imagine being told that your insurance company will cover 100% of your pill costs, but only if you take it on time every day. Or that you’re on parole and your freedom is contingent on taking medication. Or that your release from a psychiatric institution is predicated on your drug adherence.

Why It’s Hot: The technology itself is exciting – and the potential implications are fascinatingly broad, from improving patient outcomes to providing a whole new way for authorities to exert control over your physical being. (Yikes.)

Learn more: EngadgetNew York Times