Oracle has made a “strategic minority investment” in digital-health firm Proteus, which builds ingestible sensors.
In theory, ingestible sensors could play a key role in the expanding field of medical-data analytics, in which researchers and other healthcare experts use information gathered from large numbers of patients to refine treatments and speed research.
Proteus (which owns more than 500 patents and patent applications related to digital-health technologies) has developed so-called “digital medicines,” in which an FDA-approved ingestible sensor is slipped inside a pharmaceutical. Once the patent swallows that particular pill, the sensor begins communicating with another sensor worn on the skin. Physiological data from that sensor is sent to a mobile application. The Proteus system records data on everything from the patient’s heart rate and skin temperature to the particulars of medication ingestion.
Oracle and Proteus plan to collaborate on clinical trials that will improve the ability of medical researchers to draw precise data from the sensors. If those efforts prove successful, it could help create a future in which researchers collect and analyze precise, real-time data from thousands of patients with a minimum of effort—a worthy goal, to be sure, but one that surely comes with a certain amount of technical challenges.
Oracle isn’t the only IT firm exploring how to best create and leverage medical data. IBM, for example, has begun applying its Watson supercomputing platform to healthcare; in February, it announced a partnership with Wellpoint and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City to train Watson in processing and interpreting oncology data. GNS Healthcare, Aetna and other healthcare providers are working on data-analytics platform to model which individuals are at risk of developing particular diseases or syndromes.
On paper at least, everybody benefits from the introduction of data-analytics tools into healthcare: doctors who can deliver more efficient treatment, researchers who can learn more, patients who are healthier, and IT vendors that profit from providing the underlying software and hardware. But the reality may be a little messier: there are indications that primary caregivers are reluctant to embrace e-records, which would serve as the backbone for any analytics system, and then there’s the matter of actually introducing data systems that work.