September 21, 2018
Category archive


Spire Health Tags are now on Apple’s shelves

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Spire’s Health Tags, the dark and tiny devices you stick on your clothes to gather all sorts of health data from your steps, heartbeat and stress levels is now available at your local Apple Store.

The company started out with a breath tracking device to detect when you are feeling tense and help calm you down. But four years in and its now all about the wearable “tags” you stick on items of clothing like your pants or sports bra.

Yes, yes, there are lots of gadgets out there to gather similar information — the Apple Watch will now even detect if you have a fall or something is wrong with your heart — but the Spire health tag is nothing like a Fitbit or Apple Watch, according to the company. For one, there’s zero need to charge the device. One tag’s battery will last a year and a half before dying out. They’re also machine washable. You just pick a few outfits and stick a tag on each of them.

Of course a few other startups out there are working on making smart, washable, data-gathering clothes. Enflux makes the clothing and then sews in the motion sensor to tell you if you are lifting correctly. Vitali is a “smart” bra with a built-in sensor to detect stress. Then there’s OmSignal, which makes body-hugging workout clothes that gather “medical-grade biometric data to achieve optimal health.” But these tiny health tags are different in that they allow you to choose the clothes you want to adhere the monitor to.

Like Spire’s first product, the Stone, which earned more than $8 million in sales, according to the company, the tags will also pick up on times of stress and help calm you down through a series of breaths and focus on the app.

“Continuous health data will revolutionize health and wellness globally, but early incarnations have been hampered by poor user experiences and a focus on the hardware over the outcomes that the hardware can create,” Spire’s founder Jonathan Palley said. “By making the device ‘disappear’, we believe Health Tag is the first product to unlock the potential.”

Spire’s Health Tags will be sold in Apple Stores as a three-pack for $130, six-pack for $230 and an eight-pack for $300, with additional pack sizes available on the company’s website.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Not to be overshadowed by the Apple Watch, AliveCor announces a new 6-lead ECG reader

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Apple’s announcement last week of a Watch with an FDA-approved ECG reader to track heart health looked to be the undoing of original ECG reader company AliveCor. But, to prove it still has a hearty pulse, AliveCor tells TechCrunch it is coming out with a “never-before-seen” 6-lead electrocardiogram (ECG), pending FDA approval.

In a care clinic, a patient typically has 12 leads, or stickers placed across their chest to pick up data from their heart. However, other ECG readers typically have one or two leads. The Apple Watch places a single lead system on the wrist. The 6-lead ECG reader is, in theory, more accurate because there are more sensors picking up more information, which could be critical in saving lives.

AliveCor’s and the Apple Watch’s current function is to pick up AFib — or the detection of an irregular heart beat. AliveCor announced earlier this month it had received FDA-approval to use its ECG readers to detect a rare but dangerous blood condition called hyperkalemia.

With 6-lead ECG readers, the AliveCor device could also pick up about 100 different diseases, according to CEO Vic Gundotra, who rattled off a bunch of long-worded maladies I can’t even begin to pronounce but he’s hoping his reader will soon be able to detect.

However, one important detection would be ST elevation — one of the key factors associated with the onset of a heart attack and which could get a person on their way to the hospital before they start displaying other physical symptoms.

Of course, Apple — which already holds 17 percent of the wearables market — could easily decide it, too, needs to add a 6-lead ECG reader to the Watch and beat AliveCor’s market yet again. But Gundotra shrugs at that suggestion.

“They could but we have some pretty good patents in the space,” he told TechCrunch, adding “Apple has done me a great service, actually. We’re a small company but you are talking to me, calling about this [because of their announcement].”

No formal name has been announced yet for the 6-lead product, but AliveCor will be working with the FDA on the regulatory pathway for it and hopes to bring it to over-the-counter consumers by 2019.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Kegel trainer startup Elvie is launching a smaller, smarter, hands-free breast pump

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Elvie, a Berlin-based startup known best for its connected Kegel trainer is jumping into the breast pump business with a new $480 hands-free system you can slip into your bra.

Even with all the innovation in baby gear, breast pumps have mostly sucked (pun intended) for new moms for the past half a century. My first experience with a pump required me to stay near a wall socket and hunch over for a good twenty to thirty minutes for fear the milk collected might spill all over the place (which it did anyway, frequently). It was awful!

Next I tried the Willow Pump, an egg-shaped, connected pump meant to liberate women everywhere with its small and mobile design. It received glowing reviews, though my experience with it was less than stellar.

The proprietary bags were hard to fit in the device, filled up with air, cost 50 cents each (on top of the $500 pump that insurance did not cover), wasted many a golden drop of precious milk in the transfer and I had to reconfigure placement several times before it would start working. So I’ve been tentatively excited about the announcement of Elvie’s new cordless (and silent??) double breast pump.

Displayed: a single Elive pump with accompanying app.

Elvie tells TechCrunch its aim all along has been to make health tech for women and that it has been working on this pump for the past three years.

The Elvie Pump is a cordless, hands-free, closed system, rechargeable electric pump designed by former Dyson engineers. It can hold up to 5 oz from each breast in a single use.

It’s most obvious and direct competition is the Willow pump, another “wearable” pump moms can put right in their bra and walk around in, hands free. However, unlike the Willow, Elvie’s pump does not need proprietary bags. You just pump right into the device and the pump’s smartphone app will tell you when each side is full.

It’s also half the size and weight of a Willow and saves every precious drop it can by pumping right into the attached bottle so you just pump and feed (no more donut-shaped bags you have to cut open and awkwardly pour into a bottle).

On top of that, Elvie claims this pump is silent. No more loud suction noise off and on while trying to pump in a quiet room in the office or elsewhere. It’s small, easy to carry around and you can wear it under your clothes without it making a peep! While the Willow pump claims to be quiet — and it is, compared to other systems –you can still very much hear it while you are pumping.

Elvie’s connected breast pump app

All of these features sound fantastic to this new (and currently pumping) mom. I remember in the early days of my baby’s life wanting to go places but feeling stuck. I was chained to not just all the baby gear, hormonal shifts and worries about my newborn but to the pump and feed schedule itself, which made it next to impossible to leave the house for the first few months.

My baby was one of those “gourmet eaters” who just nursed and nursed all day. There were days I couldn’t leave the bed! Having a silent, no mess, hands-free device that fit right in my bra would have made a world of difference.

However, I mentioned the word “tentatively” above as I have not had a chance to do a hands-on review of Elvie’s pump. The Willow pump also seemed to hold a lot of promise early on, yet left me disappointed.

To be fair, the company’s customer service team was top-notch and did try to address my concerns. I even went through two “coaching” sessions but in the end it seemed the blame was put on me for not getting their device to work correctly. That’s a bad user experience if you are blaming others for your design flaws, especially new and struggling moms.

Both companies are founded by women and make products for women — and it’s about time. But it seems as if Elvie has taken note of the good and bad in their competitors and had time to improve upon it — and that’s what has me excited.

As my fellow TechCrunch writer Natasha put it in her initial review of Elvie as a company, “It’s not hyperbole to say Elvie is a new breed of connected device. It’s indicative of the lack of smart technology specifically — and intelligently — addressing women.”

So why the pump? “We recognized the opportunity [in the market] was smarter tech for women,” Boler told TechCrunch on her company’s move into the breast pump space. “Our aim is to transform the way women think and feel about themselves by providing the tools to address the issues that matter most to them, and Elvie Pump does just that.”

The Elvie Pump comes in three sizes and shapes to fit the majority of breasts and, in case you want to check your latch or pump volume, also has transparent nipple shields with markings to help guide the nipple to the right spot.

The app connects to each device via Bluetooth and tracks your production, detects let down, will pause when full and is equipped to pump in seven different modes.

The pump retails for $480 and is currently available in the U.K. However, those in the U.S. will have to wait till closer to the end of the year to get their hands on one. According to the company, It will be available on Elvie.com and Amazon.com, as well in select physical retail stores nationally later this year, pending FDA approval.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The clock is ticking for e-cig companies to block underage users

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The FDA is giving makers of e-cigarettes 60 days to come up with a more effective, forceful plan to combat underage use of the products.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb is yet again moving the goal posts for e-cig companies. He now considers underage use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) an epidemic, forcing the government to make a choice that we all knew was coming: save the smokers or save the kids?

“I believe in the power of American ingenuity to solve a lot of problems, including this one,” said Gottlieb in a statement. “I’m deeply disturbed by the trends I’ve seen. I’m disturbed by an epidemic of nicotine use among teenagers. So, we’re at a crossroads today. It’s one where the opportunities from new innovations will be responsibly seized on right now, or perhaps lost forever.”

E-cigarettes, like the Juul (which owns more than 70 percent of the market by revenue), offer smokers what some say is a healthier alternative to so-called “analog” cigarettes. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, according to the CDC, with 6 million deaths per year worldwide, and that number is expected to rise to 8 million by 2030.

Public Health England says that e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than combustible cigarettes. Addiction, which in this case is caused by nicotine, is always harmful, but not nearly as threatening as the harm caused by actual smoke from traditional cigarettes.

On the spectrum of risk, e-cigarettes should seem like a huge win in the decades-long battle against smoking.

But that was before teenagers started using e-cigarettes, including the Juul, at a surprisingly increasing rate. The FDA says more than 2 million middle and high school students were regular users of e-cigarettes last year. While nicotine isn’t all that harmful to a fully developed brain, the developing brain of a teenager is inordinately susceptible to addiction, and underage use of nicotine delivery systems may leave these users addicted to nicotine for life.

This dilemma obviously leaves e-cig makers in a tough spot, but it is also a sticky situation for the FDA. In July of last year, the FDA decided to extend the deadline for e-cigarettes to get FDA approval. This decision was made in part to give e-cig makers and the FDA itself the opportunity to thoughtfully and cooperatively figure out the ‘rules of the road’ in a budding new industry that Gottlieb himself believes is to the benefit of public health. As part of the extension, e-cig makers could leave their products on the market with the caveat that they were not allowed to bring new products to market.

In the wake of growing use by minors, the agency is now walking back some of those decisions. The FDA is keeping an even closer eye on offline and online retailers selling to minors, as well as watching for ‘straw purchases’ on the e-cig makers own online storefronts.

But the FDA is putting a good deal of the responsibility on the e-cig makers themselves. These companies, which include JUUL, Vuse, MarkTen, blu e-cigs, and Logic (97 percent of the market), will have sixty days to present the agency with a more comprehensive and effective plan to eliminate underage use of e-cigs, or the agency will have to re-evaluate its decision to extend the FDA deadline and leave these existing products on the market.

“JUUL Labs will work proactively with FDA in response to its request,” said Juul Labs spokesperson Victoria Davis. “We are committed to preventing underage use of our product, and we want to be part of the solution in keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of young people. Our mission is to improve the lives of adult smokers by providing them with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes. Appropriate flavors play an important role in helping adult smokers switch. By working together, we believe we can help adult smokers while preventing access to minors, and we will continue to engage with the FDA to fulfill our mission.”

One of the trends that the agency has observed is minors attraction to flavors, particularly flavor-based cartridge devices, as opposed to open-tank vaping. The Juul happens to fall in the former category. If the FDA doesn’t see the response it’s hoping for in the next sixty days, flavors may well be the first piece to be taken off the market.

Juul Labs, in particular, has already done quite a bit to stymie underage use, from raising the age of purchase to 21+ on its website, removing everyone but real-life former smokers from its social media, investing $30 million into its own youth prevention plan, and working with online retailers to pull unauthorized listings of the product from their sites.

The letter from the FDA, then, suggests that the agency is looking for much more drastic action.

Big tobacco stocks are up on word of the news.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Dealers remain on Instagram as it pushes drug searchers to treatment

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You don’t have to search too hard to find Xanax and Fentanyl dealers posting their phone numbers all over Instagram, but at least it’s starting to push people towards addiction recovery resources.

Backlash led Instagram to perform a cursory blocking of exact drug name hashtag searches in April did little to solve the problem, as sellers just moved to unblocked hashtags like “#XanaxLife” and “Oxycontins”. Facebook and Instagram could share some of the blame for 2017’s massive spike in synthetic opioid deaths that skyrocketed from 10,000 to 30,000 according to The Center For Disease Control.

So last month, Facebook began redirecting users searching to buy drugs towards a  “Can we help?” box explaining that “If you or someone you know struggles with opioid misuse, we would like to help you find ways to get free and confidential treatment referrals, as well as information about substance use, prevention and recovery.” The box displayed a  “Get support” button that opens The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website. But I criticized the company for allowing accounts like “Fentanyl Kingpin Kilo” to keep operating, even after it removed posts of some Pages and profiles for violating its drug rules.

But the problem is that some people searching for drugs on Instagram are actually seeking help. “Blocking hashtags has its drawbacks. In some cases, we are removing the communities of support that help people struggling with opioid or substance misuse” Instagram tells me.

Now Instagram will start pointing users searching for words like “opioids” or “uppers” towards treatment options too. The most abused and previously blocked hashtags will remain unsearchable, but new ones like phrases and synonyms of drug names will still be available with this dismissible interstitial. An Instagram spokesperson tells me “As part of Instagram’s commitment to be the kindest, safest social network, we’re launching a new pop-up within the app that offers to connect people with information about free and confidential treatment options, as well as information about substance use, prevention and recovery.”

The interstitial reads “”Can we help? If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid or substance misuse, find ways to get free and confidential treatment referrals, as well as information about substance prevention, and recovery.”

However, users can opt to “see posts anyway” which makes the interstitial little more than a speed bump for those adamant about finding drugs. At least Instagram tells me it’s testing type-ahead blocking so users won’t be able to easily discover drug synonyms and phrases that would surface dealers.

These pop-ups will appear when users search for opioids, prescription drugs, or illegal drug hashtags, and the company will add more hashtags to the list over time. They’ll show up today in the US before rolling out globally in the coming weeks. Info will also be available to assist concerned friends and family of victims. “We worked in close partnership with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the NCADD, and the Partnership for Drug Free Kids to offer these resources” Instagram explained.

Instagram will have to be vigilant or dealers may win this cat-and-mouse game by constantly switching to new hashtags using drug name variants, misspellings, and synonyms, as well as by restarting terminated accounts. While it’s admirable that it’s trying to avoid shutting victims out of support communities, the relatively hands-off approach might not deter addicts. Instagram should also be flagging users posting drug names and phone numbers as potential dealers. By whitelisting accounts purposefully sharing treatment and support, it could more aggressively chase the pill peddlers.

“Keeping Instagram a safe and open place for people to share their daily lives is hugely important to us. One of the most inspiring things about Instagram is that people can come together to support one another. People from all over the world use hashtags, comments, and more to offer support and find communities who understand the issues they may be struggling with” says Instagram’s Head of Public Policy Karina Newton. “The opioid epidemic is an issue that affects millions of people, and we want to use our platform to offer resources to those who need it – in the places where they are seeking help. This is an important step for us in our ongoing commitment to make Instagram the kindest, safest social network.”

Given Instagram has over 1 billion users, is starting to make some serious ad revenue, and it owned by deep-pocketed Facebook, there’s little excuse for it not applying more content moderation resources to solve this problem already. It’s now late, and some damage has been done, so Instagram can’t play it cautiously anymore. Otherwise the opioid crisis could become the company’s latest scandal.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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