HEALTH

Fitbit enters health coaching space with Twine Health buy

BY Michael Johnsen

Fitbit on Tuesday announced that it will acquire Twine Health, a HIPAA-compliant connected health platform that delivers a user-friendly experience to help people manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, and aid in lifestyle interventions, such as weight loss and smoking cessation, by making it easy for care teams of providers, coaches, friends and family to collaborate on care plans.

“Twine Health has delivered powerful results for patients managing conditions like diabetes and hypertension – two key focus areas for Fitbit,” James Park, Fitbit CEO, said. “When combined with our decade-plus of experience empowering millions of consumers to take control of their health and wellness, we believe we can help build stronger connections between people and their care teams by removing some of the most difficult barriers to behavior change. Together, we can help healthcare providers better support patients beyond the walls of the clinical environment, which can lead to better health outcomes and ultimately, lower medical costs.”

The Twine Health platform brings a scalable approach to health coaching, allowing a single coach to work with a large number of patients, driving efficiencies while helping more people reach their goals.

With this acquisition, Fitbit further extends its reach into healthcare and lays the foundation to expand its offerings to health plans, health systems and self-insured employers, while creating opportunities to increase subscription-based revenue. The acquisition will combine the power of the Fitbit platform to drive lasting behavior change with Twine Health’s clinical expertise and proven ability to help patients better manage their care through a highly scalable platform and coaching model.

In the longer term, Fitbit will have the opportunity to extend the benefits of the Twine platform to its more than 25 million users and expand into new condition areas. Disease management is a significant growth opportunity , especially for retail pharmacy operators. Park late last year noted that Fitbit was focusing on such conditions as diabetes, sleep disorders and mental health in an effort to open up revenue streams outside devices.

“We built Twine Health with the goal of putting people back at the center of their care, helping them take ownership of their health actions and outcomes with the continuous support of both clinicians and loved ones. Technology has a profound opportunity to facilitate this shift in behavior and give people the coaching they need to overcome the challenges that arise in daily life,” John Moore, Twine Health CEO, said. “That potential becomes even more compelling when combined with Fitbit, whose brand and ability to engage and motivate a diverse range of consumers is incredibly powerful. Together, we can build a complete experience to optimize health at scale, across the full spectrum from prevention to disease management.”

As part of the acquisition, the Twine Health team will join Fitbit as part of its Health Solutions group. Moore will serve as Fitbit’s medical director.

The acquisition is expected to close in the first quarter of 2018.

 

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A healthy GSK Consumer may not need Pfizer infusion

BY Michael Johnsen

With the release of year-end financials next week from Reckitt Benckiser, the picture on who is still in the running as a potential suitor to Pfizer’s Consumer Healthcare business may come into better focus. Last week, it appeared that the other rumored front-runner GSK Consumer Healthare may be nonchalant to the possibility of a Pfizer Consumer acquisition.

Pfizer’s consumer health division is expected to sell for as much as $20 billion, according to reports.

“I will reiterate what I’ve said previously – first of all, you would expect us to take a serious look at any major assets that come up in the market,” Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO, told investors when asked about the Pfizer Consumer sale. “This is an attractive business. We are a world leader in consumer healthcare and we have a good track record of integrating businesses effectively, but our first priority remains pharma and both investing in the launches and the execution that we have underway, but also more specifically prioritizing the pipeline within pharma. We will not do anything that cuts across that prioritization.”

So the Pfizer Consumer acquisition is not on the “need-to-do list” Walmsley said.

But Pfizer’s strength in OTC pain relief may be a good fit against the portfolio of GSK Consumer Healthcare, particularly for Voltaren, a prescription-only topical pain reliever that in the past has been speculated as a possible Rx-to-OTC switch candidate. Just this past quarter, GSK Consumer Healthcare launched Voltaren No-Mess launching in Germany, the company’s largest Voltaren market.

“In consumer healthcare, we saw improving sales momentum throughout the year with strong performances in wellness and oral health offsetting the impact of a weak U.S. season and competitive pressures in allergy,” Walmsley said. “Our power brands continue to deliver strong growth above market levels, and this has helped drive margin improvements.”

Specifically, GSK’s consumer division generated $9.6 billion for fiscal 2017, up 2% on a constant exchange rate. GSK Consumer Healthcare’s power brands were all growing at high single digits over the company’s fourth quarter ended, added Brian McNamara, GSK Consumer Healthcare CEO. “We benefited from an earlier and more severe cold and flu season in the U.S., but importantly our Theraflu brand is growing well ahead of the market. We also are seeing share growth back on Flonase in the U.S. as we anniversary the private label entry,” he said. “Overall, I feel really good about the health and momentum in the business.”

 

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Influenza illness rates set new records, CDC reports

BY Michael Johnsen

It’s official. On Friday the 2017/2018 influenza season entered the record books as one of the worst seasons ever with doctor visits due to flu-like illnesses reaching 7.7%. The previously recorded high for that was 7.6% for the 2003/2004 season.

And this year, there is still no end in sight.

“We were hoping to have better news to share today, but unfortunately it looks like this flu season continues to be particularly challenging,” Anne Schuchat, acting director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a Friday morning press conference with reporters. “Our latest tracking data indicate that influenza activity is still on the rise overall. In fact, we may be on track to break some recent records.”

Schuchat suggested practitioners take a proactive approach to treating patients complaining of flu-like symptoms. “There is a lot of flu out there right now. If it looks like flu, it probably is,” she said. “Anti-virals can mean the difference between a minor illness and a hospital stay or worse. And they work better if they’re started earlier.”

While there have been spot shortages of anti-viral medicines in those areas with high flu incidence, there is no national shortage according to the manufacturers of the medicines, Schuchat said. “For patients, that might mean calling more than one pharmacy to fill a prescription,” she said. “Here at CDC, we have been working closely with the commercial supply chain and pharmacies to address gaps in the market and increase access to brand products when the anti-viral generics aren’t available. We appreciate the efforts of suppliers, pharmacies and insurers to try to smooth things out.”

This season is already breaking from the traditional illness tracks of the past five seasons with regard to its severity, Schuchat noted, so using the illness trajectories of seasons past to predict the duration of the rest of this season may not product a reliable prognosis. But for the past five seasons, doctor visits due to inlfuenza-like activity remained above the national baseline of 2.3% for as many 20 weeks and we’re 11 weeks into the 2017/2018 season, Schuchat said.

“In addition, overall hospitalizations are now significantly higher than what we’ve seen for this time of year since our current tracking system began almost a decade ago in 2010,” Schuchat said. “The rate is approaching the final rate of hospitalizations that we observed at the end of the active 2014/2015 flu season, our most recent severe season.”

As many as 34 million Americans have been impacted by flu during past severe seasons. “One of the areas where we’re really seeing unusual levels of hospitalizations is in non-elderly adults, where so far this year we’ve seen 63.1 per 100,000 for people in the 50 to 64 year age group be hospitalized with flu,” Schuchat said. “In 2014/2015, that number was 35.1. That’s our most recent severe season and we’re quite a bit higher than that.”

Schuchat debriefed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday. The department has been actively monitoring and responding to this year’s especially severe flu season, which has seen hospitalizations reach the highest levels since HHS began tracking such data closely in 2010 and simultaneous high levels of flu activity in more regions of the country than usual. Schuchat noted that information about the effectiveness of this year’s seasonal flu vaccine, which is still available and recommended for almost all Americans, will be released soon.

All told, 48 states are still reporting widespread influenza activity. The only two states not reporting widespread activity are Oregon and Hawaii, where the flu appears to have run its course in one state and an ocean separates the other state from the mainland. “Oregon and Hawaii are reporting regional , or less widespread, activity,” Schuchat said. “Last week we reported that parts of the West Coast were seeing declines in flu activity. That’s still true for H3N2 viruses [this year’s predominant strain], but some Western states are beginning to see an increase in influenza B activity. It’s not uncommon for there to be second waves of influenza B activity during an influenza season.”

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