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Almost $23 million in federal funding is going to several mHealth and telehealth projects aimed at improving detection, care management and monitoring of people infected with the coronavirus.

By Eric Wicklund

September 17, 2020 – The University of California at San Francisco and eight digital health companies are receiving almost $23 million in federal funding to develop telehealth and mHealth platforms that address the coronavirus pandemic.

The awards, announced this week by the National Institutes of Health, target programs to develop wearable devices, mHealth apps and other tools that monitor the health status, manage test results and identify and trace contacts of users.

“The tools these organizations plan to develop could allow us to use containment efforts, like COVID-19 testing, social distancing and quarantine, precisely when and where they’re needed,” Norman E. ‘Ned’ Sharpless, MD, director of the National Cancer Institute, said in a press release. “That might let more people return to less restricted living and reduce the risk of devastating local outbreaks.”

 “Digital health technologies built around smartphones and wearable devices will play an essential role in guiding us through the COVID-19 pandemic,” added Bruce J. Tromberg, PhD, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. “These platforms can acquire large amounts of data from many different sources spanning from testing technologies to sensors. When this information is analyzed using cutting-edge computational and machine learning methods, everyone will have access to powerful new tools for reducing the risk of infection and returning to normal activities.”

Both the NCI and NIBIB are part of the NIH.

Contracts have been awarded to:

  • UCSF, which is developing a GPS-based contact tracing device that will alert users who come into contact with someone infected with the COVID-19 virus and identify businesses that were visited by someone who later tested positive for the virus. The platform would also enable collaboration between public health departments and businesses to track and reduce the spread of the virus.
  • Evidation Health, based in San Mateo, CA, which is developing a telehealth platform to collect a wide range of patient-approved data, including self-reported information and data collected from wearables, to be used to separate those with the virus from those dealing with the flu.
  • IBM, based in New York, which is developing a contract tracing platform that integrates with health status reporting tools.
  • iCrypto, based in Santa Clara, CA, which is developing a smartphone app and platform to collect and store testing, serologic and vaccination data.
  • physIQ, based in Chicago, which is developing an AI platform and wearable devices to monitor health status for users and provide alerts on any changes in health.
  • Shee Atika Enterprises, based in Sitka, AK, which is developing a smartphone app and platform to monitor and support users exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, as well as those with the virus. The platform would synch with a Bluetooth-enabled thermometer and pulse oximeter and be designed to function in low-resource setting and appeal to underserved populations.
  • Vibrent Health, based in Fairfax, VA, which is developing software and contact tracing tools to help differentiate users with the virus from those with the flu.
  • In addition, CareEvolution, based in Ann Arbor, MI, is getting a separate but related award from the NIBIB to support its SAFER-COVID platform, which collects patient-reported data and information from wearable devices, claims and the electronic health record to monitor COVID-19 patients and help determine when they’re ready to return to work.

The contracts, totaling $22.8 million if seen through to fruition, are being awarded in two phases spread out over a year. In Phase One, the organization would demonstrate that the projects are feasible, after which they would move to Phase Two to demonstrate value in responding to the pandemic.

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