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Qualcomm Makes Big Move Into Mobile Health

QUALCOMM INC. CEO: Paul Jacobs. Revenue: $14.96 billion in FY 2011; $10.99 billion in FY 2010. Net income: $4.26 billion in FY 2011; $3.25 billion in FY 2010. No. of local employees: 10,509 as of Aug. 1, according to the San Diego Business Journal’s 20 Largest Employers list. Headquarters: Sorrento Valley. Year founded: 1985. Company description:Fabless manufacturer of semiconductors for cellphones and other devices; and developer/licensor of wireless technology. Key factors for success: Continuous innovation of products; stable management; significant investment in research and development. Qualcomm Inc. is putting more of its weight in the burgeoning wireless health space. The San Diego-based company said Dec. 5 that it has formed a subsidiary Qualcomm Life Inc., which will sell wireless connectivity tools and services to the medical device and health care industries. Qualcomm Life’s inaugural product is the 2net Platform, which connects medical devices to a cloud-based system to transmit and remotely display patient’s health data, such as blood glucose levels or sleep breathing patterns. Rick Valencia, vice president and general manager of Qualcomm Life, said the subsidiary came partly in response to the many medical device makers who approached Qualcomm — the largest chip manufacturer for mobile handsets — when their own attempts at wireless connectivity didn’t work out. Qualcomm last week also announced a $100 million venture fund, the Qualcomm Life Fund, which will invest exclusively in emerging wireless health companies. The fund already is backing five promising players, including San Diego-based Sotera Wireless Inc., which develops products that monitor patients’ vital signs. Much-Needed Boost Observers say that Qualcomm’s new subsidiary and investment fund will help solidify the young mobile health industry, which is growing fast but is often impeded by technical glitches or a dearth of early-stage funding. Because the industry is still in its formative years, regulatory and business model questions abound, deterring investors in an already risk-averse climate, said Don Casey, CEO of the San Diego-based West Wireless Health Institute, a nonprofit medical research organization. “There is a tremendous need for startup capital,” he said. The West Wireless Health Institute’s founders, Gary and Mary West, in October launched their own $100 million mobile health fund, which Casey manages. “Without a few really important successes, traditional med tech venture companies have not been aggressive in the field,” he said. Yet, that’s not slowing demand for mobile health solutions, which are needed to help lower the nation’s skyrocketing medical costs and keep tabs on expanding pool of aging baby boomers. Valencia said the wireless health market is projected to hit $9.6 billion in 2012, more than triple its $2.8 billion in 2007. As device companies pop up to fill the mobile health demand, Qualcomm is “well suited to create a business around connecting the wireless health network,” Valencia said. Nonprofit wireless health industry group Continua Health Alliance of Beaverton, Ore., seems to agree. In a statement last week, Executive Director Chuck Parker said that the 2net Platform “will help companies get to market faster and will decrease deployment integration costs.” Just Plug It in and Go Qualcomm said customers already are lined up for its “plug-and-play” 2net Platform, with more than 40 medical device makers, application developers, health care companies and payors that have either decided to adopt the technology or are considering it. Among its first customers are BiancaMed, now a unit of San Diego-based ResMed Inc., whose SleepMinder wireless sensor collects data on sleeping and breathing patterns; San Diego-based Entra Health Systems, which makes the MyGlucoHealth wireless blood glucose meter for diabetes; and Jacksonville, Fla.-based U.S. Preventative Medicine Inc., which has a new mobile health app called Macaw that displays biometric data from an array of mobile medical devices and fitness trackers. Qualcomm Life’s 2net Platform collects data from a patient’s medical device using one of several methods, such as a mobile phone or the 2net Hub, which plugs into a standard electric outlet. Then, the patient’s biometric data is encrypted and transferred to the device maker’s interface of choice to be displayed for the end-user, which might be a patient, a doctor or a hospital. San Diego-based XiMED Medical Group, which includes 400 physicians, will be working with Qualcomm on beta testing of the 2net Hub device with various home health care applications. The group will ultimately develop clinical guidelines for doctors to use when reading the transmitted health data, said Tom Sounhein, the medical group’s CEO. Qualcomm’s system, when used with wireless monitoring devices that doctors send home with patients, can potentially “prevent a lot of needless readmissions,” he said.Qualcomm plans to roll out the 2net Platform in the European Union next year, and in other locations after that.

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