Tech giants are getting involved in healthcare
Tech giants are getting involved in healthcare
Frank Niedercorn

PARIS — What if the GAFA quartet (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) also became giants in the healthcare sector? Google first tried to put on the white coat more than a decade ago. After "Google Health," its online medical record project abandoned in 2012, the company made a strong comeback with its subsidiary DeepMind Health, doing what it does best: collecting and processing data. In this case, the data was that of patients in hospitals, particularly in the United Kingdom.

However, things were more difficult than expected with the Royal Free Hospital Trust, which allowed the company to access the medical history of 1.6 million patients. The agreement was terminated when UK authorities found that the data had not been kept anonymous, and had been used in a broader context than originally planned.

But Alphabet, Google's parent company, has several other irons in the fire. The Baseline project, led by its subsidiary Verily, aims to "map" human health by collecting health data from 10,000 volunteers using connected objects. The latest initiative in the Alphabet galaxy, the U.S. startup Cityblock, in which another subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, has invested, aims to offer medical services and prevention to Medicaid or Medicare members.

The other Web giants are not far behind. Amazon is moving into health insurance, and Facebook AI Research (Fair), after recruiting Yann LeCun, one of the fathers of deep learning, has hired Jérôme Pesenti, a former head of IBM's Watson program. Apple has also confirmed its interest in the health sector with its Apple Watch Series 4, the first consumer device with a sensor and algorithm that can detect a heart attack.

Did IBM's Watson Health start too early? From 2011 and the victory of its artificial intelligence program in the game show Jeopardy, IBM had been targeting the health market, including cancer research. The program, which functions as a diagnostic aid, has been trained by absorbing much of the English-language scientific literature on oncology. According to IBM, and depending on the type of cancer, its treatment recommendations are in line with those made by doctors in at least 8 out of 10 cases, and even 96% of cases for lung cancer.

Doubts have been arising about the reliability of Watson's advice.

However, since last year, doubts have been arising about the reliability of Watson's advice. One of the flagship projects, conducted with the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, has been abandoned. People at IBM say it's because the system is too young.

"There is a real issue around the representativeness of data," explains Silvano Sansoni, sales manager at IBM France. "Watson is used to treat 84,000 patients, mainly American and European, and its recommendations are less applicable to patients from Asia or Africa. Changing the scale to 1 million subjects will require a lot of resources."

Big Blue now claims 230 hospitals worldwide as users, compared to 55 last year. Although it doesn't have a hospital partner in France, it signed an agreement last July with the French company Guerbet, a specialist in radiology contrast products, to conduct research on liver cancer.

Philips is probably the most active company among the major healthcare industrialists, particularly in the medical imaging sector. The firm has just created an AI expertise center in Paris, where it employs some 30 researchers. The objective is to create partnerships with startups and hospitals.

healthcare_gafa_tech_apple_google_amazon_facebook

Tech and healthcare are becoming more integrated — Photo: Piron Guillaume

Meanwhile, Babylon Health, a young British company that has raised 50 million pounds since its creation in 2014 and developed a consulting service based on a smartphone application, promises its users "a doctor 24/7." The world of startups using artificial intelligence to innovate in health is booming: CB Insights has identified 481 deals, for a total of $3.6 billion invested over the past five years.

For startups, one of the challenges remains access to data. This is precisely the originality of Owkin, a start-up that specializes in machine learning and oncology research, which counts Google Ventures an an investor. "We collaborate with public research by implementing the principle of federated learning. This allows algorithms to be exchanged so they can be trained without having to externalize the data," says Thomas Clozel, co-founder of Owkin.

On October 4, the young French-U.S. company announced the launch of a collaborative project with Apricity, another startup that specializes in fertility research. The project is called "Substra", funded to the tune of 10 million euros by French public investment arm Bpifrance. The ambition is to develop, together with six major public research institutes, a secure treatment platform and thus to run their predictive algorithms in their preferred fields: anatomopathology, dermatology, and fertility.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never.

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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