Evidence mounts about Jawbone's clinical pivot

By Jonah Comstock
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Wearable activity tracker company Jawbone has been in dire straits for the better part of a year now, losing key executives, dumping its speaker business, reportedly selling out of its inventory (the company has fervently denied those reports), and not announcing any new products for several years. Last we heard, the company's planned hail mary was a more clinically-focused wearable, likely building on the company's 2015 acquisition of Spectros.

Now a new report from TechCrunch, citing anonymous sources, says the company isn't just building a medical wearable: its planning to completely discard its identity as a consumer products company and focus on selling enterprise devices to hospitals. The business will include both a product and a service component.

The move makes sense for Jawbone, which in addition to the Spectros IP and its own consumer devices, owns all the patents associated with Bodymedia's FDA-cleared tracker from its acquisition of that company back in 2013.

An 11-year-old company with at least six patents and numerous published studies, Spectros specialized in using spectroscopy to create a range of non-invasive molecular sensors. In particular, commercial applications of the technology used it for pulse oximetry, and detection of perfusion and ischemia. The company's On-Call remote monitoring product allowed doctors to monitor their patients using a smartphone. When Jawbone acquired Spectros in 2015, CEO David Benaron became Jawbone's Chief Medical Officer.

MobiHealthNews broke the news of the acquisition after hearing Benaron speak at a precision medicine panel at BIO International 2016 in San Francisco. His comments there might shed some light on what exactly Jawbone is planning in healthcare.

"We think of chronic disease as irreversible unless you take medications, but one of the medications is your lifestyle," he said at the time. "One medication is knowing early enough before the damage is done. It happens with hypertension, with diabetes, with stroke. If you know ahead of time, you can prevent these diseases. ... 24-7 vitals is the next thing in my view that’s going to fundamentally change things. If you knew heart rate and your body function and your respiration and your blood pressure and all the levels of all the things continuously through a patch or wearable, you would fundamentally know the earliest stages of disease. Not because you know for one person exactly what will happen, but because you have the data from everyone in the world, and you can find the patterns in the big data analysis and apply that to the small data about individuals."

Whatever Jawbone's plan is for entering the healthcare market, it's going to need to be lucrative -- the company has raised $950 million from various sources, and some of those raises have been reported to be debt rather than equity. Some of that money has gone to legal fees as Jawbone has been embroiled in a constellation of lawsuits in various jurisdictions against rival Fitbit. But likely quite a bit has gone into R&D. If the Spectros acquisition was tied to the clinical pivot, that means the pivot has been in the works for at least a year and a half, so Jawbone could have something to show for it very soon.