Jawbone's secret 2015 acquisition sheds light on its rumored clinical wearable

By Jonah Comstock
11:31 am

Jawbone quietly acquired a company last year that could shed some light on the company's rumored clinical wearable, MobiHealthNews has learned. Spectrosa startup founded by current Jawbone Chief Medical Officer David Benaron, was acquired by Jawbone in 2015. The company confirmed the news to MobiHealthNews in an email. Benaron is a serial entrepreneur whose previous company, Insite, was acquired by Masimo.

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.

In his LinkedIn profile, Benaron described the company's more recent work, saying that he worked on "BodySensor technology ported into wearables ... fitness and health monitoring with sensing-on-chip demonstrated in 2015, and launch targeted for 2016." He notes that the company was acquired in August 2015, but not who the acquirer was. Benaron joined Jawbone as its chief medical officer the following month.

Benaron was also strategic advisor for a company called CellNumerate, whose technology was also acquired in August 2015 according to Benaron's LinkedIn profile. The company's website explains that CellNumerate was "in the early stages of development of a remote body monitoring system, with exploratory interest in small, programmable microcontrollers that would connect wearable medical sensors to the cloud, for continuous remote monitoring." CellNumerate had numerous ties to Spectros and, given the timing, it's likely its technology was acquired as part of the same deal.

Speaking at a precision medicine panel at BIO International 2016 in San Francisco, Benaron spoke about a future where wearables monitor so many health metrics that they completely replace the need for regular check-ups, and a combination of big data and precision medicine helps spot chronic disease early, allowing it to be prevented via lifestyle changes.

"We think of chronic disease as irreversible unless you take medications, but one of the medications is your lifestyle," he said. "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."

Last month, following rumors that Jawbone had shut down its wearables business, sources told the Verge that the company was working on a last-ditch wearable, a clinical grade device for heart monitoring. But the acquisition of Spectros shows that Jawbone now has the technology to release a wearable that offers much more than heart rate. 

Acquisition has always been an important part of Jawbone's growth strategy. In addition to the acquisition of BodyMedia, the first big consolidation in the wearables space, the company bought Massive Health and Nutrivise, two nutrition apps. The latter acquisition was also conducted quietly, with no official announcement.


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