Pioneers test frontiers of wearable tech

Participants at a conference focusing on engineer-driven healthcare describe the pains involved and the promise of the new industry


Ritu Jha


Physicians need to prescribe wearable devices before the market for them can thrive.


That was Mir Imran, chairman, and CEO of Rani Therapeutics, and who was one of the speakers at the 2018 Wearable Technologies Conference held July 11-12 in San Francisco’s Moscone Center.


The two-day conference got established and emerging companies to showcase their innovations in the industry.


“I think once physicians get involved, wearable technology will truly become an important healthcare solution,” Imran told indica.


Imran, who has been working on a pill to replace injected drugs, is one of the pioneers to invest in wearable devices in 2001.


Imran said that even though wearable tech is getting popular it is not more profitable than the kind of devices that count the steps you make, measure your heart rate or draw up an electrocardiogram.


Imran said with a smile, “We call these devices worried well.”[worn by really healthy people who are constantly worried about their health].


What would help, he said, if you are a diabetic or have a heart disease or hypertension if physicians really got into the game and did not leave it just to the patients.


“That will happen,” he said optimistically, adding that doctors could monitor the patient’s progress through these devices. He felt that once physicians were educated about the potential of wearable tech, and insurance firms covered the costs, patients, too, would take it seriously.


Imran is also chairman & CEO of InCube Labs, a life sciences R&D lab focused on developing and commercializing breakthrough medical innovations. Rani was spun out of InCube in 2012.


Talking on ‘Smart Pills and Beyond’ at the conference, Imran showcased Rani Pills, his upcoming device that he described as a game-changer in the biotech industry.


He told indica, “We know that injections work and we also know that intestines don’t have pain receptors.” His team married the two ideas to come up with the new device.


“We thought why not take a pill that goes into the intestine and transform itself into an injection,” he said, using a video to illustrate his point to the attendees at the conference. The delivery of injection into the intestine was the hypothesis. It took several years to turn that into a reality.”


And now Rani Pills are ready to get into human studies once it gets approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Clinical trials are going to start later this year.


Imran has already made his name for making first FDA-approved implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a unit to manage heart function. About three million people use it, he said.


“We are going after every single biological injectable drug and are trying to convert them into pills,” Imran said. “We have partnered with three large pharmaceutical companies and are developing molecules to make own drugs for a variety of conditions.”


He said the treatment would be applied to patients of 30-40 different chronic diseases who rely on regular injections and don’t like injecting themselves.

“This will transform the biotech industry,” said Imran, who has gone to a medical school but never practiced medicine.


“I go after problems and I let the problem tell me how it wants to be solved,” he said. “I never wanted to practice medicine but was always interested in solving big unsolved problems.”


He said things were harder in India, where investors were unwilling to take risks despite a surfeit of good entrepreneurs.


Imran said the challenges his team faced included a need to get familiar with physiology, anatomy, material interactions with the intestinal wall, actually making a needle of sugar, and formulating drugs that could be delivered through them. He said most people who worked on injectable drugs were from the pharmaceutical industry and so lacked the engineering skills his team brought to the table.


“It’s basically a combination of a deep understanding of engineering, science and of anatomy and physiology,” he said.


Alodeep Sanyal, co-founder &CEO LifePlus (left) talking to an attendee at the Wearable conference.

Another speaker at the conference Alodeep Sanyal, co-founder & CEO of LifePlus, talked about bringing about a healthcare revolution through smart products, He discussed his own wearable health device, Lifeleaf, saying it does a better job of monitoring health than Fitbit.


He said that Lifeleaf is a band that measures heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, blood glucose and how much oxygen is there in the blood.


“If this comes to market and anticipates to work you don’t need a finger prick or putting a sensor under your skin,” Sanyal said. “You just have to wear the band and it will do its own thing.”


According to him once the technology got FDA approval after ongoing clinical trials in India this would also help continuously monitor diabetes and heart rate.


When asked about wearable industry according to Gartner, a market research company would be $50 billion by 2022, and its future, Sanyal said, “Wearable technology growth in different domains are at different stages. In healthcare, I think a substantial amount of work has to happen.”


Dharma Teja Nukarapu, CEO & founder of Shark Dreams, digital healthcare company, who founded it 15 -months ago looked excited as well along with his team at the conference.


Nukarapu said his company works with ‘special pharmacies,’ relying on a smart label barcode, to track whether patients are taking their medication, and on time.

Dharma Teja Nukarapu, CEO & founder of Shark Dreams (left) with his team.


The pharmacies stick the smart label on the box, which is disposable in three months, and which communicates its use remotely using transmitters.


“We provide hardware service and activate the label and starts tracking,” Nukarapu said.


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