The National Institutes of Health has awarded seven contracts to companies and academic institutions to develop digital health solutions that help address the covid-19 pandemic. The work could lead to user-friendly tools like smartphone apps, wearable devices, and software that can identify and trace contacts of infected individuals, keep track of verified covid-19 test results, and monitor the health status of infected and potentially infected individuals.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), both part of NIH, selected the seven projects from nearly 200 different ideas. The projects represent a broad range of solutions for immediate public health needs related to the pandemic, and several focus on solutions for medically underserved communities and people with limited access to health care, who are disproportionally affected by covid-19. “The tools these organizations plan to develop could allow us to use containment efforts, like covid-19 testing, social distancing, and quarantine, precisely when and where they’re needed. That might let more people return to less restricted living and reduce the risk of devastating local outbreaks,” says NCI Director Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, MD. “We are working as quickly as possible to help businesses and universities develop innovative tools to achieve this goal.” “Digital health technologies built around smartphones and wearable devices will play an essential role in guiding us through the covid-19 pandemic,” says NIBIB Director Bruce J. Tromberg, PhD. “These platforms can acquire large amounts of data from many different sources spanning from testing technologies to sensors. When this information is analyzed using cutting-edge computational and machine learning methods, everyone will have access to powerful new tools for reducing the risk of infection and returning to normal activities.” This effort is a key component of NCI’s and NIBIB’s congressionally supported responses to covid-19. These include NCI’s $306 million effort to support serological science research, expand testing capacity, and develop other technologies for covid-19, as well as NIBIB’s supplemental funding to address covid-19. The contracts are being awarded in two phases. Initial awards are for phase one and will be used to demonstrate feasibility of the project. After assessment of phase one results, a contractual option for phase two would provide additional funding for further development of the awardee’s program and demonstration of utility in response to the pandemic. If all seven projects were to move into the second phase, the total value of the contracts in this network would be $22.8 million. The awardees have one year to complete both phases. The proposed digital health tools will leverage multiple data sources, including wearable devices and covid-19 diagnostic and serology test results. Each organization will share data and other assets in an NIH-supported central data hub in ways that protect individuals’ privacy. To spur additional research, researchers will have access to data stored in the hub. Because the collection of large digital health datasets has potential privacy implications, there is an emphasis on providing adequate privacy protections that allow personal health data to be collected without compromising civil liberties. The seven digital health solutions are: Evidation Health, Inc. (San Mateo, California): A health measurement platform for analyzing a wide range of patient-consented data, including self-reported data and wearable device data, to detect covid-19 and differentiate it from the flu. IBM (Armonk, New York): An integrated solution that supports sophisticated contact tracing and verifiable health status reporting, yielding an array of key research data that simultaneously empowers users and facilitates research. iCrypto, Inc. (Santa Clara, California): A smartphone-based platform to provide irrefutable proof of testing, serologic, and vaccination status for individuals. physIQ, Inc. (Chicago): An artificial intelligence-based data analytics and cloud computing platform plus U.S. Food and Drug Administration-cleared wearable devices to create a personalized baseline index that could indicate a change in health status for patients who have tested covid-19 positive. Shee Atiká Enterprises, LLC (Sitka, Alaska): A smartphone-based platform to monitor and support individuals with covid-19 symptoms (who may need testing) and those who have already tested positive. The app will integrate a Bluetooth-enabled thermometer and pulse oximeter into an approach uniquely designed for low-resource settings and underserved populations. University of California, San Francisco: A GPS-based retroactive contact-tracing tool for alerting users about contact with SARS-CoV-2–infected individuals, identifying businesses that were visited by someone who later tested positive for covid-19, and working with those businesses and public health departments on strategies to reduce the spread of the virus. Vibrent Health (Fairfax, Virginia): Mobile applications, data integrations, and validated machine learning algorithms to identify covid-19 and differentiate it from the flu, and to perform contact tracing using Wi-Fi technologies. In a separate but related effort, NIBIB has awarded a contract to CareEvolution, LLC (Ann Arbor, Michigan) for Safer-Covid, a digital health solution that integrates self-reported symptoms, data from consumer wearable devices, electronic health record and claims data, and covid-19 test results to indicate whether users are ready to return to work and normal activities during the covid-19 pandemic.