Apple ($AAPL) has opened its wallet to build out its health data capabilities. The deal, which was struck earlier this year but only uncovered by Fast Company this week, sees Apple buy three-year-old personal health data startup Gliimpse.
Sticking to its M&A playbook, Apple has said nothing about the acquisition beyond a confirmation of the deal. But, while Apple is keeping shtum, its move into healthcare and research through HealthKit, ResearchKit and Watch and the nature of Gliimpse’s business hint at how the takeover may support its plans to make medical data another cornerstone of its $234-billion-a-year business.
Anil Sethi, a serial entrepreneur who made his name running Sequoia Software before moving into health startups, and Karthik Hariharan founded Gliimpse to stop HIPPA and a lack of interoperability from preventing people from accessing and sharing their health data. The company had a fairly low profile until this week, but has clearly done enough to attract the interest of Apple.
Gliimpse is designed to enable Americans to take control of their personal health data. Users can pull in files from the hospitals, laboratories and pharmacies that make up the U.S. healthcare system. The platform then extracts data from the documents, enabling users to search and create dashboards. And, having done so, users can share the combined dataset with physicians or researchers.
The research potential of such collections of health data was a key focus for Gliimpse while it was an independent company. Users of the platform had the option to anonymously donate their information to a “National Health Graph,” a resource Gliimpse hoped would turn into a “vast database of genuine health data” for use by researchers.
It is unclear how much data Gliimpse had gathered by the time it was bought by Apple, but it had got as far as sharing some records with researchers. Late last year, Gliimpse said it had shared data from breast cancer patients with researchers at Cancer Commons. Sethi is an adviser to Cancer Commons, a nonprofit that matches patients to clinical trials.
Whether the National Health Graph will survive the takeover by Apple in anything like its current form remains to be seen. The project, and Gliimpse as a whole, overlap with Apple’s ResearchKit virtual clinical trial platform and HealthKit framework, suggesting the acquired technology could be subsumed. In this scenario, the Gliimpse platform would disappear but the technology’s reach would surge.
“Apple’s big advantage is that they can build it into the [iOS] operating system alongside engaging data like that from HealthKit,” Brandon Ballinger, co-founder of Apple Watch app Cardiogram, told The Wall Street Journal.
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