Fitbit lends wearable tech to Dana-Farber for breast cancer study

Courtesy of Fitbit

Fitbit ($FIT) is lending its wearable health trackers to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for a study on weight loss in breast cancer patients. The partnership could give the company more clout as it pursues its med tech ambitions.

Dana-Farber will use Fitbit's fitness tracker, smart scale and digital tracking tools to monitor about 3,200 overweight and obese women with early stage breast cancer. Data collected through the study will show researchers whether weight loss can help prevent patients' disease from recurring, Dana-Farber said in a statement.

The cancer center plans to enroll women with breast cancer by tapping into oncology practices in the U.S. and Canada. If all goes accordingly, researchers will launch the study in August, Dana-Farber said.

"We are thrilled to partner with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute on this type of intervention research, helping find a link between key behavioral changes and breast cancer recurrence, and potentially helping reduce the terrible burden of cancer for millions of women and their families worldwide," Woody Scal, Fitbit's chief business officer, said in a statement.

The research responds to sobering numbers. About 20% of women with breast cancer get the disease again at some point, and most of those women develop breast cancer that spreads, Dana-Farber said. Excess body weight has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer recurrence, but there aren't any studies looking at how weight loss could mitigate that risk.

"If this study shows that losing weight through increasing physical activity and reducing calories improves survival rates in breast cancer, this could lead to weight loss and physical activity becoming a standard part of the treatment for millions of breast cancer patients around the world," Dr. Jennifer Ligibel, a breast oncologist at Dana-Farber and a lead investigator on the trial, said in a statement.

For Fitbit, partnering with Dana-Farber gives it a boost as it pursues its med tech aspirations. The company has said that it wants to move toward healthcare and away from consumer-facing products, following in the footsteps of big-name peers such as Apple ($AAPL).

But some analysts are skeptical about Fitbit's transition. "The health-care market is still early-stage and is going to be more expensive to develop than the consumer market," Leerink analyst Steven Wardell told Bloomberg earlier this month. "If they choose to make clinical claims and seek FDA approval, then they'll probably find that it will cost more and take longer."

- read the statement