Medtronic taps Apple partner Rockley Photonics to build biomarker-sensing wearables

Though Medtronic has previously ventured into the world of wearables with insulin pump systems, external heart monitors and other condition-specific devices, it’s now planning to ramp up those efforts by developing hardware that can continuously and non-invasively monitor a whole host of health factors at once.

The resulting devices will essentially be like super-enhanced Apple Watches—and to get there, Medtronic is going straight to the source.

The medtech giant has inked a partnership with Rockley Photonics, which disclosed last year that the bulk of its revenues in recent years have come from its work helping Apple develop new health-monitoring features for its ubiquitous wearable.

Together, Medtronic and Rockley will build their own devices for continuous monitoring, combining Rockley’s recently launched biosensing technology and Medtronic’s decades of experience developing patient-facing tools and services.

Rockley’s Bioptx platform centers around compact, photonics-based sensors that are embedded in a wristband and can simultaneously track a range of data points, including body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, pulse oximetry and hydration, as well as alcohol, lactate and glucose levels, among others.

The platform’s cloud-based artificial intelligence algorithms then analyze the collected readings to both monitor long-term conditions and, potentially, spot signs of arising illnesses as early as possible, before they’ve progressed too far.

Adding that technology to wireless smartwatch-like devices could “herald the next generation of wearable devices,” Rockley CEO Andrew Rickman, Ph.D., said in a statement. The wearables that come from the partnership will require regulatory clearance, as their collected data and assessments will be made available to clinicians to help personalize patient care plans.

“This partnership combines Medtronic’s exceptional strength in providing in-patient care with Rockley’s expertise in wearable, remote monitoring. I believe that this collaboration will bring to life our vision of giving people better insights into their health and well-being,” Rickman said.

And Medtronic’s not the only major medtech player hoping to break new ground in the realm of medical wearables.

During a keynote address at the Consumer Technology Association’s CES conference in January, Abbott CEO Robert Ford unveiled its own new line of biowearable sensors. Unlike Medtronic’s planned devices, however, Abbott’s Lingo technology is aiming to sidestep the FDA regulatory process by marketing the tech as a consumer-facing exercise aid, rather than an outright medical device.

Based on Abbott’s diabetes monitoring technology, the Lingo sensors will attach to the back of a user’s arm to measure glucose, ketones, lactate and alcohol, serving athletes of all skill levels.