Amazon's move to healthcare - a timeline
Amazon is arguably the tech giant that is making the biggest impact in the healthcare sector. Its most recent annoucement was the news that Amazon Web Services (AWS) is launching an accelerator for healthcare startups. Here we take a look at the key milestones of Amazon's ventures into healthcare so far.
1994 - 1999 Beginnings
Jeff Bezos founds Amazon in Seattle in 1994, as an online retailer of music and DVDs. In 1998 the company expands overseas after purchasing book and music retailers in Europe. In 1999 it adds toys, games and software to its product range.
2006 - Going to the cloud
In 2006 Amazon publically launches Amazon Web Services (AWS), a cloud computing platform and the first of its kind. Customers can access virtual servers through a service called the Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2; they can also use AWS for file storage.
2017 - 2018 - stepping into healthcare
Amazon creates 1492, a tech-driven development lab. Little is revealed about the lab but there is speculation there are plans to develop a platform for medical records and patient data, a telehealth platform, and health apps for Amazon devices.
In 2018 Amazon Comprehend Medical launches, a cloud-based service that uses machine learning to extract health data from medical text, such as doctors’ notes, clinical trial reports, and patient health records.
Together with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, Amazon launches Haven, a non-profit healthcare organisation with the aim of improving access to primary care and lower costs for employees of the three companies.
2019 - acquisitions and partnerships
Amazon acquires online pharmacy PillPack. It also acquires Health Navigator, a startup that develops APIs for digital healthcare services.
The NHS announces a partnership with Amazon to enable elderly people, blind people and other patients who cannot easily search for health advice on the internet to do so through Alexa, Amazon's AI-drive voice assistant.
2020 - Amazon Care
Haven announces it is ceasing operations, reportedly due to the company's inability to gain sufficient market share, and competition with the three founding businesses' own healthcare schemes.
Amazon Care launches, a medical care programme for the company's employees offering both face-to-face and telehealth services. The plan gives employees access to urgent and primary care services, including COVID-19 and flu testing, vaccinations, treatments, preventative care, sexual health and prescription requests.
The first of 20 planned health centres opens in Dallas, Texas, in partnership with healthcare provider Crossover. Part of Amazon Care, the centres offer in-person care to the company's employees. Other clinics are located in Detroit, Louisville, Phoenix and the San Bernardino/Moreno Valley area of California.
Amazon Halo is released, a wrist-worn wearable that features temperature monitoring and sleep tracking. Using machine learning, it can analyse tone of voice to help the wearer understand how they sound to other people, capturing moods like positive, tired, or annoyed.
2021 - expansion
Amazon Care becomes available to businesses in Washington state. There are plans to roll out the service out to all US 50 states in the summer.
AWS Healthcare Accelerator for startups in the public sector launches. The four-week programme focuses on solutions like remote patient monitoring, voice technology, analytics, patient engagement, and virtual care.
Amazon Pharmacy is set to launch in the US in November, which will let customers make pharmacy transactions through the Amazon website and receive unlimited free deliveries if they have a Prime membership.
C. Light aim to detect Alzheimer's with AI and eye movements
C. Light Technologies, a neurotechnology and AI company based in Boston, has received funding for a pilot study that will assess changes in eye motion during the earliest stage of Alzheimer's, known as mild cognitive impairment.
C. Light Technologies has partnered with the UCSF Memory and Aging Center for this research. As new therapeutics for Alzheimer’s are introduced to the clinic, this UCSF technology has the potential to provide clinicians a better method to measure disease progression, and ultimately therapeutic efficacy, using C. Light’s novel retinal motion technology.
Eye motion has been used for decades to triage brain health, which is why doctors asks you to “follow my finger” when they want to assess whether you have concussion. In more than 30 years of research, studies have revealed that Alzheimer’s disease patients' eye movements are affected by the disease, though to date, these eye movements have only been measured on a larger scale.
C. Light’s research takes the eye movement tests to a microscopic level for earlier assessments. Clinicians can study and measure eye motion on a scale as small as 1/100th the size of a human hair, which can help them monitor a patient’s disease and treat it more effectively.
The tests are also easy to administer. Patients put their chin in a chinrest and focus on a target for 10 seconds. The test does not require eye dilation, and patients are permitted to blink. A very low-level laser light is shown through the pupil and reflects off the patient’s retina, while a sensitive camera records the cellular-level motion in a high-resolution video. This eye motion is then fed into C. Light’s advanced analytical platform.
“C. Light is creating an entirely new data stream about the status of brain health via the eye,” explains Dr. Christy K. Sheehy, co-founder of C. Light. “Our growing databases and accompanying AI can change the way we monitor and treat neurological disease for future generations. Ultimately, we’re working to increase the longevity and quality of life for our loved ones."
At the moment developing therapeutic treatments for the central nervous system is difficult, with success rates of only 8% to go from conception to market. One reason for this is the lack of tools to measure the progression of diseases that impact the nervous system.
Additionally clinical trials can take a decade to come to fruition because the methods used to assess drug efficacy are inefficient. C. Light believe they can change this.
“Before this year, it had been almost 20 years since an Alzheimer’s drug was brought to market" explains Sheehy. "Part of the reason for this very slow progress is that drug developers haven’t had viable biomarkers that they can use to effectively stratify patients and track disease on a fine scale. The ADDF’s investment will allow us to do that."
C. Light has received the investment from the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) through its Diagnostics Accelerator, a collaborative research initiative supported by Bill Gates, the Dolby family, and Jeff Bezos among other donors.
C. Light recently completed its second and final seed round raising $500,000, including the ADDF investment, which brings their total seed funding to more than $3 million. Second round seed funders included: ADDF, the Wisconsin River Business Angels, Abraham Investments, LLC and others.
The ADDF’s Diagnostics Accelerator has made previous investments in more than two dozen world-class research programmes to explore blood, ocular, and genetic biomarkers, as well as technology-based biomarkers to identify the early, subtle changes that happen in people with Alzheimer’s.