Apple – the Cupertino-based iPhone maker – has hired a small team of biomedical engineers to work in Palo Alto at a nondescript office, miles from corporate headquarters. The secret team is part of a mysterious initiative that was initially envisioned by the late Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs envisioned wearable to monitor health
According to three people familiar with the matter, the initiative was to develop a sensor that can continuously and non-invasively monitor the blood sugar levels of people to treat diabetes in a better way. Such an initiative would be very useful for life sciences. Many life sciences companies have attempted to do this and have failed because it is very difficult to track glucose levels accurately without piercing the skin.
The people, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “The initiative is far enough along that Apple has been conducting feasibility trials at clinical sites across the Bay Area and has hired consultants to help it figure out the regulatory pathways”. They said that the efforts by the tech giant have been going on for at least five years.
Steve Jobs had envisioned wearable devices like smartwatches, which is being used to monitor important vitals like heart rate, blood glucose and oxygen levels. The smartphone making giant acquired a company called Cor in 2010. The-then Chief Executive Officer Bob Messerschmidt sent a cold email to Steve Jobs on the topic of sensor technologies for health and wellness. Later, the Ex- CEO Messerschmidt joined the Apple Watch team.
It would cost billions of dollars to succeed in detecting glucose: Expert
The secret glucose team will report to the senior vice president of hardware technologies of the tech giant – Johny Srouji. Previously, it was led by Michael D. Hillman, according to one of the sources. However, D. Hillman left the tech company in late 2015 and joined the Oculus team of the social media giant “Facebook” in late 2015 as head of hardware.
The LinkedIn page of Hillman lists him as having had a “confidential role” in hardware technologies at the Silicon Valley giant. According to one source, around 30 people were working in the secret group as of a year ago. Also, there have been speculations about Apple working on a wearable because the iPhone maker hired dozens of biomedical experts from companies such as Masimo Corp, C8 Medisensors, Sano, Vital Connect, and Medtronic.
Detecting glucose levels is not easy: John L. Smith, one of the top experts in the medical space, described it as the most difficult technical challenge that he has encountered in his career. In an interview to Reuters, DexCom executive chairman Terrance Gregg, said “To succeed, it would cost a company several hundred millions or even a billion dollars.”