Big tech's spending on healthcare equity deals up 875% in 5 years: What 5 tech giants are up to

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Ten of the largest technology companies in the United States were involved in healthcare equity deals worth $2.7 billion in the first 11 months of 2017 — an 875 percent increase from the $277 million worth of deals for all of 2012, according to The New York Times.

"The big-picture reason that a lot of these tech companies are getting into healthcare now is because the market is too big, too important and much too personal to their users for them to ignore," John Prendergass, associate director of healthcare investment at Philadelphia-based Ben Franklin Technology Partners, told the NYT.

Here are overviews of the strategies several tech giants are deploying to expand their healthcare footprint, as detailed in the NYT.  

Facebook

Menlo Park, Calif.-based Facebook expanded its healthcare business and research efforts over the past couple years. In 2016, the social network introduced a rolling scroll feature to draw more pharmaceutical companies to advertise drugs. The scroll function accommodates information about drugs' side effects. Facebook-owned Oculus, a virtual reality devicemaker, partnered with Children's Hospital Los Angeles this year to develop VR simulations for medical professionals and students to practice high-risk pediatric medical emergencies.

Apple

Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple has largely focused on consumer products, and in 2017 it continued to strengthen that foothold and use its access to consumers to move into medicine. For instance, the company acquired sleep-tracking technology firm Beddit this spring for an undisclosed amount. It also partnered with its neighbor, Stanford University, and American Well for a clinical research trial. The Apple Heart Study will evaluate whether an app can use data collected on the Apple Watch to identify irregular heart rhythms.

Amazon

Amazon has been less public about its healthcare plans, although it did make some noteworthy moves in 2017. The Seattle-based retail disruptor was one of the investors in a financing round for GRAIL, a life sciences company specializing in cancer detection, which raised more than $900 million. Industry analysts also firmed up their speculations in 2017 that Amazon could enter the pharmacy business.

Microsoft

Already a major software and cloud services supplier to medical centers, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft has focused on data storage and analytics services. It rolled out a new initiative in 2017, called Healthcare NeXT, for which it partnered with UPMC for research and piloting. Healthcare NeXT sets out to tap artificial intelligence and cloud services for programs such as AI-powered conversational healthcare tools, AI-powered software for radiotherapy planning and genomic sequencing and analysis tools, among other specialty services.

Alphabet

The NYT describes Alphabet as "perhaps the most active American consumer tech giant in health and biotech." The Mountain View, Calif.-based company, parent to Google, acquired an app developer called Senosis Health that uses smartphone sensors to monitor specific health metrics late this summer. Alphabet's research unit Verily also launched a health monitoring tool in 2017: the Verily Study Watch. The watch's sensors can collect data on users' heart rate, gait and skin temperature. A longitudinal study financed by Verily, called Project Baseline, centers around use of the watch and will track approximately 10,000 participants over four years.

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