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NIH Awards Digital Contracts to Kick COVID-19 to the Curb

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   September 21, 2020

Funded ideas could lead to smartphone apps, wearable devices, and software for contact tracing, tracking COVID-19 test results, and monitoring the health status of individuals.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is giving COVID-19 a digital kick in the pants. Seven contracts have been awarded to six companies and one academic institution to develop digital health solutions that help address the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The work could lead to user-friendly tools such as smartphone apps, wearable devices, and software that can identify and trace contacts of infected individuals, keep track of verified COVID-19 test results, and monitor the health status of infected and potentially infected individuals," according to a news release issued by NIH. Several projects focus on solutions for medically underserved communities and people with limited access to healthcare.

Finalists were selected by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) from a field of nearly 200 ideas. The contract process involves two phases to be completed in one year. During the initial phase, awardees must demonstrate project feasibility. Those making it to the second stage will receive additional funding for further development of the idea. If all seven projects move into development, the total value of the contracts would be $22.8 million, according to NIH. The digital contracts are part of  NCI’s and NIBIB’s congressionally supported response to COVID-19, according to the release.

"The proposed digital health tools will leverage multiple data sources, including wearable devices and COVID-19 diagnostic and serology test results," according to NIH. Participating organizations will share data and other assets in an NIH-supported central data hub. To spur additional research, researchers will have access to the data hub. Because the collection of large digital health datasets has potential privacy implications, "there is an emphasis on providing adequate privacy protections that allow personal health data to be collected without compromising civil liberties," the news release said.

Contracts were awarded to:

  1. Evidation Health  based in San Mateo, California: A health measurement platform for analyzing a wide range of patient-consented, self-reported and wearable device data, to detect COVID-19 and differentiate it from the flu.
  2. IBM based in Armonk, New York: An integrated solution that supports advanced contact tracing and verifiable health status reporting, yielding an array of key research data that simultaneously empowers users and facilitates research.
  3. iCrypto based in Santa Clara, California: A smartphone-based platform to provide proof of individual testing, serologic, and vaccination status.
  4. physIQ based in Chicago: An artificial intelligence-based data analytics and cloud computing platform, plus U.S. Food and Drug Administration-cleared wearable devices, to create a personalized baseline index that could indicate a change in health status for patients who have tested COVID-19 positive.
  5. Shee Atiká Enterprises based in Sitka, Alaska: A smartphone-based platform to monitor and support individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, who may need testing, and those who have already tested positive. The app will integrate a Bluetooth-enabled thermometer and pulse oximeter into an approach specifically designed for low-resource settings and underserved populations.
  6. University of California, San Francisco: A GPS-based retroactive contact-tracing tool to alert users about contact with SARS-CoV-2–infected individuals and identify businesses that were visited by someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. The solution also involves working with those businesses and public health departments on strategies to reduce the spread of the virus.
  7. Vibrent Health based in Fairfax, Virginia: Mobile applications, data integrations, and validated machine learning algorithms to identify COVID-19 and differentiate it from the flu, and to perform contact tracing using Wi-Fi technologies.

In addition, NIBIB has awarded a contract to CareEvolution of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for SAFER-COVID, a digital health solution that integrates self-reported symptoms, data from consumer wearable devices, electronic health record and claims data, and COVID-19 test results to indicate whether users are ready to return to work and normal activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Digital health technologies built around smartphones and wearable devices will play an essential role in guiding us through the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NIBIB Director Bruce J. Tromberg, PhD. “These platforms can acquire large amounts of data from many different sources spanning from testing technologies to sensors. When this information is analyzed using cutting-edge computational and machine learning methods, everyone will have access to powerful new tools for reducing the risk of infection and returning to normal activities."

“Digital health technologies built around smartphones and wearable devices will play an essential role in guiding us through the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.


Selected companies have one year to complete the development process.

A central hub will be established to share data and spur additional research.

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