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Fitbit receives award to Accelerate COVID-19 detection

This post was originally published on the Fitbit press site. It has been adapted from its original format.

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Fitbit announced today it has been selected by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) to receive nearly $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense through a Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC) award to advance development of a wearable diagnostic capability for the early detection of a COVID-19 infection. As part of the award, Fitbit is working to initiate a prospective study with Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research to validate a Fitbit COVID-19 early detection algorithm.

The award is part of MTEC’s efforts to help keep military personnel healthy and fully operational. Because carriers of COVID-19 can be contagious without symptoms, detecting the virus before symptoms emerge is key to slowing its spread. Fitbit was selected by USAMRDC based on the Company's track record of innovation and the initial success of its COVID-19 research, specifically the role of wearable technology in early illness detection, as well as the ease of use and long battery life of Fitbit’s devices.

“We believe Fitbit is uniquely positioned to deliver on USAMRDC’s goals based on our deep wearables expertise and established user base of nearly 30 million users, our early research in machine learning algorithms for detection of presymptomatic COVID-19, and our production and manufacturing capabilities to scale solutions and make them available quickly,” said Amy McDonough, GM and SVP of Fitbit Health Solutions. “Our research shows that our bodies start to fight the disease before more visible symptoms appear and we believe Fitbit can reliably detect these signals, giving us an incredible opportunity to get ahead of this virus and help alert people that they could be sick before they unknowingly spread it to others. This award will help advance this important research.”

In connection with the award, Fitbit is working to initiate a prospective study with Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research. We believe this collaboration will help expedite the development and validation of the Fitbit algorithm to detect COVID-19. As part of the prospective study, the parties plan to distribute several thousand Fitbit devices to Northwell Health employees, who will receive notifications of potential illness, as well as COVID-19 testing to assess and verify the results.

“The combination of Feinstein Institutes’ research expertise, Northwell’s COVID-19 testing capabilities and Fitbit’s promising algorithm in development, presents a unique opportunity to accelerate early detection of COVID-19, particularly for our frontline health care workers,” said Karina Davidson, PhD, senior vice president at the Feinstein Institutes. “Based on our learnings, we aim to work together to advise other large-scale health systems on this approach to minimizing the spread of COVID-19.”

This prospective study builds upon Fitbit’s work in COVID-19 research, which includes its collaborative research consortium with The Scripps Research Institute and Stanford Medicine that launched earlier this year. As part of that effort, Fitbit is conducting a retrospective study to determine whether it can develop an algorithm to detect COVID-19 before symptoms start. To date, the study has over 187,500 enrolled participants in the U.S. and Canada, including more than 2,700 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19. Early findings from that study show the Fitbit algorithm can detect nearly 50% of COVID-19 cases one day before participants report the onset of symptoms with 70% specificity. This is important because people can transmit the virus before they realize they have symptoms or when they have no symptoms at all. This study reinforces that breathing rate, resting heart rate, and heart rate variability (HRV) are all useful metrics for indicating onset of illness and are best tracked at night, when the body is at rest.

“The Department of Defense seeks rapid, accurate wearable solutions to identify and isolate pre-symptomatic COVID-19 cases and help track and prevent the spread of the virus. To address this need, our proposal selection process sought mature solutions that could be rapidly and widely deployed,” said Commander Christopher Steele, Director of the Military Operational Medicine Research Program at USAMRDC. “Wearable technologies, valuable data metrics and potentially rapid scaling solutions for broad availability, create ideal conditions for military and industry partnerships in the consumer wearables space.”

Early detection is critical, and Fitbit hopes to bring wearable illness detection capabilities to its users as soon as possible. Fitbit will engage with the appropriate regulators to determine the best path forward to bring these features to market.

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