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Apple loses key health team executive

Apple has lost a key executive from its digital health team after less than a year in the job.

Yoky Matsuoka, a former robotics professor, was a co-founder of Google’s experimental X lab and held a senior position at Nest Labs, the smart-home company that is now part of Alphabet, for five years. A MacArthur fellow, she joined Apple to work on its health efforts earlier this year after a life-threatening illness prevented her from taking a top job at Twitter.

At the iPhone maker, Ms Matsuoka reported to operations chief Jeff Williams, who leads Apple’s healthcare software initiatives including Healthkit, Carekit and Researchkit, as well as playing a central role in its Watch device, which tracks workouts and heart rate.

Ms Matsuoka is leaving Apple after about six months at the company, according to two people familiar with the situation. One person said she planned to launch her own start-up rather than join a direct rival, while another said that she left Apple on good terms.

Apple did not comment on her departure, which was previously reported by Bloomberg.

Her exit after such a short stint is a blow to Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, who has made healthcare a top priority for the company at a time when it is looking for new sources of growth beyond the iPhone. So far, Apple Watch has not proved as big a hit as some analysts had anticipated, but at an event in Amsterdam this year Mr Cook suggested that its technology could help “extend life”.

“If you think about some of society’s biggest problems and challenges, one of the ones that we are really focused on is health,” Mr Cook said. “The holy grail of the Watch is being able to monitor more and more of what’s going on in the body.”

This week, a report on Mobihealthnews suggested that Apple is seriously looking beyond Fitbit-style fitness tracking to certify medical devices with the US Food and Drug Administration.

A Freedom of Information Act request filed by the specialist news site to the US health regulator revealed that Apple executives including Mr Williams secretly met FDA officials in February. “[T]hey are keen to work with us as they develop a new framework for regulating SaMD (software as a medical device),” one FDA email states, according to Mobihealthnews.

If you think about some of society’s biggest problems and challenges, one of the ones that we are really focused on is health. The holy grail of the Watch is being able to monitor more and more of what’s going on in the body

Another email in July from an Apple lawyer to the FDA revealed its plans for “two possible (and related) products in the cardiac space, as well as the associated regulatory and quality systems and requirements”. The email did not specify whether the products would involve new hardware, such as adding new features to the Watch, or only software applications.

The FDA meetings follow comments by Mr Cook last year to The Telegraph, where he said that while he did not want to put the Apple Watch through the FDA regulatory process, “you can begin to envision other things that might be adjacent to it — maybe an app, maybe something else”.

While remaining typically coy about the details of his plans, Mr Cook has developed this theme in subsequent interviews. He told Fast Company in August that Apple had been increasingly “thinking about research”, including “some patient care stuff”.

Many of today’s medical devices focus on reimbursement from health insurers, rather than focusing on “what helps the patient”, he said. “So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.”

Apple declined to comment on Mobihealthnews’ report or about its future products.

Via FT