Qualcomm pulls the plug on LifeComm

By: Brian Dolan | Jul 15, 2009        

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It’s been more than four years since Qualcomm first announced its plans to help launch a healthcare-focused mobile phone service, called LifeComm. Qualcomm and its (still) undisclosed partners recently decided that it was time to pull the plug on LifeComm after failing to raise additional third party funding, mobihealthnews has learned from an anonymous source.

Old mock-up of LifeComm device

A circa 2007 mock-up of a LifeComm device

“Qualcomm is reviewing its options with LifeComm in light of current capital market conditions that have prevented LifeComm from raising the third-party capital necessary to fully develop its initial launch product,” a Qualcomm spokesperson told mobihealthnews when asked for comment. “Wireless healthcare remains a viable and vibrant space. Qualcomm is committed to this market by supporting its partners to enable wireless healthcare solutions. Qualcomm will continue to work with its partners and industry organizations as we innovate and create technologies for wireless healthcare.”

Financing, bridge loans and competitive woes

Qualcomm has been working to establish LifeComm since 2005 but determining the joint venture’s ownership structure has plagued the start-up since its conception. In 2007 Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs said that the company’s launch date had been delayed because Qualcomm did not want to be the main investor in a company that offered wireless services. After all, some of  Qualcomm’s most important customers are U.S. wireless carriers like Verizon Wireless and Sprint.

In mid-2007 Qualcomm said that LifeComm was weeks away from attaining a bridge loan that would help spin LifeComm out as a separate company. The company then planned to begin hiring an executive team. It wasn’t until September 2008, however, that LifeComm appointed Lou Silverman as its CEO. Prior to LifeComm, Silverman spent eight years as President and CEO of Quality Systems, a provider of medical and dental software. Prior to QS, Silverman was COO of CorVel, a provider of medical practice management services. Now that LifeComm is no more, we understand that Silverman is also moving on.

LifeComm’s raison d’etre

LifecommLifeComm planned to sell mobile phones equipped with health management applications along with service plans to support the devices. The company’s overall goal was to equip the wave of 70 million Baby Boomers that were poised to overwhelm the U.S. healthcare system’s already strained medical resources with wireless-enabled tools to help them better manage their own health and fitness. Qualcomm’s senior director of business development Paul Hedtke, who was credited as the LifeComm head within Qualcomm, said LifeComm’s aim was “to transform our phones into ‘in-the-hand’ toolsets that can help us maintain our good health or manage a condition we may already have.” The company planned to market its products to both consumers and self-insured employers who might offer the devices to employees as a way to keep health insurance rates down.

A sneak peek at LifeComm devices

Chances are, however, that some of the devices and services that LifeComm planned to bring to market will become commercially available despite the company’s disintegration.

Clint McClellan, senior director of business development of health and life sciences at Qualcomm, gave attendees at a recent wireless health event a sneak peek at two products he said LifeComm would bring to market shortly after its launch: a blood glucose monitor-equipped phone and a wireless-enabled medallion, which could send out alerts before the wearer falls.

McClellan described the medallion as similar to those worn by seniors in case they fall down and can’t get up, except the Lifecomm medallion would have had an accelerometer embedded that can detect a fall. The medallion was set to include the guts of a “full mobile phone,” McClellan said. Think “Lifeline-on-steroids,” he quipped.

Mobihealthnews had previously reported on LifeComm’s planned medallion offering, which had also been described as a smart mobile PERS (Personal Emergency Response System) system. By adding cellular technology to the PERS, LifeComm looked to extend wireless coverage of the device both into and out of the home, versus legacy products that only had in-home coverage. The medallion also included geo-location capabilities so caregivers could locate wearers should they become lost. 

LifeComm also reportedly had plans to offer devices and services designed to help users manage chronic conditions like asthma but also applications aimed to help users maintain wellness and fitness levels in spite of the effects of simple aging. Qualcomm representatives have previously noted that some LifeComm devices might include biosensors or wireless-enabled “Band-Aids” that feed vital signs to the user’s phone. 

Qualcomm’s other wireless health start-ups

Of course, Qualcomm has other wireless health irons in the fire. The company’s venture arm has made investments in a number of wireless health companies, besides LifeComm, including Chealcomm and Triage. The company was also instrumental in the launch of wireless cardiac monitoring company, CardioNet, which went public last year. Qualcomm also has close ties to Proteus Biomedical, MicroCHIPS and Isis, but has not made an investment in those companies.

Qualcomm: LifeComm to offer glucometer phone, medallion

  • http://3gdoctor.wordpress.com David Doherty

    Some very smart people involved in LC. Shame they didn’t make it as it would have been great to have had the mHealth market lead by technology rather that the marketing spin that mobile operators will no doubt try to use!

  • http://3gdoctor.wordpress.com David Doherty

    A bit unusual that the website/videos are still up don’t you think?


  • http://e-CareManagement.com Vince Kuraitis

    This is a significant and unfortunate development. The growth of the entire mobile ecosystem of application vendors is inhibited by the need for one or more common platforms on which to build and develop their apps.

  • http://diabetech.net Kevin McMahon

    Diabetech’s wireless health platform is still available… since 2002… and since 2007 on GSM/GPRS… bring it on. Lifecomm is not the missing piece. What’s been missing is randomized controlled clinical trial data showing efficacy based on devices that patients like to use. Now that we have that, we are being kept quite busy by several health plans. Unfortunately for Lifecomm, that lifecycle of generating the trial data takes a good 3 to 4 years from start to finish and the timing appears to have been off for them. Full speed ahead.

  • http://3gdoctor.wordpress.com David Doherty

    Hi Kevin, a little surprised you couldn’t see the benefits of a big player developing next generation devices for experienced professionals (like your good self!) to build a service layer on top of.

    Anyway, one good thing that might come of QC’s withdrawal from LifeComm could be the influence that it has on the Qualcomm Venture QPrize Business Plan Competition. I hope they’ll look more favorably on startup mHealth companies now that they’re not concerned about competitive issues.

    QPrize is an initiative to identify and strengthen novel business ideas while in the concept stage. Additional details on candidate eligibility and submission guidelines are available at http://www.qprize2009.com and http://www.qualcomm.com/ventures

    NOTE: the 31st of July is the deadline for submitting completed business plans!

    Good luck!

  • http://challengediabetes.com Kevin McMahon

    David – you miss my point or I wasn’t clear enough in my previous comment. We were looking forward to evaluating and potentially incorporating the Lifecomm devices into our ADMS and offering them as a device option in our payer focused health management programs. However, If a company like Diabetech is already well positioned then why is it so hard for a company like Qualcomm? … and why do I get the feeling that everyone else is lost on how to go from new device concepts to field trials of their new devices then to commercialization? From our perspective we already have 100% of the technology required to deliver the envisioned Lifecomm offering with significantly less overhead (translates to lower cost of entry for innovators) so there is no loss at the platform level other than the marketing dollars and visibility that a name like Qualcomm has to offer.

    Even if an innovator wins the bplan competition, how does that address or accelerate adoption by the payer landscape? And until you answer that question, VC money will be primarily interested in accumulating IP from today’s innovators and aggregating their IP portfolios for a business launch some day in the future when payers are willing to pay. Taking expensive money to build a device is easy. Getting paid for it is something else entirely and I don’t see how the loss of Lifecomm’s promised entry affects this fundamental business objective.

  • Malcolm Burwell

    So… the silver lining here is that an MVNO is dead, and long live the MNOs. Qualcomm is still right with it’s sequential strategy: harvest money from mobile multi-media today, next harvest mobile payment/finance, then (eventually) harvest mobile health. The wireless carriers (“MNOs”) are on this path already (see Vodafone’s MPESA financial service and the Oyster-card London Underground roll-out). They are begining to explore health also… without the need for a Lifecomm MVNO overlay (see Vodafone’s recent “acquisition” of t-plus Medical… lots more happening behind the confidentiality veil also). In tough times, when Qualcomm must control costs, cutting from its long-term strategy (mobile health; hence Lifecomm) is sensible. A lost momentum-causer for us in connected-health, though. Kevin’s right: mobile health will force itself onwards via smaller, self-contained enterprises that can weather the time needed for clinical trial work to demonstrate RoIs. Cardionet is a shining example there.

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