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Amazon Eyes Health Industry, Considered Buying Medical Start-Up - Reports

© AP Photo / David ZalubowskiBoxes move down a conveyor belt at an Amazon fulfillment center
Boxes move down a conveyor belt at an Amazon fulfillment center - Sputnik International
The company had been looking at purchasing a start-up which develops at-home health tests and even had a team working on home diagnostics.

The project was aimed at exploring the possibility of making products for customers to conduct medical tests at home, a person familiar with Amazon’s plans told CNBC.

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Two sources said that the company had been holding discussions this year with the venture–backed diagnostics start-up Confer Health, yet the talks didn’t result in a deal. Confer develops hardware for at-home tests, including fertility and infections. The tests are designed to provide clinical-grade results without visiting a doctor.

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Sources told CNBC that Confer was to become part of a project led by a team under Babak Parviz, who joined Amazon from Google in 2014. The team was interested in fertility and geriatric tests for seniors. Another source who met with Parviz said that he expressed strong interest in home health testing.

For unknown reasons, the negotiations with Confer fell apart. The source told CNBC that the talks were discontinued in the summer, around the same time that Amazon made the decision to acquire the Internet pharmacy company PillPack.

However, the fact that Amazon had a secret project team could be a signal that the company has ambitions to compete with testing giants Quest and LabCorp, as well as retail health centres and remake the entire medical industry. If successful, it could flood the market with home solutions for a series of tests which are now performed at a doctor’s office.

Confer has raised around $10 million in venture capital and is advised by Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive who recently said that Amazon is a “natural product monopoly”.

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Amazon’s team is reportedly led by Kristen Helton, a PhD in bioengineering who also co-founded a health monitoring start-up. Her previous research was focused on point-of-care diagnostics, specifically making it easier for people to access tools to test for diseases outside of a lab. Other employees include Parviz; Adam Siegel, who previously developed a medical device start-up; and Douglas Weibel, who teaches biochemistry and biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The team was called “The Grand Challenge” and operated under the nicknames 1492 and Amazon X.

A leaked internal document reportedly discussed a project led by Helton, code-named Picard, that is expected to bring in at least $250 million in sales by 2020. The document suggests that Picard would be in its third year of existence by 2020, having been launched this year and that the project was “a "new initiative for Amazon (organizationally within AWS but a non-AWS product).” The name “Picard” was supposedly named after the Star Trek character as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is known to be a fan of the series.

Earlier this year, Amazon filed a patent for its Alexa voice assistant to be able to detect when you're sick and offer medicine based on your voice condition. Alexa also already has its own team of developers working on health and wellness applications, such as integrations to blood pressure monitors and other devices.

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