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Genentech CEO Disses Wearables, but Expects Cancer Strides Soon

Genomics and other tech tools could help drive down the soaring cost of drug approval, says Ian Clark.

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Genentech CEO Ian Clark took a few swipes at wearables during an interview Thursday on the state of digital health, but stressed that there is growing promise in emerging technology for advancing medical research.

In particular, he said, improving tools for sequencing and analyzing the human genome are offering fresh insights into the underlying roots of certain illnesses.

“Our understanding of the detailed causes of many diseases is accelerating incredibly quickly,” he said during an onstage discussion with Re/code’s Kara Swisher at Rock Health’s fourth annual Health Innovation Summit in San Francisco. “Things that were hard to treat or impossible to treat are going to become treatable or chronic illnesses.”

Specifically, he said, we’ll likely see significant strides in cancer treatment in the near future, followed by advances in neurological diseases.

These technologies could also help rein in the spiraling cost of developing drugs and working them through the regulatory approval process, he said. In part, that’s because they’re more likely to be effective, eliminating expensive false paths.

Clark highlighted other promising digital health developments including telemedicine, offering patients anytime, anywhere access to medical consultations through mobile apps like Doctor on Demand and telepresence robots like iRobot’s RP-VITA.

But he twice took jabs at the much-hyped wearables space, which has been heavily funded in Silicon Valley during recent months.

He said the devices could get more interesting if they’re able to accurately monitor things like blood pressure and electrocardiography signals, the electrical activity of the heart. For now, however, he dismissed most of the wearables in today’s crowded space as “trivial.”

“I don’t doubt the wearable piece is going to be a productive business model for people,” he said. “I just don’t know whether it’s going to bend the curve in health outcomes.”

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