- Ted Talks
Apple is quietly building one of the strongest teams in digital health, and on Thursday, it just added perhaps its most high-profile hire yet.
Stephen Friend, co-founder and President of Sage Bionetworks, is joining Apple’s healthcare team, Sage Bionetworks announced on Thursday.
Apple said it had “nothing more to share about his role or title.”
Before Sage, Friend was an executive at Merck and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School. Friend will be stepping back from a day-to-day role at Sage Bionetworks.
Sage Bionetworks is perhaps the most important partner for Apple’s nascent health effort. Sage has been a partner on most of the high-profile apps to come out on Apple’s health-focused platforms, ResearchKit and CareKit.
Sage Bionetworks helped develop the Parkinson mPower app, for example, which was one of the first ResearchKit apps at launch and later became one of the first CareKit-enabled apps.
Sage provides an accessible, open-source backend for ResearchKit and CareKit apps, and for many researchers and clinical professionals, it was a partner that helped address a lot of the messy behind-the-scenes problems with building one of these mobile health apps.
“Sage Bioneworks is definitely a big player with where Apple goes with health, but there’s some sort of pseudo-interesting relationship between the two of them,” Ahmed Albaiti, CEO of health care consultancy Medullan, said. “Sage has a very rich think-tank set of resources, and they are are the ones that trailblaze on these Apple products, but they don’t help you develop apps.”
Apple has long-term ambitions to go into the healthcare market, and has been emphasizing the health capabilities of the Apple Watch. Earlier this year, CEO Tim Cook said Apple had “massive interest” in the health world and that the healthcare space is “ripe for simplicity and a new view.”
Last month, it posted a job listing for a lawyer who focused on medical privacy who could consult on possible acquisitions.