In trying to eek out marginal gains, triathletes have always been early adopters of technology to improve performance. From adopting new bike designs, using aerodynamic race gear, optimising nutrition and measuring a variety of things such as heart rate (zones) and lactate.
Recent trends in triathlon has seen a focus on biomarker measurement, for example the periodic monitoring of a variety of parameters from companies such as Thriva who provide a neat back to the lab sample collection and testing service to monitor levels of, inter alia, cholesterol, vitamin D and vitamin B12. The recent announcement of the partnership between Ironman and Australian company MX3 Diagnostics is an interesting further development. MX3 Biosystems markets a point of care hydration system that provides athletes and coaches with a saliva-based hydration test that can be uploaded onto MX3’s app and analysed. According to MX3 their systems means “Athletes now have direct insight into how their training regimen, environment and lifestyle can impact hydration status and the amount of fluid they need to drink while training and during a competition”.
Consumer Health Diagnostics: established and growing
Early adopters such as triathletes are at the pointy end of this drive towards consumer health diagnostics. Even those of us above 40 are increasingly comfortable with data and analysis, as evidenced by the proliferation of health apps, over 44,000 on iOS at the last count (Source: Statista).
What we are seeing now is a move from stand-alone apps to those integrated with other technologies. This is where lateral flow diagnostics has a significant and interesting role to play. Lateral flow technology is well established and well understood, and since the introduction of pregnancy tests in the 80s the market has grown to over $6bn globally per annum (Source: marketsandmarkets).
Increasing acceptance of home diagnostic testing and the integration of this testing into customer friendly apps and/or into broader healthcare systems will drive continued growth. This process has already started; U.K. pharmacy chain, Boots, has an ‘electrical health and diagnosis’ category on its website which includes an eclectic range of kits including activity trackers, blood pressure monitors and neck massagers but also includes a range of diagnostic tests including various back to the lab tests but also an HIV lateral flow rapid test and cholesterol home test. Amazon sells a range of lateral flow tests for a diverse range of applications including drugs of abuse, fertility and sexually transmitted diseases.
Decentralised testing: empowerment and transformative growth
However, this consumer health market remains nascent and challenges remain around regulation and the role of consumer diagnostics within the broader healthcare framework, that said recent technology advances will act as a catalyst to growth. In lateral flow testing, smartphone readers such as Abingdon Health’s, AppDx, allow tests to be read on a smartphone and the data collected and analysed in customer friendly app. This provides an integrated patient-centric and user-friendly solution which will support increased adoption. And the applications are broad from infectious disease testing in the developed world; to on-farm animal health; and plant pathogen testing. The empowerment of the public through decentralised testing though provides one of the most transformative growth opportunities.
Triathletes may well be leading the way here but the general public may soon be giving them a run (bike and swim) for their money. Adoption may be driven by the pressing need for alternative healthcare models to reduce costs coupled with the pull from consumers to take control of their own healthcare. A once a day saliva test for a broad panel of wellness markers uploaded to your smartphone may soon become a mundane part of your morning routine, just before you brush your teeth.