Smartphone maker BlackBerry announced Tuesday that it has invested in Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong’s NantHealth with the hope that its smartphones can be married to the West L.A. billionaire’s next-generation medical information technology.

BlackBerry in Waterloo, Ontario, has been struggling to compete with smartphone makers using the Apple and Android platforms. The company is turning to niche markets where its expertise in secure communications is an advantage. BlackBerry’s newer embedded operating system already is used in MRI systems, and the company hopes to expand use of the software to medical devices.

NantHealth, an affiliate of Soon-Shiong’s Culver City holding company Nantworks, has been developing information technology to facilitate communication among patients, health care providers and researchers. The NantHealth platform already is installed at about 250 hospitals, connecting more than 16,000 medical devices to collect more than 3 billion vital signs annually. Soon-Shiong said that offering a mobile unit was a key piece of the puzzle.

“What we needed was a handset that offered security and privacy,” said Soon-Shiong, adding that BlackBerry and NantHealth hope to launch their first product by the end of the year.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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