Karthik Murali, director of USC Digital Health Lab.

Karthik Murali, director of USC Digital Health Lab. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

When Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston this summer, hospitals across the flooded city relied on a new digital app to direct patients to unaffected intensive care facilities.

The emergency coordination platform came courtesy of Akido Labs of downtown, which is one of seven successful digital health start-ups to emerge from USC’s 2-year-old digital health lab at Keck School of Medicine.

The small facility helped push USC to the forefront of a growing digital health field, lab officials said.

“It has been wildly successful,” said Karthik Murali, director of USC Digital Health Lab and D-Health program. “We have shown we have reduced barriers to digital health company formation.”

The past six years has seen the funding of hundreds of emerging digital health firms across Los Angeles County– placing it among the top five digital health markets in the nation, according to life sciences industry analysts.

More than half the digital health companies in the region have fewer than 10 employees.

Companies in the sector merge high-tech software and big data health care analytics. Artificial intelligence projects, wearable monitoring devices and applications supporting disease prevention and management have sprung up.

“The Greater Los Angeles area, according to our count, has more than 250 digital health companies that either provide solutions or connected devices,” said Ahmed Enany, president and chief executive of the Southern California Biomedical Council, which next month is hosting a digital health summit at USC. “We are the fourth-largest digital health cluster in the nation.”

Los Angeles-area digital health companies drew $1.5 billion in funding since 2014, according to a council study, with most companies clustered on the westside.

The Bay Area, a leader in biotech, has drawn the bulk of digital health investment, with companies raising more than $4.5 billion from 2014 through last year. The NorCal region was followed by New York and Boston, which drew $2.4 billion and $1.6 billion respectively.

Mutual benefit

Cutting edge health care technology has a long history in Los Angeles.

Spacelabs Healthcare of Van Nuys developed the first remote cardiac monitoring and telemetry systems for NASA in 1959. The company’s devices were used to monitor astronauts’ vital signs in the early Gemini and later Apollo space missions.

The company, now owned by OSI Systems Inc. of Hawthorne, went on to develop the first system for cardiac patient monitoring in hospital ICUs, as well as the first patient monitoring system using microprocessors.

More recently, Patrick Soon-Shiong launched NantHealth Inc. in 2010, a health IT firm he claimed would be “the next Google of genome mapping.” Soon-Shiong said he wants cancer data available on any mobile phone. The Culver City-based company went public in 2016 and was valued at about $2 billion, but shares have slumped this year, and closed Oct. 18 at $3.83 for a market value of about $410 million.

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