Another big health hire for Apple: Stephen Friend, Sage Bionetworks president

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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 in a press release on Thursday.

It’s not clear exactly what Friend’s title will be at Apple, and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Before Sage, Friend was an executive at Merck and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School.

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 [ResearchKit and CareKit apps],” Albaiti said.

Apple has long-term ambitions to go into the healthcare market, and has been emphasising 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.

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