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Updated: Tue, 15 Apr 2014 13:44:07 GMT | By David Friend, The Canadian Press,

BlackBerry makes move into healthcare IT

BlackBerry (TSX:BB) is reaching into the health-care sector with the purchase of a minority stake in U.S.-based technology company NantHealth.

BlackBerry (TSX:BB) is reaching into the health-care sector with the purchase of a minority stake in U.S.-based technology company NantHealth.

The Waterloo, Ont.-based smartphone company said the partnership will collaborate on systems that are government-level privacy certified, and will allow health-care professionals to share information securely.

BlackBerry has been tightening its focus on what it considers key sectors of the business world that still value devices operating on a secure infrastructure. One of those areas is in the medical community, where mobile devices used by doctors can be linked to other equipment.

While financial terms of the Nanthhealth agreement weren't disclosed, BlackBerry CEO John Chen said this is the type of partnership that's important to the company's future.

"BlackBerry's capabilities align closely with NantHealth's and this investment represents the type of forward-looking opportunities that are vital to our future," Chen said in a news release on Tuesday.

Chen was hired last November to turn around BlackBerry, which has seen consumers leave in droves for Apple iPhone and Android smartphones. He has moved to reduce costs, partly through layoffs, and is finding new ways to capitalize on BlackBerry's technology.

NantHealth is a private company operated by billionaire heathcare investor Patrick Soon-Shiong. He founded its parent company NantWorks after previously selling two pharmaceutical companies, cancer-treatment developer Abraxis BioScience and American Pharma Partners.

While it's unclear exactly how the partnership will benefit BlackBerry's financial results, the transaction is a step in the right direction, said Jeffries & Co. analyst Peter Misek.

"The problem is that I have no sense for where revenues for this business, or this partnership, could materialize or how they would materialize," Misek said in an interview.

"Chen is going to do a lot of good things, we're just not always going to be able to see the fruits of his labours for awhile."

California-based NantHealth said its platform is installed in about 250 hospitals and connects more than 16,000 medical devices.

The companies say BlackBerry's QNX division, which developed the BlackBerry 10 operating system, is seen as a key part of diagnostic and monitoring devices in hospitals and homecare environments.

BlackBerry shares were down four cents to $7.78 in early afternoon trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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