Former Highmark chief Melani re-emerges with board position at LifeWatch AG

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After laying low for nearly a year, Ken Melani, the former CEO of Highmark Inc., will soon be the new board chairman at a Swiss telemedicine and home health monitoring company.

LifeWatch AG added Dr. Melani to its board of directors two months ago at a company shareholder meeting. On Monday, the company announced its current board chairman will be stepping down and Dr. Melani will be taking his spot, effective May 29.

Dr. Melani was fired from his Highmark post on April 1, 2012, after being charged in a domestic altercation. He had been with the company for 23 years, its CEO for nine, and as such was one of the region's top business leaders, running a $14 billion company.

The dismissal, which came as Highmark had launched an aggressive plan to rescue West Penn Allegheny Health System and to build its own health network to do battle with UPMC, was followed by his resignation from a handful of nonprofit board chairmanships, including the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Washington & Jefferson College.

The timing was right for a return to a leadership role, he said in an interview this week.

"I've been looking," he said, "meeting with private equity and venture capital firms to see what was out there," and doing some advisory work on the side. Dr. Melani also said he is exploring roles with a Pittsburgh pharmaceutical company and a Penn State-related biotech venture, but the LifeWatch position is the first one he's willing to discuss in detail.

He was introduced to LifeWatch last year by an acquaintance at a private equity funds. He is the board's only director from the U.S., which is where the company now generates most of its revenues.

The 20-year-old company -- headquartered in northern Switzerland with U.S. offices in Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco -- specializes in wireless technologies.

Among its newer products, it makes a skin patch that can be worn for up to seven days, and transmits a patient's vitals (heart rate, blood oxygen levels, EKG readings and more) to the online cloud, where they can be analyzed by LifeWatch, or even reviewed by medical professionals.

LifeWatch is also seeking U.S. FDA approval for its Android-based smartphone, the LifeWatch V, which comes with a number of built-in biometric sensors and scanners, tracking body temperature, blood glucose, heart rate and more.

"Telehealth is a real exciting space," Dr. Melani said, particularly considering the shortage of physicians and caregivers that's predicted to be on the horizon for the U.S.

Couple that trend with ongoing efforts to track people's health after they are discharged from the hospital, in order to reduce readmissions, and "there's going to be such a massive need" for remote monitoring, he said. "They are ready to play in that space."

LifeWatch, publicly traded on the Swiss stock exchange, had 2011 revenues of $82.2 million. The current board chairman, Yacov Geva -- also the company's CEO -- made $226,868 on top of his CEO salary 2011 "for his activities as chairman of the board of directors," according to LifeWatch.

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Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.


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