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Category: Health Tech

Policies, Techies, VCS: Musings From a Futurist

By IAN MORRISON

I should’ve been in Paris last week on vacation with my wife, instead I listened in to the Policies Techies VCS:  What’s Next For Healthcare conference (I’ll explain why later).  Matthew Holt and Jessica DaMassa did a magnificent job of assembling the Who’s Who of digital health tech to wax lyrical about what the new kids on the block were up to, where it is all headed, and what it will mean for the system. (Full disclosure Matthew and Jess are friends of mine, I hired Matthew from Stanford almost 30 years ago to join the Institute For The Future (IFTF) and have watched proudly as he has become a Health 2.0 impresario.  Jess simply deserves a gold medal for wrangling Holt and all the other tech Bros with wit, charm and intelligence).

This is a tumultuous time for digital health technology because of the pandemic and the related rise of digital solutions not to mention the very frothy investment market and massive deal flow over the last 24 months.   There are a lot of exciting new faces.  But, many of the companies on display have been at this for some.   And for many of the old guard, like Livongo and now Transcarent Founder Glen Tullman, Athena Health and now Zus Founder Jonathan Bush, and Amwell CEO Roy Schoenberg and others this has been a much longer journey.

(Parenthetically, as a young management engineer in Canada, a position, I was not qualified for, I wrote the justification for an all-computerized hospital at the University of British Columbia in 1979!  I still find it just incredibly pathetic that it has taken us 40 years to suddenly “discover” digital health. I wrote The Second Curve which forecast (among other things) the rise of digitally enabled health transformation 25 years ago!  So it is hard for me to get really excited that this is either “new” or “next”.)

So, while a lot of us have been in this movie for a long time, there is something very different about the current crop of offerings.  In particular, technology has advanced considerably and there are clearly new cloud and SaaS tech enabled care solutions.  There is a new cadre of talented and committed investors and entrepreneurs who believe they have the capability and capital to scale meaningful enterprises that will disrupt incumbent healthcare players and better serve consumers and providers.  And the timing seems right as the pandemic forced consumers and the health care system to confront new ways of doing business.

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Metaverse and Health Care – A View From 50,000 Feet

by MIKE MAGEE

dystopian

[disˈtōpēən]

ADJECTIVE

1. relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice.

NOUN

1. a person who imagines or foresees a state or society where there is great suffering or injustice.

There are certain words that keep popping up in 2021 whose meanings are uncertain and which deserve both recognition and definition. And so, the offering above – the word “dystopian.” Dystopian as in the sentence “The term was coined by writer Neal Stephenson in the 1992 dystopian novel Snow Crash.”

One word leads to another. For example, the above-mentioned noun, referred to as dystopian by science fiction writer Stephenson three decades ago, was “Metaverse”. He attached this invented word (the prefix “meta” meaning beyond and “universe”) to a vision of how “a virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the near future.”

“Metaverse” is all the rage today, referenced by the leaders of Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple, but also by many other inhabitors of virtual worlds and augmented reality. The land of imaginary 3D spaces has grown at breakneck speed, and that was before the self-imposed isolation of a worldwide pandemic.

But most agree that the metaverse remains a future-facing concept that has not yet approached its full potential. As noted, it was born out of science fiction in 1992, then adopted by gamers and academics, simultaneously focusing on studying, applying, and profiting from the creation of alternate realities. But it is gaining ground fast, and igniting a cultural tug of war.

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DayTwo Scores $37M to Expand Microbiome-Based Personalized Nutrition Treatment for Diabetes

By JESSICA DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

People with Diabetes can get ready to celebrate: “The ‘Era of Lancets’ is over.” Precision nutrition startup, DayTwo, is scaling up its microbiome-based program, which takes the guesswork (and finger pricks) out of Diabetes management by offering its members food predictions that identify how their bodies will respond to any food BEFORE they eat it. The startup just closed a fresh $37M in Series B funding (led by aMoon and Cathay Ventures) and is expanding the rollout of their fee-for-outcomes Diabetes program to health plans and large self-insured employers.

The science behind this has yielded DayTwo the largest gut microbiome dataset in the world, and years of empirical studies on exactly what happens in our bodies as our digestive systems process different foods. Josh Stevens, DayTwo’s President & Chief Commercial Officer, walks us through the research behind the offering, which uses a gut microbiome analysis to rank foods and food combinations based on how eating them will impact a person’s blood sugar – essentially revealing what foods will (or won’t) cause a member’s blood sugar to spike before they even take a bite.

Its 70,000+ members report lower A1C levels (1 point on average), sustained weight loss, and, probably most exciting, an ability to stick with the program because the app (and wrap-around telehealth support from registered dieticians) creates a completely bespoke diet that lets people learn how to eat their favorite foods and keep their blood glucose levels within range. Will this predictive approach really bring about the end of lancet-based blood glucose testing for Diabetes management? Josh says Diabetes remission is a goal made easier by this predictive approach, but how does it stack up to other food-as-medicine approaches out there? I have a gut-feeling that you’ll want to tune in and find out!

Policies|Techies|VCs: What’s Next For Health Care–Virtual Conference is Sept 7-10

Policies|Techies|VCs: What’s Next For Health Care? is the conference bringing together the CEOs of the next generation of virtual & real-life care delivery, and all the permutations thereof. You can register here or learn how to sponsor.

This is a big week. We are one week out and we’ve started pre-recording a few sessions and they’ve been fascinating. Keynotes include government officials from the 3 most important agencies for digital health –Pauline Lapin (CMS), Micky Tripathi (ONC) & Bakul Patel (FDA). But wait there’s more! Keynotes from techies Glen Tullman (Transcarent), Sean Lane (Olive), Jonathan Bush (Zus Health), Jeff Dachis (One Drop) & Andrew Dudum (Hims & Hers). And we’re not forgetting the VCs sprinkled through the program, with a keynote from Andreesen Horowitz’s Julie Yoo.

Please look at the agenda for 20 power-packed panels and over 100 speakers – and then sign up!

Shout out to our sponsors – This week we welcome new Gold sponsor data privacy company Skyflow and new Silver sponsor Amwell. Thanks to both of them for supporting the conference. They join Avaneer Health (our Platinum sponsor) & exclusive Agency sponsor 120/80. Sliver sponsors are Transcarent & Lark . More sponsors are AetionMerck GHIFCrossover HealthZus HealthNewtopiaAetion & Big Health! Many of them will have sessions you can catch on the web site.

It’s going to be a great conference–no need to leave your seat as it’s happening virtually September 7-10. Register here!!Matthew Holt

Matthew’s health care tidbits

Each week I’ve been adding a brief tidbits section to the THCB Reader, our weekly newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB that week (Sign up here!). Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt

For my health care tidbits this week, I am getting very close to home. I live in Marin County, California which is an incredibly wealthy, well-educated, liberal place. My little town voted 90% for Biden and, as you’d expect, county-wide 87% of those eligible (over 12) are fully immunized with most of the rest on the way. But Marin also has a small hard core of anti-vaxxers, and by that I mean those who reject childhood vaccinations. At one Waldorf school nearby only 22% of kids are vaccinated (MMR et al).This week the CDC released a study about how this past May an unvaccinated elementary school teacher who was sneezing but didn’t wear a mask infected 55% of their class.

I know that public schools in Marin have insisted on their teachers and students wearing masks and have highly, highly encouraged vaccinations among teachers and staff. Furthermore that school had only 205 pupils which is well below the average for elementary schools (at least in my school district). So I am prepared to bet that the maskless teacher was at a charter school or other private school. (Post newsletter update: I found out that it was a parochial school in Navato)

Clearly we need vaccines for kids ASAP. But I also am starting to wonder that, as COVID-19 becomes endemic and probably never goes away and as studies like this show how rapidly it spreads, will the majority who believe in masking, vaccines et al start to impose more medical and social mandates and bans on those who do not?

THCB Gang Episode 64 – Thurs August 26, 1pm PT- 4pm ET

THCB Gang is back from its summer break. Joining me Matthew Holt (@boltyboy) for an hour of topical and sometime combative conversation on what’s happening in health care and beyond will be patient safety expert and all around wit Michael Millenson (@MLMillenson); fierce patient activist Casey Quinlan (@MightyCasey), medical historian Mike Magee (@drmikemagee), WTF Health host & Health IT girl Jessica DaMassa (@jessdamassa); and making a rare but welcome appearance cardiologist & provocateur Anish Koka (@anish_koka). Watch it live below.

If you’d rather listen than watch, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels

Inside 1-Year-Old Calibrate’s $100M Raise for ‘Rx + Behavior Change’ Weight Loss

By JESSICA DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

Just ONE-year in market, and Calibrate has already closed a $100M Series B co-led by Founders Fund and Tiger Global, with participation from Optum Ventures, Forerunner Ventures, Threshold Ventures, and Redesign Health. Why is this virtual care startup getting so much attention (and funding) from so many notable health tech investors? Founder & CEO Isabelle Kenyon is here to introduce us to the telehealth-plus-prescription-drugs business she’s building to help people lose weight.

This is NOT a Noom. Calibrate’s business model is built around a class of $700-$1,300-per month, prescription weight loss drugs called GLP-1s, which it helps its members sort through for both fit AND health insurance coverage (Isabelle says 90% of Calibrate members get the drugs covered by their health plan.) Once the drug is prescribed, the Calibrate member is wrapped in a telehealth-driven, lifestyle intervention program that addresses sleep, eating, exercise, and emotional health to help support the reset of their metabolism. As a result, Calibrate members are losing an average of 14% of their body weight, a significantly better, more sustainable outcome than achieved in clinical research when the drugs were prescribed without support.

There are lots of compelling aspects to the Calibrate story here, and we get through all of them: the 175M-person total addressable market of Americans diagnosed with obesity… the recent FDA-approval of Novo Nordisk’s new GLP-1 drug called Wegovy… and how Calibrate will use its fresh funding to build-out an Enterprise program aimed at meeting the shifting thinking employers, Medicare Advantage plans, and other health insurers have about obesity treatment as “preventative care” against more costly chronic diseases.

What else could this “behavior change + drug” framework – and its unique de-coupled payment model – be applied to? Diabetes, cholesterol, and hypertension sound like they’re all on the table, but how defensible is this? What stops a pharma company from doing this themselves? Isn’t this digital therapeutics?? A VERY interesting discussion about the often-taboo subject of weight loss, pharma, and the disruption of the healthcare delivery system behind both.

#Healthin2Point00, Episode 229 | Headspace & Ginger merge, Connect America buys 100Plus

It’s M&A day here on Health in 2 Point 00! On Episode 229, Jess and I chat about the big news that Headspace and Ginger are merging to create Headspace Health (for more deets tune into Jess’s interview on WTF Health here). Next up, Connect America buys remote patient monitoring platform 100Plus. Finally, AllStripes raises $50 million in a Series B, bringing their total up to $67 million – this is a rare disease play for clinical trial recruiting. —Matthew Holt

Ginger and Headspace Merge: CEOs Let Us In On What’s Next for Digital Mental Health Super Company

By JESSICA DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

The thinking behind the merger-of-equals between on-demand mental health company, Ginger, and mindfulness and meditation company, Headspace, is revealed in this in-depth chat with Headspace CEO CeCe Morken and Ginger CEO Russell Glass. The combined entity will be known as Headspace Health, with CeCe as its President and Russell as its CEO, and we’re chatting with both of them about go-to-market, strategic direction, and whether or not the next stop is an IPO.

“Low-cost, quality mental healthcare” is where these two minds seem to meet – playing on both Ginger’s reputation for being among the lowest cost providers of on-demand coaching and mental health therapy for the employer market, and Headspace’s budget-friendly, tech-first approach to mental wellness education and training for the masses. This is a critical point of differentiation, especially on the clinical side, where the cost of therapy is oftentimes a barrier for access to it.

Headspace will be rolled out to Ginger’s enterprise clients immediately (playing what sounds like a preventative medicine / early-detection role), but what might be even more exciting are plans to integrate Ginger’s therapy and coaching services into the direct-to-consumer product that has made Headspace a household name.

Is this the move before the BIG MOVE into the public markets? How will the integration work on the data side? And, for you long-time health tech followers and lovers of the digital therapeutics space, I ask about V1 of the Headspace Health brand, which, you might remember, announced bold plans to build the first-ever FDA-approved mindfulness DTx. The new combined entity is not only taking the name – it might one-day get back into the development of mental health digital therapeutics.

Lots to hear in this one as this Headspace Health positions itself to win in both DTC and Enterprise markets, starting Day 1 with 100M lives and 2700 enterprise clients around the world.

I am Dr. Groot

By KIM BELLARD

The healthcare world is abuzz with Dr. David Feinberg’s departure from Google Health – another tech giant is shocked to find healthcare was so complicated! – while one of those tech giants (Amazon) not only just surpassed Walmart in consumer spending but also is now planning to build its own department stores.  Both very interesting, but all I can think about is robots. 

Most of the recent publicity about robots has come from Elon Musk’s announcement of the Tesla Bot, or the new video of Boston Dynamic’s Atlas doing more amazing acrobatics, but I was more intrigued by Brooks Barnes’s New York Times article Are You Ready for Sentient Disney Robots? 

Like many industries that serve consumers, healthcare has long been envious of Disney’s success with customer experience.  Disney even offers the Disney Institute to train others in their expertise with it.  Disney claims its advantage is: “Where others let things happen, we’re consistently intentional in our actions.”  That means focusing on “the details that other organizations may often undermanage—or ignore.” 

You’d have to admit that healthcare ignores too many of the details, allowing things to happen that shouldn’t.  

One of the things that Disney has long included in its parks’ experience were robots.  It has had robots in its parks since the early 1960’s, when it introduced “audio-animatronics” – mechanical figures that could move, talk, or sing in very life-like ways.  Disney has continued to iterate its robots, but, as Mr. Barnes points out, in a world of video games, CGI, VR/AR, and, for heaven’s sake, Atlas robots doing flips, its lineup was growing dated. 

Mr. Barnes quotes Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, from an April presentation: “We think a lot about relevancy.  We have an obligation to our fans, to our guests, to continue to evolve, to continue to create experiences that look new and different and pull them in. To make sure the experience is fresh and relevant.” 

Enter Project Kiwi. 

In April, Scott LaValley, the lead engineer on the project, told TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino: “Project KIWI started about three years ago to figure out how we can bring our smaller characters to life at their actual scale in authentic ways.”  The prototype is Marvel’s character Groot, featured in comic books and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (he is famous for only saying “I am Groot,” although apparently different intonations result in an entire language). 

By 2021, they had a functioning prototype:

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