Covid 19 vaccine development may have mainstreamed questions about how to hasten drug development timelines, but Medable, a health tech startup that offers researchers a way to de-centralize clinical trials, has been working to solve this problem for five years. Freshly funded with a $91M Series C raise, co-founder and CEO Michelle Longmire talks through the benefits of “liberating” clinical trials from academic research centers and sending them onto devices into patient’s homes. Traditionally, drug development processes average more than 10 years, cost millions of dollars, and are limited in the diversity of patients they can recruit because of the heavy focus on the geographic location of the research team conducting the trial. Medable’s digital platform breaks these limitations, reducing drug development timelines and costs by making it easier for researchers to draw study participants from anywhere. More importantly, it makes the novel medicines being tested by the trial available to a bigger, more diverse array of patients. Despite the gains made in 2020 toward the de-centralized clinical trial model (Medable’s revenue shot up 500%), there’s concern that Big Pharma may return to the business processes of old once the pandemic is under control. Does Michelle think last year make enough of an impact to change their business model for good? Find out what’s ahead for the future of pharma.
On the eve of the finalization of their SPAC IPO and New York Stock Exchange debut as $HIMS, Hims & Hers CEO, Andrew Dudum, sat down with Jess DaMassa to talk about his wellness company’s transition into full-on healthcare provider. With new primary care, mental health care, and covid19 testing services launched as a result of the pandemic, Hims & Hers has expanded beyond their initial dermatology and sexual health core to provide telehealth-plus-pharmacy services for a growing range of chronic conditions, mental health issues, and everyday health concerns commonly tackled by PCPs. How far into healthcare delivery will Hims & Hers go? What types of acquisitions or innovations will be necessary to compete with the likes of Teladoc/Livongo, Optum, or the slew of virtual-first primary care clinics currently vying to be healthcare’s “digital front door”? And, what are we to make of that fact that Hims & Hers has gone retail: appearing on the shelves of every Target store in the US? Healthcare’s changing, and we get a fired-up Andrew to wax philosophical on why companies like his — that are consumer-focused, disrupting the healthcare “experience,” AND slowly eroding the healthcare payment model with a customer base willing to pay out-of-pocket — will be leading the way to a next-generation healthcare model.
Hinge Health kicked off 2021 with a massive $300M Series D, driving the digital health musculoskeletal care company to a $3B valuation that, normally, would have sent health tech pundits into full-on IPO rumor mode…except that Hinge Health’s co-founder & CEO Daniel Perez beat them to it! We get into the details behind those comments (from what shall now be known as “the chatty Reuters interview”) where he not only revealed the company’s IPO plans, but also talked about how Hinge is well on it’s way to hit $200M in revenue. If 2021 is a year that Dan says will be focused on getting the business “operationally mature” enough to go public, what, exactly will be on the agenda? We dive into the competitive landscape, talk market size (Dan says more than 50% of employees on employer sponsored plans already have access to Hinge Health), and explore whether or not there are designs to expand into comorbidities common to back and joint pain, like mental health, obesity, diabetes, etc. Says Dan, “We’re going to use the capital to really invest in our innovation and R&D team and to stay different. We’re not just going to do the obvious moves.” Tune in for all the details on exactly what that means and why Dan thinks it’s central to Hinge Health’s market leadership in the MSK care space.
Arguably 2020’s hottest health tech startup, Olive (olive.ai) closed THREE funding rounds this year, totaling $450M and valuing the company at $1.5B. Backed by a “who’s who” of technology, healthcare, and health tech venture capital, Sean Lane, CEO, clues us in about just what makes Olive so damn fund-able. The company boasts a “healthcare AI workforce” that tackles all the back-office processes hospitals use to run their organizations. This is not sexy stuff — filing and tracking insurance claims, ordering inventory, managing suppliers, etc. What’s hot, though, is how Olive is able to automate these tasks (according to Sean, currently many of these processes are handled by spreadsheets and faxes), “learn” as she’s doing it, and create efficiencies and cost savings across all of Olive’s 600+ hospital client-base as she does. Could this be the end of “admin expense” in healthcare? If what Olive is currently doing isn’t enough, we dive deep into Olive’s strategic plan — ALL FIVE POINTS OF IT (!) — to learn what’s next. My favorite? Number 3. The one where Olive starts to INSTANT PAY CLAIMS to completely disrupt hospital cash flow.
Last December, Express Scripts — now a part of Evernorth — became the first PBM to go to market with a digital health formulary. Basically, adapting the vetting, organizing, and pricing functions of a traditional medication formulary to the digital (health) age. Mark Bini, Chief Patient Experience Officer, spearheaded the effort, meant to alleviate the burden faced by Evernorth’s clientbase of 4,000 employers and health plans, who’s HR benefits teams want to make digital health solutions available to the 100+ million members of their health plans, but don’t have a frictionless, repeatable way to do so. As Mark puts it, “if you’ve seen one digital health startup, you’ve seen one.” And, for an HR benefits administrator whose inbox is inundated by digital health companies, the challenge of dealing with different levels of clinical validation, different data needs, different contracts, and, probably, most frustrating, different payment models that are often separated from their health benefit and pharmacy benefits, Evernorth’s Digital Health Formulary eases a real burden. So, a year in… how’s it going? Have Evernorth’s clients bought into more digital health solutions as a result of the formulary? What’s uptake been like among the populations they manage? And, how has this been working out for digital health startups? Mark gives us an update, talks through the details of the selection process, AND reveals what he’s got planned next. Spoiler: The evolution of the Formulary means adding more cohorts of digital health solutions more frequently, increasing the number of digital health solutions covered under drug benefits, getting a beat on longitudinal digital health engagement, and working out how to help consumers navigate all the various health tech options that are available to them.
Bayer G4A, the global life science company’s digital health innovation arm, held their splashy “Agents of Change” event last month to not only introduce their latest cohort of health tech partners, but to also demonstrate the pharma co’s commitment to digital transformation. The entire C-suite of Bayer’s Pharma division became a panel itself — marking the first time the full leadership team of a major pharmaceutical company appeared together to talk strategically about tech’s role in shaping the pharma business model of the future.
The rest of the program’s agenda teased out G4A’s priorities: consumer health, health disparities, women’s health, and investing. Matthew and I both moderated “star-studded” panels with health tech greats: he tackled health tech investment, ridiculous valuations, and advice for startups with a powerhouse crew of investors, while I led my women’s health panel past the usual talk of period-tracking and into a real push for a paradigm shift in thinking about what actually constitutes women’s health data. Rounding out the program were fascinating discussions about health equity and access led by Indu Sabiaya, and a ‘who’s-interviewing-who-here’ fireside about patient-centered tech with OneDrop’s Jeff Dachis and DiabetesMine founder Amy Tenderich, both entrepreneurs with diabetes who have a lot to say about how most tech misses the mark when it comes to grappling with patient needs in everyday life.
And… if you’re curious about what Bayer G4A actually invested in and who they decided to sign partnership agreements with, check out my exclusive WTF Health interviews featuring these companies by way of the playlist below.
Spoiler Alert: Not a single digital therapeutic.
What else could there possibly be for a pharma co to invest in? Watch and see. But, so you know a bit about what you’ll be getting into:
Caria is women’s health startup focused on menopause
Sweetch is using just-in-time-interventions linked to mobile data to help “outsmart” chronic diseases
ONCARE is a care plan content management platform that lets any healthcare provider upload a care pathway that a patient can then follow via an app on their phone
Decipher Biosciences is using genomic testing to disrupt the way prostate cancer is diagnosed and treated
Elly is helping improve the quality of life for cancer patients and those with chronic disease by way of educational and motivational content delivered via voice technology
Food-as-Medicine startup, Epicured, looks and acts a lot like the consumer meal delivery startups booming during this pandemic (think Freshly, which was just acquired by Nestle for $1.5B) but with one important difference: all the meals are based on diets that have been clinically validated as treatments for chronic disease. The three year old company got its start in GI disorders, turning complex Low FODMAP diets, gluten-free diets, etc. into home-delivered, ready-to-eat dishes that patients with Crohn’s disease, Colitis, IBS, IBD, celiac, or other gastro conditions could actually integrate into their daily lives. (Just Google the list of restrictions on a Low FODMAP diet and imagine the lack of adherence over a 6-8 week period while trying to calm an IBS flare-up…)
Richard Bennett, Epicured’s CEO & co-founder, stops by to talk about why he believes this more convenient, yummy, and easy solution will not only continue to win the hearts of healthcare consumers, but why, ultimately, healthcare payors will look to invest more into innovation around nutrition, particularly as its proven to help with other, more common and costly conditions like diabetes, renal disease, and cancer. Backed in part by Mount Sinai (which not only invested in their seed round, but also lent their GI team to the co-design a special IBS menu), Rich let’s us know a bit about some yet-to-be-released clinical study results AND how Epicured has taken a page out of the “digital therapeutics playbook” by partnering with AbbVie to wrap their solution around one of the pharma co’s drugs as a way to improve medication adherence. Chicken Cacciatore wins over companion app any day!
It’s not just eyeballs that Comcast NBCUniversal and Independence BlueCross’s joint venture, Quil, is after these days. Carina Edwards, Quil’s CEO, paints a compelling picture of the full-scale business model for “health-in-the-home” that her company is enacting. What started out with trusted healthcare content for surgery prep (able to be deployed across a household’s army of devices, including their TV for those 1.3M Comcast Xfinity cable subscribers) is now expanding with more tech and more services to meet the needs of seniors aging-in-place and the fifty million unpaid caregivers looking after them. Ambient, “context-aware” sensors. Voice integrations with smart speakers. And that’s nothing to say of the caregiver-focused programming that addresses everything from caregiver burnout to tackling tough conversations about a range of issues from paying for care to end-of-life wishes. Quil’s pilot of this new senior-focused offering will be rolled out with Comcast’s help this winter, with the full direct-to-consumer commercial launch expected in Q3 2021. As Carina says, “Comcast knows how to pilot technology.” And, Quil has shown its ability to impact healthcare quality measures thanks to studies around its initial surgery-prep offering. Will it be enough to take on others looking to help turn our living rooms into exam rooms? Tune-in around 17:20 to hear just how integrated Comcast and IBX are in the strategy at Quil.
Lots of changes at Bayer G4A: a new investment thesis, new additions to their portfolio, a new Global Head of Digital Health to meet, and a hot new virtual health forum (a free one!) coming up on November 18, 2020. Dominick Kennerson and Sophie Park join us from Berlin, where they’ve got their eyes on the trends shaping the worldwide digital health market. Are pharma companies changing the way they look at digital health companies in the face of the pandemic? Have we gone, well, beyond “beyond the pill”? Dom says Bayer’s been ahead of the curve when it comes to prioritizing digital innovation, and that we’re all going to be “very surprised” in the next 12-18 months about what we see come out of one of the world’s largest life sciences companies. For more clues and additional insight on Bayer’s priorities when it comes to digital health and the future of pharma, give this interview a quick listen then register for G4A’s Agents of Change event. HINT: From the “mad genius” herself…the agenda for the event is Bayer G4A’s roadmap. Bold move!
For more on the Agents of Change event, visit www.g4a.health.
Potential digital health trend for 2021? Weight loss and weight management. Not only has obesity been an “epidemic” of its own for a number of years (40% of U.S. adults are obese, another 32% are overweight) BUT it’s also considered a risk-factor if infected with covid-19 and is a common co-morbidity for a number of chronic conditions. Add to that all the banana bread we’ve been seeing on Instagram and the “quarantine 15” memes that sum up the weight gain brought about by our increasingly sedentary, baked-goods-filled shelter-in-place lifestyles, and you can see where this is likely to go. So, how can health tech help? As healthcare payers and employers look toward weight management as a way to help prevent adverse health outcomes (covid-related or otherwise), we get some advice from Dr. Greg Steinberg, a clinical innovation expert who gained experience piloting novel, health tech solutions for weight management at Aetna. We demystify the relationship between healthcare payers and weight loss solutions, talk about what matters from a cost/value perspective, and, of course, find out what makes for optimal end-user success.