The recently-announced acquisition of the oncology data company Flatiron Health by Roche for $2.1B represents a robust validation of the much-discussed but infrequently-realized hypothesis that technology entrepreneurs who can turn health data into actionable insights can capture significant value for this accomplishment.
Four questions underlying this deal (a transaction first reported, as usual, by Chrissy Farr) are: (1) What is the Flatiron business model? (2) What makes Flatiron different from other health data companies? (3) Why did Roche pay so much for this asset? (4) What are the lessons other health tech companies might learn?
The Flatiron Business Model
To a first approximation, Flatiron has a model that can be seen as similar to tech platforms like Google and Facebook – delight (or at least offer a useful service to) front-end users, and then sell the data generated to other businesses. For Flatiron, the front-end users are oncologists (mostly community, some academic), and the data customers are pharma companies. In contrast to Google (and also in contrast to the less successful Practice Fusion, recently acquired at a loss), Flatiron doesn’t sell access to front-end users themselves (e.g. through targeted ads), but rather access to de-identified, aggregated clinical information.
Success of this model requires that the Flatiron platform is attractive to oncology practices, who must feel that they’re getting distinct value from it and believe that it helps them fulfill their primary mission of taking care of cancer patients. If this is true, then the Flatiron platform will enjoy continued traction from its current base, and may more easily win over new users (including practices that use a different EMR system, like Epic, but still want access to the Flatiron network and analytics).