Risks for Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans start at lower weights and younger ages than risks for white people
A new paper suggests that it takes far less exercise than was previously thought to lower blood sugar after eating.
Things to keep in mind for when you’re low on motivation.
Here’s what the experts say.
Many insurance companies refuse to cover new weight loss drugs that their doctors deem medically necessary.
After older people and nursing home residents, no group perhaps has been harder hit by the pandemic than people with diabetes. Experts hope policymakers will take notice, and finally get serious about tackling the nation’s diabetes crisis.
The bill stands to benefit millions of Americans with diabetes, but to become law, it will need to attract at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate
Companies are experimenting with personalized diet apps, saying the future of healthy eating is A.I.
Patients with diabetes are also more likely to be described as “noncompliant,” according to large studies of medical records.
Scientists are exploring whether the onset of diabetes may in some cases herald the existence of one of the most deadly of all cancers.
The need for healthy, active grandparents who can help with child-rearing may be encoded in our genes.
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Hold off before freaking out about that new C.D.C. diabetes study.
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And to the forefront of the conversation on inclusivity and fashion.
President Biden emphasized how the bill would lower prescription drug costs, an issue his administration hopes will build support for the broader package.
Aim for an overall healthful dietary pattern, the American Heart Association advises, rather than focusing on “good” or “bad” foods.
A new treatment using stem cells that produce insulin has surprised experts and given them hope for the 1.5 million Americans living with the disease.
Women, but not men, with even mildly elevated blood pressure in their early 40s were at increased risk for later heart disease and early death.
Companies can tell you the kinds of microbes that live in your gut, but the results may not help you lose weight or fend off disease.
Mind and body form a two-way street.
People typically lower their risks of heart disease and premature death far more by gaining fitness than by dropping weight.
Overweight people who ate fewer carbohydrates and increased their fat intake had significant improvements in their cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Founders like to create companies around what they know, and Frank Westermann and Anton Kittelberger know diabetes.
They met and bonded over both having type 1 diabetes — Westermann was diagnosed over 25 years ago — and started the MySugr app for diabetes self-management in 2012 (they won a TC pitch-off back in 2011). Four years later, Westermann moved to the U.S. from Austria to introduce MySugr stateside before the company was acquired by Roche for $100 million in 2017.
The pair moved on to their next journey, also in diabetes, starting 9am.health in April, a virtual diabetes clinic designed to provide people living with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes access to personalized care and affordable medications from their homes. 9am.health’s clinic was launched in August.
Today, the San Diego-based company announced a $3.7 million seed round from Founders Fund, Define Ventures, Speedinvest and iSeed Ventures to target the 1 in 3 people living with diabetes in the United States, Westermann told TechCrunch.
“We understand the day-to-day challenges that people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes have,” he added. “Access to care is the real issue, and rather than have patients wait weeks to get an appointment, we send a kit with tests to your home, and you send it back to us.”
9am.health kicked off in Texas and California, and is now available in 33 states. It is finding patients through digital outreach, community work and hospitals.
Even with insurance, the average person living with diabetes spends about $16,750 per year on medical expenses and has approximately 2.3 times higher the costs than if they didn’t have the disease. Instead, patients can subscribe to 9am.health for $40 per month; that includes online prescription shipping, unlimited personal medical care, medications to manage diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia and at-home lab tests.
Westermann sees other companies working in the diabetes space, but says 9am.health is unique in providing “a digital front door for entire diabetes care,” while others focus on specific pain points. By taking that whole approach, he sees opportunity in going beyond diabetes to the general chronic disease realm as many living with diabetes — 98% of Americans in fact — also have other comorbidities like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental health issues, he added.
The new funding will enable the company to grow its team and carve out some of the digital diabetes market share that was valued at $13 billion in 2020 and is forecasted to grow annually by 18.8% through 2027. 9am.health will also invest in advancing its virtual screening ability and expand the types of medication it can offer.
“We want to tear down the barriers and make care as easy as possible and managing diabetes part of life,” Westermann said. “When you live with chronic illness, it is an everyday thing, and sometimes you feel good, and others days you don’t. That’s why we named the company 9am.health because you can wake up at 9 a.m. and start your diabetes journey all over again.”
Lynne Chou O’Keefe, founder and managing partner at Define Ventures, says the future of healthcare is going to be more consumer-focused and will be wrapped around the patient’s care journey. She considers 9am.health to be leading this type of care with a platform that bundles education, community, coaching and care that is direct-to-consumer.
Chou O’Keefe has been investing in healthcare her entire VC career, and sat on the board of Livongo for four years. Through that experience she learned how patients struggle with their care decisions, and finds 9am.health’s founders to have a similar deep expertise and understanding in diabetes, especially with the success they had with MySugr.
“The last place you should receive healthcare is in the doctor’s office, while the first place should be wherever you are,” she added. “This is a very different way than what the healthcare system is today. We feel that people want to manage their diabetes, but then go on and live their lives.”
It’s shocking but hardly surprising.
A serial entrepreneur Hiroshi Takatoh recognized the need for convenient and nutritious food for critically ill consumers after losing his late wife to cancer.
Takatoh founded Teatis, a plant-based sugar blocking superfood powder for diabetic consumers, in 2017 in stealth mode and went fully operational in April 2021 by teaming up with a group of doctors and registered nutritionists.
Teatis announced today it has raised $700,000 seed funding to advance its growth in the US market. The seed money brings Teatis’ total funding to over $1million.
The seed round was led by Genesia Ventures, Ryo Ishizuka, former CEO and co-founder of Japanese e-commerce company Mercari and Takuya Noguchi, CEO and founder of Japan’s skincare brand BULK HOMME. Seven other angel investors also participated in the seed funding.
Teatis will use the seed money for production and marketing in the US, where 122 million diabetics and pre-diabetics continue to work for prevention and treatment against diabetes, CEO and co-founder of Teatis Hiroshi Takatoh told TechCrunch. The company is now focusing on the US market where its production is located while its next funding, a Series A, is set for next year, Takatoh added.
“Most of our consumers, about 88%, are diabetics, and our recipe is built to help diabetics manage their blood sugar. A staggering number of Americans suffer from diabetes, and there is significant demand for diabetic-friendly foods that are nutritious, convenient and functional,” Takatoh said.
Teatis develops a supplement for all consumers interested in low-sugar foods, as well as pre-diabetics, Takatoh said. Teatis’ plant-based powders does not contain chemicals or sweeteners but include a special Japanese ingredient such as brown seaweed extract (Arame) that is proven to suppress the absorption of sugar from the intestinal tract and reduce blood sugar levels. The low-sugar powder can be made into teas, lattes or added to smoothies.
The US meal placement market size for diabetes is estimated at $5 billion while the US consumer packaged foods market for diabetes is approximately $300 billion, Takatoh said.
“We combine food science and technology to solve problems for diabetics through food products and telehealth,” Takatoh said.
With its plan on building out a comprehensive one-stop shop for diabetic health, Teatis will launch a Registered Dietitian platform, Teatis RD on Demand, this month, to offer a full-service such as food products, telehealth, and recipes, for those battling diabetes.
Teatis RD on Demand will provide private, 1-on-1 sessions with registered dietitians. It will start at $29 per 30 minutes, which is a reduced cost, versus traditional offline appointments that cost $150 per 30 minutes, and Teledoc, which costs $90 per 30 minutes, according to Takatoh.
“Many existing players in space are old companies that don’t have digital competency and data-driven production methods. Mr. Takatoh is a proven serial entrepreneur with the qualities and boldness to take over the market…I’m excited to see how Teatis’ great ideas and products will help many people who are suffering from diabetes and other chronic diseases in the future,” Genesia Ventures Manager Shunsuke Sagara said.
Climbing stairs, doing jumping jacks or even taking as few as 15 steps during mini-breaks improved blood sugar control among office workers.
UK startup Oviva, which sells a digital support offering, including for Type 2 diabetes treatment, dispensing personalized diet and lifestyle advice via apps to allow more people to be able to access support, has closed $80 million in Series C funding — bringing its total raised to date to $115M.
The raise, which Oviva says will be used to scale up after a “fantastic year” of growth for the health tech business, is co-led by Sofina and Temasek, alongside existing investors AlbionVC, Earlybird, Eight Roads Ventures, F-Prime Capital, MTIP, plus several angels.
Underpinning that growth is the fact wealthy Western nations continue to see rising rates of obesity and other health conditions like Type 2 diabetes (which can be linked to poor diet and lack of exercise). While more attention is generally being paid to the notion of preventative — rather than reactive — healthcare, to manage the rising costs of service delivery.
Lifestyle management to help control weight and linked health conditions (like diabetes) is where Oviva comes in: It’s built a blended support offering that combines personalized care (provided by healthcare professionals) with digital tools for patients that help them do things like track what they’re eating, access support and chart their progress towards individual health goals.
It can point to 23 peer-reviewed publications to back up its approach — saying key results show an average of 6.8% weight loss at 6 months for those living with obesity; while, in its specialist programs, it says 53% of patients achieve remission of their type 2 diabetes at 12 months.
Oviva typically sells its digitally delivered support programs direct to health insurance companies (or publicly funded health services) — who then provide (or refer) the service to their customers/patients. Its programs are currently available in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and France — but expanding access is one of the goals for the Series C.
“We will expand to European markets where the health system reimburses the diet and lifestyle change we offer, especially those with specific pathways for digital reimbursement,” Oviva tells TechCrunch. “Encouragingly, more healthcare systems have been opening up specific routes for such digital reimbursement, e.g., Germany for DiGAs or Belgium just in the last months.”
So far, the startup has treated 200,000 people but the addressable market is clearly huge — not least as European populations age — with Oviva suggesting more than 300 million people live with “health challenges” that are either triggered by poor diet or can be optimised through personalised dietary changes. Moreover, it suggests, only “a small fraction” is currently being offered digital care.
To date, Oviva has built up 5,000+ partnerships with health systems, insurers and doctors as it looks to push for further scale by making its technology more accessible to a wider range of people. In the past year it says it’s “more than doubled” both people treated and revenue earned.
Its goal is for the Series C funding is to reach “millions” of people across Europe who need support because they’re suffering from poor health linked to diet and lifestyle.
As part of the scale up plan it will also be growing its team to 800 by the end of 2022, it adds.
On digital vs face-to-face care — setting aside the potential cost savings associated with digital delivery — it says studies show the “most striking outcome benefits” are around uptake and completion rates, noting: “We have consistently shown uptake rates above 70% and high completion rates of around 80%, even in groups considered harder to reach such as working age populations or minority ethnic groups. This compares to uptake and completion rates of less than 50% for most face-to-face services.”
Asked about competition, Oviva names Liva Healthcare and Second Nature as its closest competitors in the region.
“WW (formally Weight Watchers) also competes with a digital solution in some markets where they can access reimbursement,” it adds. “There are many others that try to access this group with new methods, but are not reimbursed or are wellness solutions. Noom competes as a solution for self-paying consumers in Europe, as many other apps. But, in our view, that is a separate market from the reimbursed medical one.”
As well as using the Series C funding to bolster its presence in existing markets and target and scale into new ones, Oviva says it may look to further grow the business via M&A opportunities.
“In expanding to new countries, we are open to both building new organisations from the ground up or acquiring existing businesses with a strong medical network where we see that our technology can be leveraged for better patient care and value creation,” it told us on that.
Nearly one in seven Americans now has diabetes, a record rate. The condition also raises the risk of severe illness after coronavirus infection.
Fitness platform Ultrahuman has officially announced a $17.5 million Series B fund raise, with investment coming from early stage fund Alpha Wave Incubation, Steadview Capital, Nexus Venture Partners, Blume Ventures and Utsav Somani’s iSeed fund.
A number of founders and angel investors also participated in the Bangalore-headquartered startup’s Series B, including Tiger Global’s Scott Schleifer, Deepinder Goyal (CEO of Zomato), Kunal Shah (CEO of Cred), and Gaurav Munjal and Romain Saini (the CEO and co-founders of unacademy), among others. The latest tranche of funding brings its total raised to date to $25M.
While the subscription platform has been around since 2019, offering a fairly familiar blend of home workout videos, mindfulness content, sleep sessions and heart rate tracking (integrating with third party wearables like the Apple Watch), its latest fitness tool looks rather more novel — as it’s designed for monitoring metabolic activity by tracking the user’s glucose levels (aka, blood sugar).
Keeping tabs on blood sugar is essential for people living with diabetes. But in the US alone millions of people are prediabetic — meaning they have a higher than normal level of blood glucose and are at risk of developing diabetes, though they may not know it yet.
More broadly, Ultrahuman claims over a billion people in the world suffer from a metabolic health disorder — underlining the scale of the potential addressable market it’s eyeing.
Having sustained high blood glucose is associated with multiple health issues so managing the condition with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise is advisable. Lifestyle changes can reduce elevated blood glucose and shrink or even avoid negative health impacts — such as by averting the risk of a prediabetic person going on to develop full blown diabetes.
But knowing what type of diet and exercise regime will work best for a particular person can be tricky — and involve a lot of frustrating trial and error — since people’s glucose responses to different food items can differ wildly.
These responses depend on a person’s metabolic health — which in turn depends on individual factors like microbiome diversity, stress levels, time of day, food ingredient and quality. (See also: Personalized nutrition startups like Zoe — which is similarly paying mind to blood glucose levels but as one component of a wider play to try to use big data and AI to decode the microbiome.)
With metabolic health being so specific to each of us there’s a strong case for continuous glucose monitoring having widespread utility — certainly if the process and price-point can be made widely accessible.
Here, Ultrahuman is having a go at productizing the practice for a fitness enthusiast market — launching its first device in beta back in June — although the price-point it’s targeting is starting out fairly premium.
The product (a wearable and a subscription service) — which it’s branded ‘Cyborg’ — consists of a skin patch that extracts glucose from the interstitial fluid under the skin, per founder and CEO, Mohit Kumar, with the data fed into a companion app for analysis and visualization.
The patch tracks the wearer’s blood glucose levels as they go about their day — eating, exercising, sleeping etc — with the biomarker used to trigger the app to nudge the user to “optimize your lifestyle”, as Ultrahuman’s website puts it — such as by alerting the user to a high blood glucose event and suggesting they take exercise to bring their level down.
If the product lives up to its promise of continuous glucose monitoring made easy, lovers of junk food could be in for a rude awakening as they’re served fast feedback on how their body copes (or, well, doesn’t) with their favorite snacks…
“We use medical grade sensors that have been used in the sports technology domain for the last 6-7 yrs with decent accuracy levels,” says Kumar when we ask about the specifics of the wearable technology it’s using. (The sensing hardware is being ‘worn’ here in the sense that it’s directly attached to (i.e. stuck into/on) bare skin.)
While Ultrahuman’s platform has plenty more vanilla fitness content, the company is now billing itself as a “metabolic fitness platform” — putting the nascent product front and center, even though the glucose tracking subscription service remains in closed beta for now.
The startup is operating a waitlist for sign-ups as it continues to hone the technology.
Ultrahuman touts “thousands” of people signed up and waiting to get their hands on the glucose tracker service — and says it’s seeing 60% week over week growth in sign ups, with wider availability of the product slated for “early 2022”.
Some of the Series B cash will be used to make improvements to the quality of the glucose biomarkers ahead of a full product launch.
On the enhancements side, Kumar tells TechCrunch the team is exploring “other form factors and other types of sensors that could help us capture glucose in a more accurate way and for a longer duration than 14 days”, as they work to hone the wearable. (The current version of the skin-worn sensor only lasts two weeks before it must be replaced with another patch.)
“We want to add more biomarkers like HRV [heart-rate variability], sleep zones and respiratory rate to help people understand the impact of metabolic health on their recovery/sleep and vice-versa,” he adds.
Ultrahuman says it decided to focus on tracking glucose as its “main biomarker” as it can be used as a proxy for quantifying a number of fitness and wellness issues — making it a (potentially) very useful measure of individual health signals.
Or provided the startup’s technology is able to detect changes to glucose levels with enough sensitivity to be able to make meaningful recommendations per user.
“Glucose is interesting because it is a real-time biomarker that’s affected by exercise, sleep, stress and food,” says Kumar, adding: “We are able to help people make lifestyle changes across many vectors like nutrition, sleep, stress and exercise vs being unidimensional. It is also highly personalized as it guides you as per your body’s own response.”
He gives some examples of how the product could help users by identifying beneficial tweaks they could make to their diet and exercise regimes — such as figuring out which foods in their current diet yield “a healthy metabolic response” vs those that “need more optimization” (aka, avoiding the dreaded sugar crash). Or by helping users identify “a great meal window” for their lifestyle — based in their body’s glucose consumption rate.
Other helpful nudges he suggests the service can provide to sensor-wearing users — with an eye on athletes and fitness fanatics — is how best to fuel up before exercise to perform optimally.
Optimizing the last meal of the day to improve sleep efficiency is another suggestion.
If Ultrahuman’s Cyborg can do all that with a (bearably) wearable skin patch and a bit of clever algorithmic analysis it could take the quantified self trend to the next level.
A simple stick-on sensor-plus-app that passively amplifies internal biological signals and translates individual biomarkers into highly actionable real-time personalized health insights could be the start of something huge in preventative healthcare.
Again, though, Ultrahuman’s early pricing suggests there will be some fairly hard limits on who is able to tap in here.
Early adopters in the closed beta are shelling out $80 per month for the subscription service, per Kumar. And — at least for now — the startup is eyeing adding more bells and whistles, rather than fewer. “[Product pricing] will mostly be in the same range but may introduce more services/premium features on top of this,” he confirms.
The (typically higher) cost of eating healthily and having enough leisure time to be able to look after your body by taking exercise are other hard socioeconomic limits that won’t be fixed by a wearable, no matter how smart.
Foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha increased the diversity of gut microbes and led to lower levels of inflammation.
You’ve just sat down to dinner, and your wearable device reminds you to get up and get in your steps for the day. Maybe the app has a point, but odds are, you’ll push the notification to the side. The founders of Sweetch, an Israeli company creating its own AI-driven behavior change app, are betting that if you got that notification in a different way, you’ll be more likely to take its advice.
Yossi Bahagon, the founder of Sweetch, describes the company’s approach to digital reminders as a mixture of artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence. The app will use AI to analyse “lifeprint” data picked up through a smartphone. Then it delivers messages to when you might be more likely to respond to them and in a “tone of voice” that encourages compliance.
For instance if you have meetings on Mondays between 12 and 3, but still want to get in some exercise, Sweetch won’t suggest getting a workout in during those times, or shame you for sitting through a meeting rather than getting a run in.
“It’s about ongoing hyper-personalized engagement that increases the likelihood of the patient doing what he or she needs to do,” says Bahagon.
On Monday, Sweetch announced a $20 million Series A round led by Entreé Capital. Other investors include Noaber, Kortex Ventures, Insurtech VC, Fin TLV Ventures, and existing investors Philips, OurCrowd, and Qure Ventures.
Bahagon is a family physician by training, but he’s spent the majority of his career in the digital health arena. In 2008 Bagahon founded the digital health division of Clalit Health Services, a non-profit insurance and medical services provider that currently insures 60 percent of the Israeli population. His previous company, Luminox Health, was acquired by Israeli investor platform OurCrowd in 2016, and Bahagon stayed on to manage the fund’s digital health arm.
Sweetch, which was founded in 2013, is yet another digital health venture for Bahagon – this time aimed at increased patient compliance. The app has already generated some interest, and was one of five apps selected from over 400 to participate in the Bayer G4A program, something like an accelerator developed by the pharmaceutical giant.
So far, Sweetch CEO Yoni Nevo says the app has “tens of thousands of users,” (the company would not provide a specific number).
It’s currently being used in patients with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and, in a bit of a departure from the rest: breast cancer treatment.
Sweetch isn’t designed for users to download at will on the app store (you can download it, but won’t get far without an access code); their go-to market strategy is instead to partner with healthcare organizations, pharma companies, payers or providers. Then providers might prescribe Sweetch alongside the actual treatment to encourage them to stick with it.
There is evidence that people don’t always follow doctors’ orders – particularly when it comes to chronic conditions. One 2017 report from the CDC notes that one in five prescriptions written in the United States are never filled, and up to 50 percent of medicines were taken incorrectly (at the wrong time, wrong dose, etc).
Improving patient compliance, though, is a more complicated problem. The CDC report outlined a few solutions – some of which have more to do with the healthcare system than they do with health tech. Those include lowering economic barriers to medication, increasing team-based healthcare (your pharmacist and doctor coordinating prescription refills, for instance), and increasing access to healthcare in the first place.
The report does highlight an avenue for health information technology to help address the non-compliance problem (it specifically mentions e-prescribing software).
Tech, like Sweetch, can only address the non-compliance problem in medicine if it doesn’t have a non-compliance problem of its own. To that end, Bahagon says the app has a record of user retention. “Even after 24 months, we still see around 45% of the patients that started using the system continue to use it,” he says.
User retention is a good sign for any app developer. But in the health space, it’s more complicated. Some studies suggest that consumer ratings are poor markers of how well these apps work to improve outcomes (you might like an app and use it, but it doesn’t make you any healthier).
In that regard, Sweetch does have a trial under its belt, conducted at two sites in the Johns Hopkins Clinical Research Network.
The app was tested on 55 adults with prediabetes over the course of three months. Forty-seven of the participants finished the trial, and on average, they increased their physical activity by an average of 2.8 MET-hours (they may have actually exercised for shorter periods, but their intensity was the equivalent of 2.8 hours of work), and lost about 1.6 kilograms.
The users also lowered their A1c levels, a key measure of average blood sugar. Prediabetic adults usually have an A1c between 5.7 and 6.5 percent, and those in this trial reduced their A1c levels by about .1 percent (the study refers to that reduction as “clinically meaningful.”)
This study didn’t specifically compare Sweetch to any other prediabetes interventions. However, a study on that is upcoming. In a December 2020 interview, Bahagon noted that Sweetch had received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue testing Sweetch against other “gold standard” interventions for diabetes.
Nevo and Bahagon didn’t provide concrete updates on the project, but noted that “in a month or so” the company may announce updates on the NIH funding and upcoming randomized controlled trials.
In the meantime, the company plans to use the Series A funding to expand into markets in the US and Brazil, grow the user base, and enhance the platform to provide specific and tailored recommendations for even more conditions.
So-called “black fungus” infections are surging in India in the wake of a devastating wave of COVID-19. The rare but devastating infection can destroy the eyes and spread to the brain.
Cases now top 31,000, rising from an estimate of dozens to a few hundred cases just last month. Media reports have tallied over 2,100 deaths, but federal health authorities have not released an official death count.
Past medical reviews have estimated that the fungal infection—mucormycosis—has an overall fatality rate of around 50 percent. However, mortality rates vary by patients’ underlying condition and what part of the body the mucormycetes fungi invade. Infection can take hold in the gastrointestinal tract, skin breaks, lungs, and the blood.
The deadly disease has sickened former coronavirus patients across the country. Doctors believe that hospitals desperate to keep Covid patients alive made choices that left them vulnerable.
Drinking coffee has been linked to a reduced risk of all kinds of ailments, including Parkinson’s disease, melanoma, prostate cancer, even suicide.
Late-day exercise had unique benefits for cholesterol levels and blood sugar control, a study of overweight men eating a high-fat diet found.
As the pandemic coronavirus continues to ravage India, doctors are reporting a disturbing uptick in cases of a rare, potentially fatal fungal infection among people recovered or recovering from COVID-19.
The infection is called mucormycosis, or sometimes “black fungus” in media reports, and it appears to be attacking COVID-19 patients through the nose and sinuses, where it can aggressively spread to facial bones, the eyes, and even the brain (rhinocerebral mucormycosis). In other cases, the fungus can also attack the lungs, breaks in the skin, and the gastrointestinal system or spread throughout the body in the blood stream.
A classic feature of mucormycosis is tissue necrosis—the death of flesh, essentially—which, in the rhinocerebral form of the disease, can lead to black, discolored lesions on and in the face, particularly on the bridge of the nose and the roof of the mouth. Mucormycosis is fatal in around 50 percent of cases.
The younger the age at diagnosis for Type 2 diabetes, the higher the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia years later.
In a joint address to Congress last night, President Biden updated the nation on vaccination efforts and outlined his administration’s ambitious goals.
Biden’s first 100 days have been characterized by sweeping legislative packages that could lift millions of Americans out of poverty and slow the clock on the climate crisis, but during his first joint address to Congress, the president highlighted another smaller plan that’s no less ambitious: to “end cancer as we know it.”
“I can think of no more worthy investment,” Biden said Wednesday night. “I know of nothing that is more bipartisan…. It’s within our power to do it.”
The comments weren’t out of the blue. Earlier this month, the White House released a budget request for $6.5 billion to launch a new government agency for breakthrough health research. The proposed health agency would be called ARPA-H and would live within the NIH. The initial focus would be on cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s but the agency would also pursue other “transformational innovation” that could remake health research.
The $6.5 billion investment is a piece of the full $51 billion NIH budget. But some critics believe that ARPA-H should sit under the Department of Health and Human Services rather than being nested under NIH.
ARPA-H would be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which develops moonshot-like tech for defense applications. DARPA’s goals often sound more like science fiction than science, but the agency contributed to or created a number of now ubiquitous technologies, including a predecessor to GPS and most famously ARPANET, the computer network that grew into the modern internet.
Unlike more conservative, incremental research teams, DARPA aggressively pursues major scientific advances in a way that shares more in common with Silicon Valley than it does with other governmental agencies. Biden believes that using the DARPA model on cutting edge health research would keep the U.S. from lagging behind in biotech.
“China and other countries are closing in fast,” Biden said during the address. “We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future: advanced batteries, biotechnology, computer chips, and clean energy.”
Physical activity during pregnancy might have long-lasting benefits for a child’s health, new research suggests.
For patients and healthcare professionals to properly track and manage illnesses especially chronic ones, healthcare needs to be decentralized. It also needs to be more convenient, with a patient’s health information able to follow them wherever they go.
Redbird, a Ghanaian healthtech startup that allows easy access to convenient testing and ensures that doctors and patients can view the details of those test results at any time, announced today that it has raised a $1.5 million seed investment.
Investors who participated in the round include Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Newton Partners (via the Imperial Venture Fund), and Founders Factory Africa. This brings the company’s total amount raised to date to $2.5 million.
The healthtech company was launched in 2018 by Patrick Beattie, Andrew Quao and Edward Grandstaff. As a founding scientist at a medical diagnostics startup in Boston, Beattie’s job was to develop new rapid diagnostic tests. During his time at Accra in 2016, he met Quao, a trained pharmacist in Ghana at a hackathon whereupon talking found out that their interests in medical testing overlapped.
Beattie says to TechCrunch that while he saw many exciting new tests in development in the US, he didn’t see the same in Ghana. Quao, who is familiar with how Ghanaians use pharmacies as their primary healthcare point, felt perturbed that these pharmacies weren’t doing more than transactional purchases.
They both settled that pharmacies in Ghana needed to imbibe the world of medical testing. Although both didn’t have a tech background, they realized technology was necessary to execute this. So, they enlisted the help of Grandstaff to be CTO of Redbird while Beattie and Quao became CEO and COO, respectively.
Redbird enables pharmacies in Ghana to add rapid diagnostic testing for 10 different health conditions to their pharmacy services. These tests include anaemia, blood sugar, blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol, Hepatitis B, malaria, typhoid, prostate cancer screening, and pregnancy.
Also, Redbird provides pharmacies with the necessary equipment, supplies and software to make this possible. The software — Redbird Health Monitoring — is networked across all partner pharmacies and enables patients to build medical testing records after going through 5-minute medical tests offered through these pharmacies.
Rather than employing a SaaS model that Beattie says is not well appreciated by its customers, Redbird’s revenue model is based on the supply of disposable test strips.
“Pharmacies who partner with Redbird gain access to the software and all the ways Redbird supports our partners for free as long as they purchase the consumables through us. This aligns our revenue with their success, which is aligned with patient usage,” said the CEO.
This model is being used with over over 360 pharmacies in Ghana, mainly in Accra and Kumasi. It was half this number in 2019, and Redbird was able to double this number despite the pandemic. These pharmacies have recorded over 125,000 tests in the past three years from more than 35,000 patients registered on the platform.
Redbird will use the seed investment to grow its operations within Ghana and expand to new markets that remain undisclosed.
In 2018, Redbird participated in the Alchemist Accelerator just a few months before launch. It was the second African startup after fellow Ghanaian startup mPharma to take part in the six-month-long program. The company also got into Founders Factory Africa last year April.
According to Beattie, most of the disease burden Africans might experience in the future will be chronic diseases. For instance, diabetes is projected to grow by 156% over the next 25 years. This is why he sees decentralized, digitized healthcare as the next leapfrog opportunity for sub-Saharan Africa.
“Chronic disease is exploding and with it, patients require much more frequent interaction with the healthcare system. The burden of chronic disease will make a health system that is highly centralized impossible,” he said. “Like previous leapfrog events, this momentum is happening all over the world, not just in Africa. Still, the state of the current infrastructure means that healthcare systems here will be forced to innovate and adapt before health systems elsewhere are forced to, and therein lies the opportunity,” he said.
But while the promise of technology and data is exciting, it’s important to realize that healthtech only provides value if it matches patient behaviors and preferences. It doesn’t really matter what amazing improvements you can realize with data if you can’t build the data asset and offer a service that patients actually value.
Beattie knows this all too well and says Redbird respects these preferences. For him, the next course of action will be to play a larger role in the world’s developing ecosystem where healthcare systems build decentralised networks and move closer to the average patient.
This decentralised approach is what attracted U.S. and South African early-stage VC firm Newtown Partners to cut a check. Speaking on behalf of the firm, Llew Claasen, the managing partner, had this to say.
“We’re excited about Redbird’s decentralised business model that enables rapid diagnostic testing at the point of primary care in local community pharmacies. Redbird’s digital health record platform has the potential to drive significant value to the broader healthcare value chain and is a vital step toward improving healthcare outcomes in Africa. We look forward to supporting the team as they prove out their business model and scale across the African continent.”
Healthcare tech startup Ro has raised $500 million to help fuel continued growth of its hybrid telehealth/in-home primary care platform, which also includes a growing pharmacy business as the company pursues a strategy of vertical integration to optimize delivery and reduce costs for clients. The company’s latest raise is a Series D round, and means it has now raised over $876 million since its 2017 founding.
That may seem like a lot of money, but as Ro fo-founder and CEO Zachariah Reitano told me in an interview, it’s actually “peanuts” when it comes to the healthcare industry – which is part of why they founded the company in the first place.
“Sometimes people talk about how great it is to be in the healthcare arena, in tech circles,” Reitano said. “They say, ‘Oh, healthcare is a $4 trillion market – it’s so massive.’ But that’s the worst thing in the entire world; it’s awful how large it is. And I think what we have the opportunity to cut it in half with technology.”
That’s what Reitano says will be the primary focus of this round of funding: Fueling its efforts around vertical integration of healthcare services and technology, to further the eventual end goal of reducing costs to patients through the efficiencies realized in that process.
“To me, what I’m really excited about is being able to continue to invest in that infrastructure and add even more,” Reitano told me. “We’ll continue to invest in telemedicine, we’ll continue to invest in our logistics and pharmacy, and continue to invest in in-home care, as well as the connection between the three, and then we’ll also invest in additional diagnostics, remote patient monitoring – so collecting and distributing devices to patients to go from reactive to proactive care.”
Ro’s model focuses on primary care delivered direct to consumer, without involving any payer or employer-funded and guided care programs. The idea is to reduce costs through vertical integration and other efficiency engineering efforts in order to get them to the point where they’re effectively on par with your out-of-pocket expense with co-pays anyway. Reitano explained that the insurance system as it exists in the U.S. now only effectively masks individual costs, making it less clear that much of what a person pays out in healthcare costs comes out of their pocket anyway, whether it’s through taxation, or employers allocating more of the funds they have available for compensation to healthcare, vs. take-home pay.
That’s what’s behind Ro’s recent push into operating its own pharmacies, and growing that footprint to include more all the time. Reitano told me that the company will have 10 pharmacies by the end o this year, and 15 by the end of next, all placed strategically around the country to ensure that it can provide next-day shipping to patients at ground shipping rates pretty much anywhere in the U.S.
Doing that kind of vertical optimization has enabled Ro to offer 500 common drugs at $5 per month, including treatments for heart disease, anxiety, depression and diabetes — with a plan to ramp it to 1,000 drugs available at that price by year’s end. That’s roughly equal to the co-pay required for many insurers for the same treatments.
Meanwhile, Reitano says Ro has seen big changes in the healthcare system generally that favor its model and accelerate its hybrid care plans owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would say that there are two most profound impacts of the pandemic on the healthcare system,” he said. “One is that it simultaneously shed light on all of the inequities for the entire country to see, right at the same time where we all cared about it. So those things were sort of known for the people impacted day to day — the geographic inequity, the financial inequity, the racial inequity. If someone felt that that inequity, then they would talk about it, but it wasn’t something everyone cared about at the same time. So this massive spotlight was shed on the healthcare system. And the second was that everyone’s healthcare journey now starts online, even if it is going to end in person, it will still start online.”
Ro’s model all along has espoused this time of healthcare delivery, with remote care and telehealth appointments handling most day-to-day needs, and follow-up in person care delivered to the home when required. That obviously generate a lot of efficiencies, while ensuring that older patients and those with mobility issues also don’t need to leave the house and make a regular trip into their physician’s office for what amounts to a 15-minute visit that could’ve been handled over video.
According to most industry observers, Reitano is likely right that healthcare probably won’t go back to the old, inefficient model of favoring primarily in-person care after the pandemic ends. One of the positive outcomes of the COVID-19 situation has been proving that telehealth is more than capable of handling a lot of the primary care needs of a lot of people, particularly when supplemented with remote monitoring and ongoing proactive health measures, too.
While Ro doesn’t work with insurance currently, Reitano points out that he’s not against the concept entirely – he just says that health insurance as it exists now doesn’t actual work as intended, since it’s meant to pool risk against an, expensive, uncertain and rare outcome. Eventually, he believes there’s a place for insurance in the overall healthcare mix, but first the industry needs to face a reckoning wherein its incentive structure is realigned to its actual core customer – patients themselves.
At least 37 states allow people with certain health conditions to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, according to a New York Times survey. But a new skirmish has emerged over who will go first.
A new auto-injecting pill might soon become a replacement for subcutaneous injection treatments.
The idea for this so-called robotic pill came out of a research project around eight years ago from InCube Labs—a life sciences lab operated by Rani Therapeutics Chairman and CEO Mir Imran, who has degrees in electrical and biomedical engineering from Rutgers University. A prominent figure in life sciences innovation, Imran has founded over 20 medical device companies and helped develop the world’s first implantable cardiac defibrillator.
In working on the technology behind San Jose-based Rani Therapeutics, Imran and his team wanted to find a way to relieve some of the painful side effects of subcutaneous (or under-the-skin) injections, while also improving the treatment’s efficacy. “The technology itself started with a very simple thesis,” said Imran in an interview. “We thought, why can’t we create a pill that contains a biologic drug that you swallow, and once it gets to the intestine, it transforms itself and delivers a pain-free injection?”
Rani Therapeutics’ approach is based on inherent properties of the gastrointestinal tract. An injecting mechanism in their pill is surrounded by a pH-sensitive coating that dissolves as the capsule moves from a patient’s stomach to the small intestine. This helps ensure that the pill starts injecting the medicine in the right place at the right time. Once there, the reactants mix and produce carbon dioxide, which in turn inflates a small balloon that helps create a pressure difference to help inject the drug-loaded needles into the intestinal wall. “So it’s a really well-timed cascade of events that results in the delivery of this needle,” said Imran.
Despite its somewhat mechanical procedure, the pill itself contains no metal or springs, reducing the chance of an inflammatory response in the body. The needles and other components are instead made of injectable-grade polymers, that Imran said has been used in other medical devices as well. Delivering the injections to the upper part of the small intestine also carries little risk of infection, as the prevalence of stomach acid and bile from the liver prevent bacteria from readily growing there.
One of Imran’s priorities for the pill was to eliminate the painful side effects of subcutaneous injections. “It wouldn’t make sense to replace them with another painful injection,” he said. “But biology was on our side, because your intestines don’t have the kind of pain sensors your skin does.” What’s more, administering the injection into the highly vascularized wall of the small intestine actually allows the treatment to work more efficiently than when applied through subcutaneous injection, which typically deposits the treatment into fatty tissue.
Imran and his team have plans to use the pill for a variety of indications, including the growth hormone disorder acromegaly, diabetes, and osteoporosis. In January 2020, their acromegaly treatment, Octreotide, demonstrated both safety and sustained bioavailability in primary clinical trials. They hope to pursue future clinical trials for other indications, but chose to prioritize acromegaly initially because of its well-established treatment drug but “very painful injection,” Imran said.
At the end of last year, Rani Therapeutics raised $69 million in new funding to help further develop and test their platform. “This will finance us for the next several years,” said Imran. “Our approach to the business is to make the technology very robust and manufacturable.”
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