White House teams up with dating apps to give vaccinated users free perks

With vaccination rates slowing in the U.S., the White House is getting creative about getting shots in arms. Beyond protecting yourself and others from from a deadly disease, the latest incentive to get vaccinated could help you find love (or get laid).

The White House COVID-19 response team announced Friday that a number of popular dating apps would offer new perks for users who get vaccinated, with Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Match, OkCupid, BLK, Chispa, Plenty of Fish and Badoo all participating in the promotional push. The White House hopes to make inroads with the 50 million users across those dating apps where they’re already spending time.

On Tinder, anyone who adds a sticker to their profile promoting their vaccination status between June 2 and July 4 will be gifted a free Super Like. (Proof of vaccination isn’t necessary, but really, you should get vaccinated if it’s available where you live.) Tinder and other apps will also add vaccination site resources from Vaccine.gov to help people figure out where they can get the shot nearby.

“Nothing like fireworks to signal a new spark and a new start for those looking to meet new people IRL this summer,” Tinder CEO Jim Lanzone said.

According to OkCupid, getting vaccinated might help with that. The company found that people who displayed their vaccination status were 14 percent more likely to find a match. On OkCupid, vaccinated users will get a free boost, a perk that promotes their profile to potential matches. The other apps participating in the White House initiative are handing out their own premium perks to give users a competitive edge.

The effort is part of a push by the White House to get 70 percent of adults vaccinated by the Fourth of July. To reach more Americans, the Biden administration has also coordinated with popular entertainment companies like NASCAR and country music channel CMT to promote vaccination.

“Social distancing and dating were always a bit of a challenging combination,” White House Senior COVID Advisor Andy Slavitt said during a press event Friday. He characterized the vaccine push through dating apps as those companies “responding to the president’s call to action” rather than calling it an official partnership.

“We have finally found the one thing that makes use all more attractive,” Slavitt said. “A vaccination.”

#4th-of-july, #biden-administration, #ceo, #disease, #iac, #jim-lanzone, #okcupid, #president, #social, #social-software, #software, #tc, #tinder, #united-states, #vaccination, #vaccine, #white-house

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Disease-related risk management is now a thing, and this young startup is at the forefront

Charity Dean has been in the national spotlight lately because she was among a group of doctors, scientists and tech entrepreneurs who sounded the pandemic alarm early last year and who are featured in a new book by Michael Lewis about the U.S. response, called The Premonition.

It’s no wonder the press (and, seemingly moviemakers, too) are interested in Dean. Surgery is her first love, but she also studied tropical diseases and not only applied what she knows about outbreaks on the front lines last year, but also came to appreciate an opportunity that only someone in her position could see. Indeed, after the pandemic laid bare just how few tools were available to help the U.S. government to track how the virus was moving and mutating, she helped develop a model that has since been turned into subscription software to (hopefully) prevent, detect, and contain costly disease outbreaks in the future.

It’s tech that companies with global operations might want to understand better. It has also attracted $8 million in seed funding Venrock, Alphabet’s Verily unit, and Sweat Equity Ventures. We talked late last week with Dean about her now 20-person outfit, called The Public Health Company, and why she thinks disease-focused risk management will be as crucial for companies going forward as cybersecurity software. Our chat has been edited for length; you can also listen to it here.

TC: You went to medical school but you also have a master’s degree in public health and tropical medicine. Why was the latter an area of interest for you? 

CD: Neither of my parents had college degrees. I grew up in very modest setting in rural Oregon. We were poor and by the grace of a full ride scholarship to college I got to be premed. When I was a little girl some missionaries came to our church and talked about disease outbreaks in Africa. I was seven years old, and driving home that evening with my parents, I said, ‘I’m going to be a doctor, and I’m going to study disease.’  It was outrageous because we were poor. My parents didn’t have college degrees. I didn’t know a single person with a college degree. But I was too young to know that there would be hurdles and blockers. My heart was set on that, and it never deviated from it.

TC: How do you wind up at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, instead of in private practice?

CD: It’s funny, when I was finishing up my residency, which I started doing general surgery — surgery is my first love — then I pivoted into internal medicine, I had a number of different doctors’ private practices come to me and recruit me because of the shortage of women physicians.

[At the same time] the medical director from the county public health department came and found me and he said, Hey, I hear you have a master’s in tropical medicine.’ And he said, ‘Would you consider coming to work as the deputy health officer, and communicable disease controller, and tuberculosis controller, and [oversee the] HIV clinic and homeless clinic?’ And . . . it was, for me, a fairly easy choice.

TC: Because there was so little attention being paid to these other issues?

CD: What caught my attention is when he said communicable disease controller, and tuberculosis controller. I had lived in Africa [for a time] and learned a lot about HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, vaccine-preventable diseases, things you don’t see in the United States. [And the job] was so lockstep with who I was because it’s the safety net. [These afflicted individuals] don’t have health insurance. Many are undocumented. Many have nowhere else to go for health care, and the county clinic truly serves the communities that I cared about, and that’s where I wanted to be.

TC: Over the course of that job — and later at the California Department of Public Health — you developed a deep expertise in multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis. Was your understanding of how it is transmitted — and how the symptoms present differently — what made you so attuned to what was headed for the U.S. early last year?

CD: It was probably the single biggest contributor to my thinking. When we have a novel pathogen as a doctor, or as a communicable disease controller, you know, our mind thinks in terms of buckets of pathogen: some are airborne, some are spread on surfaces, some are spread through fecal material or through water. In January [of last year],  as I was watching the news reports emerge out of China, it became clear to me that this was potentially a perfect pathogen. What does that mean? It would mean it had some of the attributes of things like tuberculosis or measles or influenza — that it had the ability to spread from person to person, likely through the air, that it made people sick enough that China was standing up hospitals in two weeks, and that it moved fast enough through the population to grow exponentially.

TC: You are credited with helping to convince California Governor Gavin Newsom to issue lock-down orders when he did.

CD: Everything I’ve done is as part of a team. In March, some amazing heroes parachuted in from the private sector, including [former U.S Chief Technology Officer] Todd Park, [famed data scientist] DJ Patil, [and Venrock’s] Bob Kocher, to help the state of California develop a modeling effort that would actually show, through computer-generated models, in what direction the pandemic was headed.

TC: How did those efforts and thinking lead you to form The Public Health Company?

CD: What we are doing at The Public Health Company is incorporating the genomic variant analysis — or the fingerprint of the virus of COVID virus as it mutates and as it moves through a population —  with epidemiology investigations and [porting these with] the kind of traditional data you might have from a local public health officer into a platform to make those tools readily available and easy to use to inform decision makers. You don’t have to have a mathematician and a data scientist and an infectious disease doctor standing next to you to make a decision; we make those tools automated and readily available.

TC: Who are your customers? The U.S. government? Foreign governments?

CD: Are the tools that we’re developing useful for government? Absolutely. We’re engaged in a number of different partnerships where this is of incredible service to governments. But they’re as useful, if not even more useful, to the private sector because they haven’t had these tools. They don’t have a disease control capability at their fingertips and many of them have had to essentially stand up their own internal public health department, and figure it out on the fly, and the feedback that we’re seeing from private sector businesses has been incredible.

TC: I could see hedge funds and insurance companies gravitating quickly to this. What are some customers or types of customers that might surprise readers?

CD: One bucket that might not occur to people is in the risk management space of a large enterprise that has global operations like a warehouse or a factory in different places. The risk management of COVID-19 is going to look very different in each one of those locations based on: how the virus is mutating in that location, the demographics of their employees, the type of activities they’re doing, [and] the ventilation system in their facility. Trying to grapple with all of those different factors . . .is something that we can do for them through a combination of our tech-enabled service, the expertise we have, the modeling, and the genetic analysis.

I don’t know that risk management in terms of disease control has been a big part of private sector conversations, [but] we think of it similar to cyber security in that after a number of high-profile cyber security attacks, it became clear to every insurance agency or private sector business that risk management had to include cyber security they had to stand up. We very much believe that disease control in risk management for continuity of operations is going to be incredibly important moving forward in a way that I couldn’t have explained  before COVID. They see it now and they understand it’s an existential threat.

#covid, #disease, #health, #public-health, #recent-funding, #risk-management, #saas, #startups, #tc, #venrock, #venture-capital, #verily

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ElevateBio raises $525M to advance its cell and gene therapy technologies

ElevateBio, one of the leading biotech companies focused on gene-based therapies has raised a massive $525 million Series C round of financing, more than doubling the company’s $193 million Series B funding which closed last year. This new funding comes from existing investor Matrix Capital Management, and also adds new investors SoftBank and Fidelity Management & Research Company, and will be used to help the company expand its R&D and manufacturing capabilities, as well as continue to spin out new companies and partnerships based on its research.

Cambridge, Mass-based ElevateBio was founded to bridge the world of academic research and development of cell and gene therapies with that of commercialization and production-scale manufacturing. The startup identified a need for more efficient means of brining to market the ample, promising science that was being done in developing therapeutics that leverage cellular and genetic editing, particularly in treatment of severe and chronic illness. Its business model focuses on both developing and commercializing its own therapies, and also working through long-term partnerships with academic research institutions and other therapeutics biotech companies to bring their own technologies to market.

To this end, ElevateBio is in the business of frequent spin-out company creation, with the new entities each focused on a specific therapeutic. The company has announced three such companies to date, including AlloVir (in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine), HighPassBio (a venture with gene-editing company Fred Hutchinson) and Life Edit Therapeutics (in partnership with AgBiome). There are additional spin-outs in the works, too, according to ElevateBio, but they are not being disclosed publicly yet.

As you might expect, ElevateBio seems to have benefited from the increased appetite for biotech investment stemming from the global pandemic and its impacts. ElevateBio’s AlloVir spin-out is actually working on a T cell therapy candidate for addressing COVID-19, which is potentially effective in eliminating cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 in a patient to slow the spread of the disease and reduce its severity.

#atlas-venture, #biotech, #cambridge, #companies, #disease, #elevatebio, #funding, #health, #life-sciences, #roivant-sciences, #softbank, #tc

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Serimmune launches new immune response mapping service for COVID-19

Immune intelligence startup Serimmune hopes to better understand the relationship between antibody epitopes (the parts of antigen molecules that bind to antibodies) and the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The company’s proprietary technology, originally developed at UC Santa Barbara, provides a new and specific way of mapping the entire array of an individual’s antibodies through a small blood sample. They do this through the use of a bacterial peptide display—a sort of screening mechanism that can isolate plasmid DNA from antibody-bound bacteria in the sample. This DNA can then be sequenced to identify epitopes, which provide information about both which antigens someone may have been exposed to, as well as how his or her immune system responded to them.

“It’s a very highly multiplexed and exquisitely specific way of looking at the epitopes found by antibodies in a specimen,” said Serimmune CEO Noah Nasser, who has a degree in molecular biology from UC San Diego and has previously worked for several diagnostics companies.

This week, Serimmune announced the launch of a new application of their core technology to help understand the disease states of and immune responses to SARS-CoV-2, or the virus that causes COVID-19.

“So what we do is we take these antibody profiles we build, and we’re able to then map those back with about a 12 amino acid specificity to the SARS-CoV-2 proteome,” said Nasser. “And what we find is that antibody expression is highly correlated to disease state, so we can distinguish mild, moderate, severe and asymptomatic disease on the basis of antibodies that are present in the specimen.”

The more patient data Serimmune can collect, the better its core technology becomes at finding patterns across different antigen exposure and disease severity. Noticing those patterns sooner won’t only help physicians and researchers to better understand how the SARS-CoV-2 virus operates, but can also inform new approaches to diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines for any antigen.

Serimmune’s launch of its new COVID antibody epitope mapping service is a way of making this data more accessible to customers like vaccine companies, government agencies, and academic labs that have shown interest in better understanding the immune response to SARS-CoV-2.

“The key was to zero in on the information that researchers wanted to know and standardize that,” said Nasser. “We can actually now provide these results back in as few as two days from sample receipt.”

Beyond this new service, Serimmune also has plans to launch a longitudinal clinical study on immunity to SARS-CoV-2. Using a painless at-home collection kit, study participants send in small blood samples to Serimmune, which then uses its core technology to outline an individual immunity map.

“We provide their results back to them in the form of a personal immune landscape to COVID,” said Nasser. “And what we’re trying to do is to understand over time how that immune response changes, and what happens to that immune response on repeated exposure to COVID.”

The mapping technology is now so specific that it can tell whether or not a patient has antibodies from natural exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus or from a vaccine, he added.

While the primary focus for Serimmune remains these applications to the COVID-19 pandemic for now, Nasser also mentioned that the company has plans to move into personalized medicine, potentially offering their mapping service directly to interested patients.

“We believe that this has value to individual patients in understanding their immune status and what antigens they’ve been exposed to,” he said. Until then, Serimmune plans to continue growing its database with more patient samples.

#biotech, #covid, #disease, #health, #immunology, #mapping-technology, #medicine, #science, #startups

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Forward Health raises $225M from investors including The Weeknd as it looks to expand nationwide

Primary care startup Forward Health is looking to expand its tech-powered, personalized healthcare model across the U.S., and will use a new $225 million Series D raise to help make it happen. The new capital comes from Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, SoftBank, Mark Benioff – and recording artist The Weeknd – among others. I spoke to Forward Health co-founder and CEO Adrian Aoun about his company’s plans for this fresh capital, and we also chatted briefly about how The Weeknd got involved.

Forward, which currently operates clinics in select U.S. markets including LA, New York, Chicago, SF and Washington, D.C., has a number of distinguishing features, but most notable are likely its tech-first approach that includes a full biometric assessment upon first visit, and its business model, which eschews insurance providers altogether and instead works based on a single flat membership fee.

Aoun and his co-founders created Forward Health with the idea of building a healthcare business that’s aligned with its customers in terms of incentives, which is why they sidestepped insurance altogether. That’s led to a focus on customer service and long-term patient relationships and outcomes, which Aoun says are stronger because they’re not bound by an individual’s relationship with their employer, for instance, which is often the case when an employer foots the bill for healthcare via company-provided insurance.

“The average person in the Bay Area is with their employer for about two and a quarter years,” Aoun told me. “So your employer is kind of sitting there thinking, if you get the flu, you’re missing three days of work – I’m out some money.” That means they’ll do things like institute programs to remind employees constantly to get their annual flu vaccine, and do other things to make that happen like provide on-premise shots. But Aoun says they’re optimizing for short-term outcomes, not long-term health – because that’s where their incentives tell them to optimize.

Image Credits: Forward Health

But when long-term healthcare programs, like lifestyle shifts that can lessen the potential of truly dangerous outcomes like heart disease and cancer, come into play, an employer who expects you to stick around for a few years at most is far less incentivized to want to fund that. Forward Health, which aims to attract subscribers and, for lack of a better term, minimize churn, actually is incentivized to make those long-term outcomes positive for everyone who comes through the door.

That’s part of why one focus with this new funding is to debut new doctor-led programs tailored to treating conditions that individual patients might be predisposed to – like heart health, if heart disease runs in your family, or specific types of cancer, if there’s a history of that, for instance.

“We’ve got our [in-clinic] body scanners, our blood tests, our gene sequencing – we basically collect on the order of about 500 biometric data points,” Aoun said. “The idea is you and your doctor then figure out which which kind of programs make sense for you based upon those.”

For example, Aoun says he’s actually at fairly high risk for developing heart disease, so there’s a Forward program that includes doing a heart risk analysis, blood tests, and regular at-home monitoring of key risk factors like blood pressure and weight. Another program for cancer prevention includes measures designed to help lessen the risk of contracting the top five cancers in terms of prevalence — so Forward created a dermatoscope for that, which is essentially a skin scanner to map out an individual’s moles and skin features and alert them of any changes.

This builds on work that Forward began at the outset of COVID-19 — its ‘Forward at Home’ program, which includes sending patients home with specialized sensors for remote care. Another specialized program tailored to COVID-19 actually offers monitoring specific to the disease in order to track a patient’s progress safely.

“We’re now launching programs for all the top diseases to help you get ahead of them,” Aoun said. “And whatever kind of programs you’re using, you walk away with plans that are tailored to you, again, to counsel you not only on the potential risks for the things like the cancer and heart disease, but also to be proactive, with guidance from diet, to exercise, to stress, and to sleep, etc.”

The programs are supported by Forward’s 24/7 worldwide care support team, which subscribers can access via their mobile app. It’s also complemented by the check-ins with your physician via the ‘Forward at Home’ in-home virtual visits.

Image Credits: Forward Health

While Forward is already rolling these out, it has plans to continue to develop new ones, and it’s also monitoring results in order to understand how they’re working for users, and will be sharing that data once it has collected a significant sample. I asked Aoun how Forward can scale this kind of personalized care – especially now that the startup plans to open additional locations in other parts of the country.

Basically, Aoun said that Forward approached it as an engineering problem. He argues that most solutions in healthcare see the fundamental issue as a labor problem — but trying to scale that, with the salaries that medical professionals command, and the limited availability of skilled talent, makes no sense. Especially because consumers are naturally looking for improvements in their standard of care over time, in the same way they expect improvements in the products they buy or services they use.

Rather than relying on a chain of increasingly specific medical professionals to address individual health risks and needs, Aoun said Forward identified that there’s a massive amount of overlap in preventative care courses of action. The Forward team focused on breaking the fundamental elements down into what equate roughly to reusable Lego blocks, which can be recombined with relative speed and repeatability to produce a program that’s nonetheless tailored to an individual’s needs.

Combined with Forward Health’s longitudinal approach to care, these programs and their recombinant nature should prove a good dataset from which to assess how a direct, client-focused primary care model affects overall health.

And, because I promised, I’ll leave you with how Aoun says The Weeknd got involved in the Series D.

“He literally just walked by one of our locations, and walked in and was like, ‘This is awesome,’ and then asked a friend, who asked a friend, who asked a friend to get connected,” he told me.

#adrian-aoun, #artist, #cancer, #chicago, #disease, #flu, #forward, #forward-health, #founders-fund, #health, #healthcare, #khosla-ventures, #louisiana, #new-york, #physician, #recent-funding, #softbank, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #washington-d-c

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Mount Sinai study finds Apple Watch can predict COVID-19 diagnosis up to a week before testing

A new study from Mount Sinai researchers published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research found that wearable hardware, and specifically the Apple Watch, can effectively predict a positive COVID-19 diagnosis up to a week before current PCR-based nasal swab tests.

The investigation dubbed the ‘Warrior Watch Study,‘ used a dedicated Apple Watch and iPhone app and included participants from Mount Sinai staff. It required participants to use the app for health data monitoring and collection, and also asked that they fill out a day survey to provide direct feedback about their potential COVID-19 symptoms, and other factor including stress.

During the course of the study, the research team enlisted “several hundred health care workers” to participate, and collected data over several months, between April and September. The primary biometric signal that the study’s authors were watching was heart rate variability (HRV), which is a key indicator of strain on a person’s nervous system. This information was combined with information around reported symptoms associated with COVID-19, including fever, aches, dry cough, gastrointestinal issues, loss of taste and smell, among others.

The Warrior Watch Study was not only able to predict infections up to a week before tests provided confirmed diagnoses, but also revealed that participants’ HRV patterns normalized fairly quickly after their diagnosis, returning to normal roughly one to two weeks following their positive tests.

As to what the study could lead to in terms of actual interventions, the study’s authors note that it can help anticipate outcomes and isolate individuals from others who are at risk. Most importantly, it provides a means for doing so remotely, allowing caregivers to anticipate or detect a COVID-19 case without even doing a physical exam or a administering a nasal swab test, which can help take precautionary measures in high-risk situations when cases are suspected, possibly preventing any spread before someone is highly contagious.

The study is ongoing, and will expand to examine what else wearables like the Apple Watch and their onboard sensors can tell us about other impacts of COVID-19 on the health of care workers, including what factors like sleep and physical activity can have in association with the disease.

#apple, #biotech, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #disease, #fever, #health, #iphone, #medicine, #tc

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Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine is 85% effective against severe cases, and 66% effective overall per trial data

Another COVID-19 vaccine is almost ready to begin being distributed – a single-shot inoculation made by Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen pharmaceutical subsidiary. The company just released an efficacy report based on data from its Phase 3 trial, which found that the new vaccine is 66% effective overall in preventing moderate to severe incarnations of COVID-19 in those who received the jab, and 85% effective in preventing sever disease.

Those numbers aren’t as impressive as the reported figures for the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines that are already being distributed via emergency FDA approval, both of which reported 90+% efficacy. But Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is a single shot rather than a two-course treatment, which should make it much easier to distribute much more quickly. The vaccine also showed 100% efficacy in preventing hospitalization or death among participants in the trial, 28 days after vaccination, which is a key measure when considering the broader impact of COVID-19 on healthcare resources, and efficacy varied by region, with the jab proving 72% effective in the U.S. across moderate and severe cases vs. 66% globally.

It’s also important to note that Johnson & Johnson’s Phase 3 trial is happening amid the emergence of new strains of the virus, including much more contagious versions like the UK and South African variants. At the time that both Moderna and BioNTech released their trial data, these variants hadn’t yet emerged or been confirmed by pandemic researchers.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine uses a modified version of a common cold virus to deliver DNA that provides a person’s body with instructions on building a replica of the spike protein that SARS-CoV-2 uses to attach to cells. The modified adenovirus can’t replicate in human cells, however, meaning it won’t lead to illness – only an immune response that can later be employed to combat contracting the virus that leads to COVID-19. This adenovirus method is much more proven in terms of use in human patients vs. the mRNA method that the other vaccines currently in use employ.

All of which is to say, despite headline numbers that appear to fall short relative to the data we’ve seen from Moderna and Pfizer, this Johnson & Johnson report is actually very encouraging. The company says it expects to file a request for an Emergency Use Approval (EUA) from the FDA in February, which could see it begin to be distributed next month, adding yet another weapon in the arsenal to combat the global pandemic.

#articles, #biontech, #biotech, #clinical-trials, #disease, #fda, #health, #illness, #johnson-johnson, #medical-research, #medicine, #moderna, #pfizer, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vaccination, #vaccine

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Heights raises $2M for its subscription supplements aimed new ‘braincare’ category

New wellness startup Heights is formally launching this week, focusing on a category it describes as ‘braincare’. The startup will market “ultra high quality, sustainable plant-based supplements that feed your brain” based on what it says is scientific data.

It has raised a $2 million Seed funding round (£1.7M) via the Seedrs crowdfunding platform, with the round also including the institutional investor Forward Partners. Angel investors include Tom Singh (founder of New Look), Damian Bradfield (WeTransfer), Dhiraj Mukherjee (Shazam), Renee Elliot (Planet Organic), and celebrity investor Chris Smalling (an England and Manchester United professional footballer).

The funds will be used for customer growth and new product development, including soon-to-launch a ‘psychobiotic‘ probiotic aimed at cognition and mental health.

Customers first take a ‘brain health’ survey, then sign up for a monthly, quarterly, or annual subscription.

Customers need only take two capsules a day, thus hugely decreasing the complexity of juggling regular vitamin taking.

The product fits through a letterbox and the unusual bottle was designed by the well-known product design agency Pentagram. A content and coaching program included in the subscription helps customers, and another brain health survey happens after a month. Heights claims that “93%” improve their brain health score within one month.

Heights is not alone in this new market for what some describe as ‘designer vitamins’ and the arena is already populated by the likes of Hims / Hers, MotionVitabiotics and Bulletproof.

These companies broadly fall into the “Nootropics” category — vitamins and minerals designed to improve cognitive function, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals. But the market is not small. The ‘self care’, ‘healthcare’, and ‘personal development’ market is worth over $1Trillion but supplements alone is worth at least $100BN+.

Heights founders Dan Murray-Serter and Joel Freeman, with adviser Dr Tara Swart.

Heights founders Dan Murray-Serter and Joel Freeman, with adviser Dr. Tara Swart.

However, co-founder Dan Murray-Serter says Heights is aiming to do something different to the aforementioned players.

In a text-based interview, he said: “Nootropics as a category really focus on quick fixes, which is why we’re working on the category creation of ‘braincare’ because there are no ‘quick fixes’ in life, and that terminology and category have essentially set people up with the same false hopes as ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes do. We’re set up differently — aka, starting with scientifically researched articles and journal references.”

He said Heights will be positioned more like a skincare or haircare brand, “because people understand that the daily habit/practice is what creates the longevity and impact, not just a one-day miracle.”

Murray-Serter says there are 20 key nutrients science says our brains need to thrive, and these are mostly found in a combination of buying multivitamins, omega 3s, and ‘nootropics’. He says Heights has sourced the “highest quality” ingredients in the most ‘bioavailable form’ in a patented capsule which makes it easier to digest for the body.

“One of the most common reasons the habit of taking vitamins doesn’t stick for people is that the bottle goes into a cupboard and gets ignored. So we started with design alongside quality,” he says. The Heights vitamins come in a distinctive, recyclable bottle which Heights will also aven recycle if you send it back to them.

Murray-Serter, who previously founded the mobile startup Grabble, says he came up with the idea for the startup after a bout of chronic anxiety and a 6 month-long period of insomnia. The problem was solved by high-quality, high-density vitamins and supplements, as opposed to normal supplements which usually only have the lowest recommended daily levels of vitamins inside them.

After starting a newsletter on the subject of optimizing cognitive performance with cofounder Joel Freeman, the pair amassed a following of 60,000 readers www.yourheights.com/sundays

and then came up with the idea of launching the actual product.

The company now has a ‘Braincare‘ podcast that has reached 100,000 downloads, and the founders have also been joined by key team member Chief Science Officer, Dr Tara Swart (pictured).

Two things may help Heights. Firstly, in the era of Covid-19, public health authorities and governments around the world have recommended taking Vitamin D to boost the body’s immune system should someone fall prey to the disease. It’s not insignificant that two Heights capsules contain 400% of the ‘Nutrient Reference Value’ (formerly known as Recommended Daily Allowance) of Vitamin D3, as well as many other supplements. Theoretically, one could take four normal tablets of this, but the customer experience and other added vitamins in Heights will appeal to many. Secondly, the growing awareness of mental health and interest in maintaining good mental health is now a regular subject of public discourse. So Heights appears to be well-positioned to ride both those waves.

#bulletproof, #co-founder, #cofounder, #designer, #disease, #europe, #food-and-drink, #forward-partners, #founder, #health, #healthcare, #heights, #insomnia, #manchester-united, #new-look, #nutrition, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vitamins

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Cloudflare introduces free digital waiting rooms for any organizations distributing COVID-19 vaccines

Web infrastructure company Cloudflare is releasing a new tool today that aims to provide a way for health agencies and organizations globally tasked with rolling out COVID-19 vaccines to maintain a fair, equitable and transparent digital queue – completely free of charge. The company’s ‘Project Fair Shot’ initiative will make its new Cloudflare Waiting Room offering free to any organization that qualifies, essentially providing a way from future vaccine recipients to register and gain access to a clear and constantly-updated view of where they are in line to receive the preventative treatment.

“The wife of one of Cloudflare’s executives in our Austin was trying to register her parents for the COVID-19 vaccine program there,” explained Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince via email. “The registration site kept crashing. She said to her husband: why doesn’t Cloudflare build a queuing feature to help vaccine sites? As it happened, we had exactly such a feature under development and scheduled to be launched in early February.”

After realizing the urgency of the need for something like this tool to help alleviate the many infrastructure challenges that come up when you’re trying to vaccinate a global population against a viral threat as quickly as possible, Cloudflare changed their release timetable and devoted additional resources to the project.

“We talked to the team about moving up the scheduled launch of our Waiting Room feature,” Prince added. “They worked around the clock because they recognized how important helping with vaccine delivery was. These are the sorts of projects that really drive our team: when we can use our technical expertise and infrastructure to solve problems with broad, positive impact.”

On the technical side, Cloudflare Waiting Room is simple to implement, according to the company, and can be added to any registration website built on the company’s existing content delivery network without any engineering or coding knowledge required. Visitors to the site can register and will receive a confirmation that they’re in line, and then will receive a follow-up directing them to a sign-up page for the organization administering their vaccine when it’s their turn. Further configuration options allow Waiting Room operators to offer wait time estimates to registrants, as well as provide additional alerts when their turn is nearing (though that functionality is coming in a future update).

As Prince mentioned, Waiting Room was already on Cloudflare’s project roadmap, and was actually intended for other high-demand, limited supply allocation items: Think must-have concert tickets, or the latest hot sneaker release. But the Fair Shot program will provide it totally free to those organizations that need it, whereas that would’ve been a commercial product. Interested parties can sign up at Cloudflare’s registration page to get on the waitlist for availability.

“With Project Fair Shot we stand ready to help ensure everyone who is eligible can get equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccines and we, along with the rest of humanity, look forward to putting this disease behind us,” Prince explained.

#austin, #ceo, #cloudflare, #content-delivery-network, #disease, #health, #information-technology, #internet, #internet-security, #matthew, #matthew-prince, #prince, #tc, #vaccine, #web-infrastructure

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SARS-CoV-2’s spread to wild mink not yet a reason to panic

Image of a mink at the base of a tree.

Enlarge (credit: Eric Sonstroem / Flickr)

Did anyone have “mink farms” on their 2020 catastrophe bingo cards? It turns out that the SARS-CoV-2 virus readily spreads to mink, leading to outbreaks on mink farms in Europe and the United States. Denmark responded by culling its entire mink population, which naturally went wrong as mink bodies began resurfacing from their mass graves, forcing the country to rebury them. Because 2020 didn’t seem apocalyptic enough.

More seriously, health authorities are carefully monitoring things like mink farms because the spread of the virus to our domesticated animals raises two risks. One is that the virus will be under different evolutionary selection in these animals, producing mutant strains that then pose different risks if they transfer back to humans. So far, fortunately, that seems not to be happening. The second risk is that these animals will provide a reservoir from which the virus can spread back to humans, circumventing pandemic control focused on human interactions.

Heightening those worries, mid-December saw a report that the US Department of Agriculture had found a wild mink near a mink farm that had picked up the virus, presumably from its domesticated peers. Fortunately, so far at least, the transfer to wild populations seems very limited.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biology, #covid-19, #disease, #medicine, #mink, #sars-cov-2, #science, #surveillance

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Bicycle Health, the virtual opioid use disorder therapy service, will soon be available in 25 states

The startup opioid use disorder therapy service Bicycle Health will soon be available to patients in half the country, just three years after its launch in 2017, according to founder Ankit Gupta.

A serial entrepreneur whose last company, Pulse News, was acquired by LinkedIn back in 2013, Gupta left the LinkedIn in 2016 (around the time of the Microsoft acquisition) to pursue something more meaningful. He settled on trying to find a better way to address the opioid addiction epidemic, which was responsible for more than 42,000 deaths the year he left LinkedIn.

By 2018 deaths from overdoses would exceed 47,000, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

And the problem isn’t going away. Bicycle Health’s statistics indicate that 92 million Americans are potentially at risk for developing opioid use disorder and 2 million Americans are already diagnosed as opioid addicts.

Initially, the company worked out of a clinic in Redwood City, Calif., but as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the US earlier this year and forced treatment facilities to undertake preventative measures to stop the spread of the disease, Bicycle Health began adopting virtual treatment methods.

Under new regulations delivered by HHS, many therapies and drug treatments that had only been available in-person were able to be distributed remotely. The change caused an explosion in remote care services and companies like Bicycle Health rushed to capitalize.

The company is currently offering treatment options in 18 states and is on track to be available in 25 states by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Backing that growth are a slew of individual and institutional investors led by the venture investment firm, Signalfire, which led Bicycle Health’s seed round. In all, the company has raised roughly $5.5 million from investors including Signalfire, Hustle Fund, Romulus Capital, and individual investors like Jeff Weiner, the former chief executive of LinkedIn; Sami Inkinen, the founder of Virta Health; Rushika Fernandopulle, the founder of Iora Health; and John Simon, the co-founder of General Catalyst through his Greenlight Fund.

Bicycle Health both prescribes buprenorphine as a medical treatment and offers a team of health coaches to address the behavioral and mental health issues attendant with detoxifying.

There are three health coaches on staff to manage the care of the company’s current roster of 2,000 patients and those coaches are bolstered by 12 clinical support specialists, Gupta said.

Treatment is delivered and managed through the company’s mobile app, and is supplemented by regular in-home diagnostic testing to monitor a patient’s progress, according to Gupta.

Working with Goodrx, the company has been able to drive down over-the-counter costs for patients who don’t have healthcare, and Gupta said that Bicycle Health would be working with local and national healthcare providers to try and defray as much of the costs as the company can. 

“We want to subsidize the costs as much as possible for our patient,” he said.  

The goal, Gupta said in an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year is “making sure that this industry is making sure that they’re helping people make a change instead of keeping them stuck.”

And although Gupta comes from a software industry whose guiding principle has been to move fast and break things, he realizes that healthcare doesn’t work that way. “Move fast and break things is the wrong mindset for healthcare,” he said. “You have to build a safe space … and i don’t mean a safe space legally but a safe space where patients can be served.”

#california, #co-founder, #disease, #drugs, #founder, #general-catalyst, #goodrx, #healthcare, #hustle-fund, #iora-health, #jeff-weiner, #linkedin, #microsoft, #opioids, #pulse-news, #redwood-city, #romulus-capital, #sami-inkinen, #serial-entrepreneur, #signalfire, #tc, #united-states, #virta-health

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Virta Health’s behavioral diabetes treatment service is now worth over $1 billion

A new $65 million investment led by the growth capital and public investment arm of Sequoia Capital will give Virta Health, a developer of a behavioral-focused diabetes treatment, a valuation of over $1 billion.

Virta’s approach, which uses a combination of approaches to change diet and exercise to reverse the presence of type 2 diabetes and other chronic metabolic conditions, has shown clinical success and attracted 100 health care payers to endorse the company’s treatments.

“We partnered with Virta for their ability to deliver unmatched health improvement and cost savings—two clear differentiators from other offerings on the market,” said William Ashmore, CEO of the State Employees’ Insurance Board of Alabama, in a statement. “Especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s vital that we provide our members the life-changing results Virta is known for delivering, through expert, virtual care delivered right to their home.”

The company said it would use the funding to expand sales and marketing efforts for its services as well as expand its research and development into other non-pharmaceutical therapies for metabolic conditions.

The financing came from Sequoia Capital Global Equities and Caffeinated Capital and brings the company’s total funding to over $230 million and gives it a $1.1 billion valuation, according to a statement.

Alongside Sequoia Capital Global Equities, Caffeinated Capital participated in the round, which brings total funding to more than $230 million and values Virta Health at over $1.1 billion.

Diabetes has long been an attractive condition for startups and has been the first target that companies focused on behavior changes to influence metabolic conditions aim to address. The reason why there are so many diabetes-focused businesses is because of the prevalence of the disease in the U.S. Almost half of adults in the U.S. suffer from obesity, pre-diabetes, or type 2 diabetes and the disease kills thirty people every hour. Diabetes also doubles the risk of death from COVID-19 infections.

Beyond the risks, the costs of treatment are skyrocketing. According to data from the American Diabetes Association released in March 2018, the total costs of treating diagnosed diabetes have risen to $327 billion in 2017 from $245 billion in 2012, when the cost was last examined.

“Given the scope of the metabolic crisis in the U.S. and globally, it cannot be understated how game-changing Virta’s results and care delivery are,” said Patrick Fu, managing partner at Sequoia Capital Global Equities, in a statement. “Virta’s technology-driven, non-pharmaceutical approach has fundamentally changed how diabetes is cared for, and our collective belief in what is possible for population health improvement. This is the future of chronic disease care.”

#alabama, #caffeinated-capital, #ceo, #chronic-disease, #diabetes, #disease, #health, #managing-partner, #medicine, #obesity, #sequoia-capital, #sequoia-capital-global-equities, #tc, #united-states

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Spain’s Savana Medica raises $15 million to bring its AI toolkit turning clinical notes into care insights to the US

Savana, a machine learning-based service that turns clinical notes into structured patient information for physicians and pharmacists, has raised $15 million to take its technology from Spain to the U.S., the company said.

The investment was led by Cathay Innovation with participation from the Spanish investment firm Seaya Ventures, which led the company’s previous round, and new investors like MACSF, a French insurance provider for doctors. 

The company has already processed 400 million electronic medical records in English, Spanish, German, and French.

Founded in Madrid in 2014, the company is relocating to New York and is already working with the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies and over 100 healthcare facilities.

“Our mission is to predict the occurrence of disease at the patient level. This focuses our resources on discovering new ways of providing medical knowledge almost in real time — which is more urgent than ever in the context of the pandemic,” said Savana chief executive Jorge Tello. “Healthcare challenges are increasingly global, and we know that the application of AI across health data at scale is essential to accelerate health science.”

Company co-founder and chief medical officer, Dr. Ignacio Hernandez Medrano, also emphasized that while the company is collecting hundreds of millions of electronic records, it’s doing its best to keep that information private.

“One of our main value propositions is that the information remains controlled by the hospital, with privacy guaranteed by the de-identification of patient data before we process it,” he said. 

 

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #disease, #electronic-health-records, #health, #machine-learning, #madrid, #new-york, #pharmaceutical, #pharmacy, #seaya-ventures, #spain, #tc, #united-states

0

Scribe Therapeutics launches a platform for engineering CRISPR-based therapeutics

A new company called Scribe Therapeutics founded by two former members of CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna’s UC Berkely genetics lab (alongside Doudna herself) launched on Tuesday, debuting a platform designed specifically to help develop and engineer new thereapeutics based on CRISPR for addressing specific diseases, with permanent treatments in patients.

Doudna is part of the leadership team behind Scribe, but it’s primarily led by CEO and co-founder Benjamin Oakes, along with VP of Platform Brett T. Staahl. Oakes and Staahl shared time at Doudna’s lab, with Oakes as a student while Staahl was a postdoc. Staahl’s interest was specifically in how gene editing, and CRISPR in particular, could be used to help treat Huntington’s disease – while Oakes, who originally set out to be a practicing medical doctor, realized early on he actually wanted to do more with solving the underlying causes of disease, and changed tack to pursue genome editing.

“I set out on this journey to understand how we could, and how we could best actually solve those underlying problems of disease,” Oakes explained in an interview. That led to him pursuing research in Zinc-Finger Nuclease (ZFN)-based genome editing – a precursor technique to CRISPR that was far less specific and much more work-intensive and time consuming. Doudna’s groundbreaking paper on CRISPR was published in 2012, and Oakes immediately saw the potential, so he joined her lab at Berkeley.

Meanwhile, Staahl was looking at treatment for disorders that specifically lead to neural degeneration – something that had not previously been part of Doudna’s lab’s research prior to him joining.

“He spent several years in the lab, developing strategies for neurons, and really trying to bring that technology to a point where it could be deployed as a real treatment for neurodegenerative disease, with Huntington’s as a model,” Doudna told me. “So Ben and Brett met up, they came from very different backgrounds, they had really different scientific training originally, but they hit it off. And they saw a really exciting opportunity to use the kind of technology development that Ben had been doing, and that he was very keen on continuing, and to focus it on this challenge of neurodegeneration.”

The result is Scribe Therapeutics, which has already raised $20 million in a Series A funding round (plus some small amount of earlier seed financing contributed by the founders) led by Andreessen Horowitz . Scribe has been at work on their solution since 2018, but remained mostly quiet about their progress until Oakes felt confident that what they’re presenting is a real, viable technology that can be used to produce therapeutics now. Representative of that progress, the company is also announcing a new collaboration with large drugmaker Biogen, Inc. to collaborate on CRISPR-based medecines for treating neurological diseases, and specifically Amyotriophic Lateral Sclerosis.

That deal is valued at $15 million in upfront commitments, with as much as $400 million or more in milestone payouts to follow, as well as royalties attached to any shipping therapeutics that result. Oakes says it’s a testament to the maturity of their platform that they were able to secure this partnership. But Scribe will also be pursuing development of its own therapeutics in-house, while partnering where it makes sense – a strategy Oakes says is in service of addressing the greatest number of possible disease treatments the startup can manage. And while it’s already generating revenue, and Oakes says he’s in no rush to secure additional funding, he does believe that ultimately they will seek out additional investment in order to help ensure they can treat as many potential conditions as possible, as quickly and safely as possible.

As for the fundamental science behind Scribe, their advantage lies in the work they’ve done to adapt a molecule called CRISPR-CasX, which is a bit smaller than Cas9 and not derived from pathogen molecules, both of which make it better-suited to therapeutics. Scribe has spent the past year-and-a-half turning CasX into the basis of a platform that works better than any CRISPR protein that exists for delivery via adeno-associated virus (the current state-of-the-art in gene therapy delivery), as well as engineering it for greater specificity.

“We built Scribe specifically to do that, to build an engineering core focused exclusively on making the most advanced the very best therapeutic genome editing molecules that we could,” Oakes said.

#andreessen-horowitz, #biology, #biotech, #biotechnology, #crispr, #disease, #emerging-technologies, #genetic-engineering, #health, #jennifer-doudna, #life-sciences, #model, #science, #tc, #technology-development

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Daphne Koller: ‘Digital biology is an incredible place to be right now’

Working at the intersection of biology and computing may be the most exciting new spot for technologists at the moment.

That’s the word from Daphne Koller, the founder and chief executive officer of Insitro — the biotech company that’s raised over $243 million in the two short years since it launched.

Speaking at our virtual TechCrunch Disrupt conference, Koller, a serial entrepreneur who previously co-founded Coursera and briefly served as the chief computing officer for the Alphabet subsidiary focused on human health, Calico, views digital biology as the next big technological revolution.

“Digital biology is an incredible place to be right now,” Koller said in an interview.

It’s certainly been an incredible opportunity for Koller whose work now spans the development of treatments for potential neurological diseases and a nearer term research and development effort on hepatitis with Gilead Pharmaceuticals.

Koller’s Insitro takes its name and inspiration from the combination of two different practices in biological research — the in vitro experiments that are done on living samples in labs and the in silico experiments that are done on the computer.

By synthesizing these two disciplines Koller’s company flips the process of drug discovery on its head, the company is designed sift through massive amounts of data to search for patterns in the expression of certain conditions. Once those patterns are determined, the company can examine the pathways or mechanisms associated with that expression to determine targets for potential therapies.

Then Insitro will pursue the development of novel molecules that can be used to intervene and either reverse or stop the progression of an illness by stopping the biological mechanisms associated with it.

“We now have massive amounts of data that is truly relevant to human disease,” Koller said. “Machine learning has given us a bunch of tools to really make sense of data.”

The company can identify new patient segments, new interventions new drugs that may modulate the expression of those conditions. “We view ourselves as being on the first phase of a very long journey using machine learning,” said Koller.

Take the company’s work on hepatitis in conjunction with Gilead. There, Koller and her team were able to take a small, high-quality dataset from Gilead’s trials and identify how a disease progressed by looking at the patient data from different points in time. Looking at the progression allowed the company to identify drivers that facilitated the progression of fibrosis that causes tissue damage. Now the company is using those targets as a starting point to find modifiers that could slow down the progression of the disease. 

It comes down to using computers to understand the biology, new biotechnology to model that biology in a Petri dish, and from the different models determine the interventions that will make a difference, Koller said.

“What we’re trying to do is so different and so out of alignment with how these [pharmaceutical] companies do their work,” Koller said. “It’s trying to shift the trajectory of these companies of hundreds or thousands of people and shift the culture to a tech culture that is going to be really a challenge.”

It’s the main reason Koller launched her own company rather than joining a big pharma play, and it’s a classic example of the innovator’s dilemma and the disruptive power of technology laid out in the theories of Clayton Christensen that give the Disrupt conference its name.

“[It’s] the notion of the innovator’s dilemma and coming in with a mindset that says we’re going to do this a completely different way,” said Koller. “The drug discovery effort is becoming increasingly expensive and increasingly prone to failure and if we do this in a different way will it enable us to generate better outcomes.”

#chief-executive-officer, #computing, #coursera, #daphne-koller, #disease, #drug-discovery, #health, #illness, #insitro, #machine-learning, #medicine, #serial-entrepreneur, #tc

0

Peer Medical allows lung cancer patients to anonymously share treatments with each other

Peer Medical has a big mission. After his father died of lung cancer, serial entrepreneur Ed Spiegel vowed to create a better way for lung cancer patients to deal with their disease. The startup has so far raised a $1.2M seed funding round for its ground-breaking approach and is onboarding patients at a rate of knots.

Peer Medical allows lung cancer patients to anonymously share their treatments with each other. This helps survivors find others like them and see which treatments and procedures work best. Users can search by biomarker, stage, age, or gender and review verified treatments and journeys of similar patients.

The funding round was led by Amsterdam-based ‘Partners in Equity’ (PiE), best known for investing seed capital into Adyen the Dutch payments unicorn; and London’s Seedcamp, alongside Angel investors. Peer Medical is now able to sign up patients’ electronic health records inside a minute. Its advisers include Dr. David Jablons, Head of Thoracic Oncology at UCSF, and Dr. Geoffrey Ginsburg, Head of Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine at Duke University .

Spiegel’s RentMineOnline was one of the first-ever ‘share economy’ startups to appear 10 years ago, and also Seedcamp’s first investment, and its first exit.

Indeed, the idea for Peer Medical came to Spiegel 10 years ago as the sole care-giver during his father’s three-year battle with lung cancer.

Spiegal told me he came up with the idea after meeting a buddy of his from his college who had also seen his father pass away from lung cancer. Comparing notes, Spiegal realized he could have had so much more information if they’ve been able to share treatment information.

“It’s like: ‘God I wish I would have known that back then!’. It’s just such a terrible experience. Unfortunately for me, I lived the experience, but I could have really used a sort of ‘electronic caregiver’ essentially to help my Dad through it.”

Participating in online forums, Spiegel found patients willing to help but realized the need for a centralized, searchable database that contained the knowledge these people possessed. There were over 1.7 million new cancer cases diagnosed in the US last year alone. The information for the patients is often disorganized, incomplete, or out of date. Medical record portability is growing in adoption and will be crucial in aiding treatments.

“It’s a little like you as a driver using Waze to crowdsource information from other drivers to get to the perfect route because you’re learning from all the other people,” commented Spiegal. “The future is certainly electronic health records, although it’s still kind of like using a credit card in 1999 online, it’s coming in a big way. You will have your records, and wonder ‘who else is just like me?’”

There are already big players making it happen such as Apple Health, and online hospital portal growth driven by companies like Epic and Cerner.

Peer Medical doesn’t really have ‘competitors’ in the traditional sense, other than Facebook support groups for patients, which are not anonymous and chaotic, and Google searches. PatientsLikeMe, founded in the early 2000s, doesn’t leverage the medical records aspect and sold in 2019 to United Health Care for 2017 after raising $100M.

Commenting, Reshma Sohoni, co-founder of Seedcamp said: “Ed was a part of Seedcamp’s first cohort of companies and returned our first successful exit. We’re thrilled to back Ed and his team for a second time and bring what we hope will be another successful venture to our portfolio. Unfortunately, I’ve also lost a parent to cancer and can relate to how important a tool like this can be to navigate such difficult times. We really like that the patient retains anonymity but is still able to learn from others.”

Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp Managing Partner added: “At Seedcamp, this is exactly the type of community that we like to invest in. People, in this case, patients and caregivers, bound together by a common goal to fight cancer. We’re thrilled to help Ed and the Peer Medical team build this community that pools verified and anonymized medical records and uses them to optimize individual treatment paths.”

RentMineOnline, which did referrals for apartments on Facebook, was successfully sold to a publicly-traded property management software firm, Real Page (NASDAQ: RP).

#adyen, #amsterdam, #cancer, #carlos-eduardo-espinal, #cerner, #co-founder, #crowdsourcing, #data-mining, #disease, #driver, #duke-university, #epic, #europe, #genomics, #google, #head, #london, #managing-partner, #online-forums, #patientslikeme, #reshma-sohoni, #seedcamp, #serial-entrepreneur, #tc, #united-states, #waze

0

PicnicHealth raises $25 million for its patient health record management service

PicnicHealth, the startup that’s looking to give patients a way to manage their care in one place and pharmaceutical companies access to patient records for real world data, has just raised $25 million in financing to grow its business.

Founded in 2016 by a former international development worker and Crohn’s Disease patient, Noga Leviner, PicnicHealth’s initial pitch was around giving patients the ability to manage and coordinate their own care. It’s something that Leviner, a person with a chronic condition, knows can be complicated.

“Being a patient in the healthcare system in the US sucks,” said Leviner. “You think someone is going to be in charge and then, as it turns out, nobody’s in charge and it’s up to you to keep everybody in the loop.”

The pitch from PicnicHealth is that patients can use the service to collect and manage their medical records and then share their medical history to contribute to research. The data, the company says, is de-identified and then made available to external researchers.

The service is free for patients who are involved in clinical studies, and anyone who isn’t participating in the study pays a fee for the records management service, according to Leviner.

So far, there are tens of thousands of patients using the PicnicHealth platform.

For Felicis Ventures managing director Sundeep Peechu, a new director on the PicnicHealth board following his firm’s lead investment into the company, the opportunity Leviner’s company presents is in putting the patient first when it comes to data management.

“It is probably the first patient data company that has patient consent,” Peechu said. “This is a unique healthcare data company, which is going to the patients and asking for their consent and using that data in an advantageous way.”

Other companies in the data management space for healthcare have focused on making sure that healthcare providers are all looped in to provide coordinated care, but they don’t bring those tools into patient’s hands, according to the company.

Those are businesses like TrueVault and Aptible, who focus on delivering secure information to medical personnel rather than to the patient.

The access that pharmaceutical companies get when they work with PicnicHealth means that they’re able to use deep data sets to create longitudinal studies of patients over time. That allows those companies to look for commonalities between patient cases that they otherwise wouldn’t have seen.

For patients, it means the difference between a potential early diagnosis that may enable physicians to initiate treatment before a disease manifests itself, Peechu said.

To date, PicnicHealth has raised nearly $40 million from investors including YCombinator, Amplify Partners and Felicis Ventures with participation from notable investors in a seed round that included: Social+Captial, Great Oaks, Slow Ventures, YC partner Paul Buchheit, Scott Marlette, Sam Lessin, Joe Greenstein, Rashmi Sinha, Jameson Hsu, Kenny Van Zant, Rishi Kacker, Ramji Srinivasan, Eric Evans and Stanford’s StartX Fund.

#amplify-partners, #articles, #director, #disease, #felicis-ventures, #health, #healthcare, #healthcare-data, #paul-buchheit, #pharmaceutical, #picnichealth, #sam-lessin, #scott-marlette, #slow-ventures, #tc, #united-states

0

MIT and Boston Dynamics team up on ‘Dr. Spot,’ a robot for remote COVID-19 vital sign measurement

One of the most consistent pieces of advice from health organizations about COVID-19 has been that everyone do their utmost to limit contact with people who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes the disease. That’s difficult in a hospital setting, where medical professionals regularly have to take patient vital sign measurements in order to provide proper care. But a new collaborative effort by MIT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Dynamics and others might provide a way to get those measurements without putting frontline healthcare workers directly in harms’ way.

In a new academic paper, MIT researchers describe how they developed and used ‘Dr. Spot,’ a customized version of Boston Dynamics’ four-legged, dog-like robot, to be able to make use of contactless vital sign monitoring equipment for taking measurements. Dr. Spot is also outfitted with a tablet to make it possible for doctors and nurses to have ‘face-to-face’ interviews with patients while they conduct exams. This hyperlocal version of telemedicine has the potential to not only reduce the risk of exposure for medical personnel, but also drastically reduce use of personal protective equipment, conserving resources for when they’re needed most.

Dr. Spot is able to measure vital signs including skin temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood oxygen saturation all at once. These are all key metrics that healthcare professionals track when determining the progress of COVID-19 in a patient. For the purposes of this study, Dr. Spot was deployed in a hospital setting, but only took measurements from health volunteer research subjects in order to validate the accuracy of its measurement and sensor equipment.

This is just a study to provide some proof as to the potential of actually deploying Dr. Spot or a similar system in an actual clinical study, but the results are promising. Remote vital monitoring isn’t a new concept, but many other systems for accomplishing this require adapting the physical locations where patients are treated to accommodate that kind of distanced measurement, whereas this one could be deployed much more flexibly in existing hospitals and clinics.

#articles, #biotech, #boston-dynamics, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #disease, #hardware, #health, #mit, #monitoring, #nanomedicine, #robotics, #science, #spot, #tc, #technology, #telehealth, #telemedicine

0

Atomwise’s machine learning-based drug discovery service raises $123 million

With a slew of partnerships with large pharmaceutical companies under its belt and the successful spin out of at least one new company, Atomwise has already proved the value of its machine learning platform for discovering and commercializing potential small molecule therapies for a host of conditions.

Now the company has raised $123 million in new funding to accelerate its business.

“Scaling the technology and scaling the team and scaling what we’ve been doing with it,” says chief executive officer Abe Heifets when asked about what comes next for the eight year old business.

Atomwise has already signed contracts worth $5.5 billion with corporate partners that include Eli Lilly & Co., Bayer, Hansoh Pharmaceuticals, and Bridge Biotherapeutics. Smaller, earlier stage companies like StemoniX and SEngine Precision Medicine are also using Atomwise’s tech.

Now the company will look to capture more of the value of drug discovery for itself, looking to develop and commercialize its discoveries by taking over more of the development process and working with manufacturers at a later stage, according to Heifets.

Atomwise tipped its new strategy last year when it announced a partnership with Velocity Drug Development and a $14.5 million investment to create x-37, a spinoff that’s developing small molecule therapies for endodermal cancers, which include cancers of the liver, pancreas, colon, stomach, and bladder.

“We have something like 750 projects running today around the world,” says Heifets. “These comprise more than 600 unique targets and that’s with a vast range of partnerships.”

The power of Atomwise’s drug discovery platform is its ability to harness machine learning to structure new proteins that have never existed — and ensure that they’re able to reach precise target receptors to accomplish a desired task.

Here, the x-37 spinoff is especially illustrative. One line of research the company is conducting into molecules that can target the PIM3 protein receptor. If a drug can block PIM3, it can kill cancerous endodermal cells, according to Heifets. However, if the molecules bind to another, similar target, PIM1, the therapy can cause heart attacks and kill patients.

“This is a challenge and empirically was considered undruggable,” says Heifets. Atomwise’s company screened 11 billion potential molecules against the targets to come up with 500 potential therapies. They’re now working on refining the therapy to bring something to market.

And x-37 is only one of the companies that Atomwise has created to commercialize various new molecules. There’s also Atropos Therapeutics, Theia Biosciences and vAIrus.

Atomwise is far from the only company to think that the application of machine learning technologies to drug discovery is a winning combination. Menten.ai is a company that’s taken the new technology developments one step further and added quantum computing to the mix to come up with new drugs.

“The market opportunity we’re going after is four times the value of the entire pharma industry today,” said Heifets. “Here’s what that’s about. There’s 20,000 human genes and only 4% have ever been drugs. Another 16% have been evidenced. But the opportunity of drugging the undruggable is way bigger than the entire pharma industry.”

Unlocking that opportunity is going to take lots of capital. That’s why B Capital and Sanabil Investments combined to lead Atomwise’s Series B round. It’s also why companies like DCVC, BV, Tencent, Y Combinator, Dolby Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures and two, undisclosed, insurance companies have invested in the company’s latest round.

 with a goal to commercialize high potential candidates through the drug development process. The company plans to continue to expand its work with corporate partners, which currently include major players in the biopharma space including Eli Lilly and Company, Bayer, Hansoh Pharmaceuticals, and Bridge Biotherapeutics, as well as emerging biotechnology companies like StemoniX and SEngine Precision Medicine. Atomwise has signed approximately $5.5 billion in deal value with corporate partners to date.

To date, Atomwise has worked with 750 academic research collaborations addressing over 600 disease targets, to model and screen over 16 billion new molecules for virtual screening. These molecules have generated 17 pending patent applications and several peer-reviewed publications. There are 285 active drug discovery partnerships with researchers at top universities around the world, and recently announced 15 research collaborations with global universities to explore broad-spectrum therapies for COVID-19, targeting 15 unique and novel mechanisms of action.

“New technologies are enabling better and faster R&D for the life science industry,” said Raj Ganguly, co-Founder and Managing Partner at B Capital Group . “The advancements Atomwise has made with its computational drug discovery platform have effectively cut months or even years off of the R&D lifecycle. More importantly, however, they are solving biology problems previously believed to be unsolvable by researchers and delivering that capability to everyone from academics to big pharma. We’re excited to continue to partner with the Atomwise team on its mission to develop new, more effective therapies.”

For lead investor, B Capital, the Atomwise investment is part of a thesis around lowering the cost of care and improving outcomes.

“Companies like Atomwise that are improving the cost curve are in the same vein of bringing therapies to market faster and cheaper. Which means you can improve access and improve costs and address things like rare diseases,” said Adam Seabrook, a principal at B Capital focused on healthcare.

#ame-cloud-ventures, #articles, #atomwise, #b-capital-group, #bayer, #biotechnology, #chief-executive-officer, #disease, #drug-development, #drug-discovery, #health, #healthcare, #insurance, #life-sciences, #machine-learning, #partner, #quantum-computing, #raj-ganguly, #series-b, #tc, #tencent, #y-combinator

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Sight Diagnostics raises $71M Series D for its blood analyzer

Sight Diagnostics, the Israel-based health-tech company behind the FDA-cleared OLO blood analyzer, today announced that it has raised a $71 million Series D round with participation from Koch Disruptive Technologies, Longliv Ventures (which led its Series C round)and crowd-funding platform OurCrowd. With this, the company has now raised a total of $124 million, though the company declined to share its current valuation.

With a founding team that used to work at Mobileye, among other companies, Sight made an early bet on using machine vision to analyze blood samples and provide a full blood count comparable to existing lab tests within minutes. The company received FDA clearance late last year, something that surely helped clear the way for this additional round of funding.

Image Credits: Sight Diagnostics

“Historically, blood tests were done by humans observing blood under a microscope. That was the case for maybe 200 years,” Sight CEO and co-founder Yossi Pollak told me. “About 60 years ago, a new technology called FCM — or flow cytometry — started to be used on large volume of blood from venous samples to do it automatically. In a sense, we are going back to the first approach, we just replaced the human eye behind the microscope with machine vision.”

Pollak noted that the tests generate about 60 gigabytes of information (a lot of that is the images, of course) and that he believes that the complete blood count is only a first step. One of the diseases it is looking to diagnose is COVID-19. To do so, the company has placed devices in hospitals around the world to see if it can gather the data to detect anomalies that may indicate the severity of some of the aspects of the disease.

“We just kind of scratched the surface of the ability of AI to help with with a wish with blood diagnostics,” said Pollak. “Specifically now, there’s so much value around COVID in decentralizing diagnostics and blood tests. Think keeping people — COVID-negative or -positive —  outside of hospitals to reduce the busyness of hospitals and reduce the risk for contamination for cancer patients and a lot of other populations that require constant complete blood counts. I think there’s a lot of potential and a lot of a value that we can bring specifically now to different markets and we are definitely looking into additional applications beyond [complate blood count] and also perfecting our product.”

So far, Sight Diagnostics has applied for 20 patents and eight have been issued so far. And while machine learning is obviously at the core of what the company does — with the models running on the OLO machine and not in the cloud — Pollak also stressed that the team has made breakthroughs around the sample preparation to allow it to automatically prepare the sample for analysis.

Image Credits: Sight Diagnostics

Pollok stressed that the company focused on the U.S. market with this funding round, which makes sense, given that it was still looking for its FDA clearance. He also noted that this marks Koch Disrupt Technologies’ third investment in Israel, with the other two also being healthcare startups.

“KDT’s investment in Sight is a testament to the company’s disruptive technology that we believe will fundamentally change the way blood diagnostic work is done,’ said Chase Koch, President of Koch Disruptive Technologies . “We’re proud to partner with the Sight team, which has done incredible work innovating this technology to transform modern healthcare and provide greater efficiency and safety for patients, healthcare workers, and hospitals worldwide.”

The company now has about 100 employees, mostly in R&D, with offices in London and New York.

#artificial-intelligence, #cancer, #disease, #fda, #food-and-drug-administration, #health, #healthcare, #israel, #koch-disruptive-technologies, #london, #machine-learning, #machine-vision, #medicine, #mobileye, #new-york, #ourcrowd, #partner, #president, #sight-diagnostics, #tc, #united-states

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Bit Bio’s “enter button for the keyboard to the software of life” nabs the company $41.5 million

Bit Bio, the new startup which pitches itself as the “enter button for the keyboard to the software of life” only needed three weeks to raise its latest $41.5 million round of funding.

Originally known as Elpis Biotechnology and named for the Greek goddess of hope, the Cambridge, England-based company was founded by Mark Kotter in 2016 to commercialize technology that can reduce the cost and increase the production capacity for human cell lines. These cells can be used in targeted gene therapies and as a method to accelerate drug discovery at pharmaceutical companies.

The company’s goal is to be able to reproduce every human cell type.

“We’re just at a very crucial time in biology and medicine and the bottleneck that has become really clear is a scalable source of robust human cells,” said Kotter. “For drug discovery this is important. When you look at failure rates in clinical trials they’re at an all time high… that’s in direct contradiction to the massive advancements in biotechnology in research and the field.”

In the seventeen years since scientists completely mapped the human genome, and eight years since scientists began using the gene editing technology known as CRISPR to edit genetic material, there’s been an explosion of treatments based on individual patient’s genetic material and new drugs developed to more precisely target the mechanisms that pathogens use to spread through organisms.

These treatments and the small molecule drugs being created to stop the spread of pathogens or reduce the effects of disease require significant testing before coming to market — and Bit Bio’s founder thinks his company can both reduce the time to market and offer new treatments for patients.

It’s a thesis that had investors like the famous serial biotech entrepreneur, Richard Klausner, who served as the former director of the National Cancer Institute and founder of revolutionary biotech companies like Lyell Immunopharma, Juno, and Grail, leaping at the chance to invest in Bit Bio’s business, according to Kotter.

Joining Klausner are the famous biotech investment firms Foresite Capital, Blueyard Capital and Arch Venture Partners.

“Bit Bio is based on beautiful science. The company’s technology has the potential to bring the long-awaited precision and reliability of engineering to the application of stem cells,” said Klausner in a statement. “Bit Bio’s approach represents a paradigm shift in biology that will enable a new generation of cell therapies, improving the lives of millions.”

Photo: Andrew Brookes/Getty Images

Kotter’s own path to develop the technology which lies at the heart of Bit Bio’s business began a decade ago in a laboratory in Cambridge University. It was there that he began research building on the revolutionary discoveries of Shinya Yamanaka, which enabled scientists to transform human adult cells into embryonic stem cells.

“What we did is what Yamanaka did. We turned everything upside down. We want to know how each cell is defined… and once we know that we can flip the switch,” said Kotter. “We find out which transcription factors code for a single cell and we turn it on.”

Kotter said the technology is like uploading a new program into the embryonic stem cell.

Although the company is still in its early days, it has managed to attract a few key customers and launch a sister company based on the technology. That company, Meatable, is using the same process to make lab-grown pork.

Meatable is the earliest claimant to a commercially viable, patented process for manufacturing meat cells without the need to kill an animal as a prerequisite for cell differentiation and growth.

Other companies have relied on fetal bovine serum or Chinese hamster ovaries to stimulate cell division and production, but Meatable says it has developed a process where it can sample tissue from an animal, revert that tissue to a pluripotent stem cell, then culture that cell sample into muscle and fat to produce the pork products that palates around the world crave.

“We know which DNA sequence is responsible for moving an early-stage cell to a muscle cell,” says Meatable chief executive Krijn De Nood.

If that sounds similar to Bit Bio, that’s because it’s the same tech — just used to make animal instead of human cells.

Image: PASIEKA/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

If Meatable is one way to commercialize the cell differentiation technology, Bit Bio’s partnership with the drug development company Charles River Laboratories is another.

“We actually do have a revenue generating business side using human cells for research and drug discovery. We have a partnership with Charles River Laboratories the large preclinical contract research organization,” Kotter said. “That partnership is where we have given early access to our technology to Charles River… They have their own usual business clients who want them to help with their drug discovery. The big bottleneck at the moment is access to human cells.”

Drug trials fail because the treatments developed either are toxic or don’t work in humans. The difference is that most experiments to prove how effective the treatments are rely on animal testing before making the leap to human trials, Kotter said.

The company is also preparing to develop its own cell therapies, according to Kotter. There, the biggest selling point is the increased precision that  Bit Bio can bring to precision medicine, said Kotter. “If you look at these cell therapies at the moment you get mixed bags of cells. There are some that work and some that have dangerous side effects. We think we can be precise [and] safety is the biggest thing at this point.”

The company claims that it can produce cell lines in less than a week with 100 percent purity, versus the mixed bags from other companies cell cultures.

“Our moonshot goal is to develop a platform capable of producing every human cell type. This is possible once we understand the genes governing human cell behaviour, which ultimately form the ‘operating system of life’,” Kotter said in a statement. “This will unlock a new generation of cell and tissue therapies for tackling cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and autoimmune diseases and accelerate the development of effective drugs for a range of conditions. The support of leading deep tech and biotech investors will catalyse this unique convergence of biology and engineering.”

 

#arch-venture-partners, #biology, #biotechnology, #blueyard-capital, #cambridge-university, #cancer, #crispr, #director, #disease, #drug-development, #drug-discovery, #foresite-capital, #founder, #grail, #juno, #life-sciences, #meatable, #operating-system, #stem-cells, #tc, #united-kingdom

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Researchers use biometrics, including data from the Oura Ring, to predict COVID-19 symptoms in advance

A team of researchers from the West Virginia University (WVU) Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI), along with WVU’s Medicine department and staff from Oura Health have developed a platform they say can be used to anticipate the onset of COVID-19 symptoms in otherwise healthy people up to three days in advance. This can help with screening of pre-symptomatic individuals, the researchers suggest, enabling earlier testing and potentially reducing the exposure risk among frontline healthcare and essential workers.

The sudsy involved using biometric data gathered by the Oura Ring, a consumer wearable that looks like a normal metallic ring, but that includes sensors to monitor a number of physiological metrics, including body temperature, sleep patterns, activity, heart rate and more. RNI and WVU Medical researchers combined this data with physiological, cognitive and behaviroral biometric info from around 600 healthcare workers and first responders.

Participants in the study wore the Oura Ring, and provided additional data that was then used to develop AI-based models to anticipate the onset of symptoms before they physically manifested. While these are early results from a phase one study, and yet to be peer-reviewed, the researchers say that their results showed a 90 percent accuracy rate on predicting the occurrence of symptoms including fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue and more, all of which could indicate that someone has contracted COVID-19. While that doesn’t mean that individuals have the disease, a flag from the platform could mean they seek testing up to three days before symptoms appear, which in turn would mean three fewer days potentially exposing others around them to infection.

Next up, the study hopes to expand to cover as many as 10,000 participants across a number of different institutions in multiple states, with other academic partners on board to support the expansion. The study was fully funded by the RNI and their supporters, with Oura joining strictly in a facilitating capacity and to assist with hardware for deployment.

Many projects have been undertaken to see whether predictive models could help anticipate COVID-19 onset prior to the expression of symptoms, or in individuals who present as mostly or entirely asymptomatic based on general observation. This early result from RNI suggests that it is indeed possible, and that hardware already available to the general public could play an important role in making it possible.

#artificial-intelligence, #biometrics, #biotech, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #disease, #fatigue, #fever, #gadgets, #health, #identification, #infection, #neuroscience, #oura, #surveillance, #tc

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LetsGetChecked raises $71 million as COVID-19 epidemic makes home-testing increasingly vital

As the country wrestles with the COVID-19 epidemic, home health testing, checkups and diagnostics have never been more important and companies like LetsGetChecked are filling a void left in a U.S. healthcare system consumed by the outbreak.

The surge in demand for the company’s services has led to an equal surge in investor interest, and LetsGetChecked is one of many home health and remote diagnostics companies to raise new capital during the pandemic.

The company’s new $71 million financing isn’t just about the services the company can provide during the COVID-19 epidemic. Now that an increasing number of Americans are accessing home health services, they’ll likely continue to use them thanks to their convenience and ease of use, according to LetsGetChecked chief executive, Peter Foley.

“People are very focused on COVID-19. [But] we’re seeing trends of increases in everything else,” said Foley. “This situation has definitely legitimized the space of home diagnostics. We are seeing spikes in those kinds of tests. Everything that needs monitoring we’re seeing spikes in.”

Most consumers are avoiding doctors, hospitals and clinics out of concern over the epidemic and that’s pushing them to use telemedicine and remote testing services, said Foley.

And the company has stepped up to address the coronavirus outbreak itself. The company, which has a manufacturing facility in Queens where it makes its own test kits has been unfazed by the supply chain issues that have hit other companies, said Foley. And LetsGetChecked has a certified lab facility where it can conduct its own tests.

LetsGetChecked at-home Coronavirus test kit.

Right now, the company is offering both a serological test (sourced from a Korean lab and awaiting approval by the FDA) and a PCR test (from ThermoFisher) for SARS-CoV-2 and is looking to expand the scope of its tests. The LetsGetChecked tests include a rapid (antibody) serology test for results within 15 minutes, followed by a PCR-based test which requires a swab sample to be collected from a patient and later processed within the LetsGetChecked high complexity CLIA lab in Monrovia, Calif., the company said. Initially the testing was for first responders and those most at risk from the disease, but the population that the company is testing is expanding as the spread of the virus slows.

“We were fortunate enough to be in a position where we could help people now,” says Foley.

LetsGetChecked isn’t the only startup at work developing and distributing home testing services for the coronavirus. Everlywell and Scanwell Health are two other startups that have been developing and selling home test kits as well.

LetsGetChecked began fundraising four months ago, and even then, in the days before COVID-19 hit American shores, the environment for raising capital had tightened, Foley said.

In the days before the disease reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. LetsGetChecked was pitching its ability to test at-home or through partner retailers for cancer screening, sexual health, fertility and pharmacogenomic testing.

Users can buy tests and collect samples at home before sending them to LetsGetChecked’s facility. The company connects its customers to board-certified physicians to discuss abnormal results and determine a course of action for treatment

The company’s initial pitch and the promise of a vast remote diagnostics market was enough to convince Illumina Ventures, which co-led the round with HLM Venture Partners. Other new investors included Deerfield, CommonFund Capital, and Angeles Investment Advisors. Previous investors Transformation Capital, Optum Vnetures, and Qiming Venture Partners USA also participated.

For Illumina Ventures, the LetsGetChecked remote testing service can serve as a channel for some of the tests under development at the firm’s other healthcare portfolio companies, according to Nick Naclerio, a founding partner at Illumina Ventures and a new director on the LetsGetChecked board.

“A lot of companies developing cutting edge new tests have challenges building a channel into the broader market,” said Naclerio. “Here is a company going after building the kind of future, patient-initiated testing channel that the world needs and is probably synergistic with some of the companies that are doing next generation testing.”

Those would be companies like Serimmune, which is developing tests to map the human immune system, or Genome Medical, which applies the latest understanding of the human genome to treatments for patients. The firm also has investments in cancer screening companies like Grail, which is aiming to provide an early detection diagnostic for cancer.

Naclerio also sees a dramatic shift in consumer behavior on the horizon in the post-COVID-19 world.

“COVID presents a tremendous need for at-home infectious disease testing or at-work infectious disease testing,” he said. “This is breaking down a lot of the barriers that have historically slowed the adoption of telehealth… It creates an opportunity for LetsGetChecked even once we get over the peak of the curve. There’s going to be a lasting impact.”

#california, #cancer, #companies, #director, #disease, #everlywell, #fda, #grail, #healthcare, #letsgetchecked, #nick-naclerio, #partner, #qiming-venture-partners, #scanwell, #tc, #telemedicine, #united-states

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Can API vendors solve healthcare’s data woes?

A functioning healthcare system depends on caregivers having the right data at the right time to make the right decision about what course of treatment a patient needs.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 epidemic and the acceleration of the consumer adoption of telemedicine, along with the fragmentation of care to a number of different low-cost providers, access to a patient’s medical records to get an accurate picture of their health becomes even more important.

Opening access to developers also could unlock new, integrated services that could give consumers a better window into their own health and consumer product companies opportunities to develop new tools to improve health.

While hospitals, urgent care facilities and health systems have stored patient records electronically for years thanks to laws passed under the Clinton administration, those records were difficult for patients themselves to access. The way the system has been historically structured has made it nearly impossible for an individual to access their entire medical history.

It’s a huge impediment to ensuring that patients receive the best care they possibly can, and until now it’s been a boulder that companies have long tried to roll uphill, only to have it roll over them.

Now, new regulations are requiring that the developers of electronic health records can’t obstruct interoperability and access by applications. Those new rules may unlock a wave of new digital services.

At least that’s what companies like the New York-based startup Particle Health are hoping to see. The startup was founded by a former emergency medical technician and consultant, Troy Bannister, and longtime software engineer for companies like Palantir and Google, Dan Horbatt.

Particle Health is stepping into the breach with an API -based solution that borrows heavily from the work that Plaid and Stripe have done in the world of financial services. It’s a gambit that’s receiving support from investors including Menlo Ventures, Startup Health, Collaborative Fund, Story Ventures and Company Ventures, as well as angel investors from the leadership of Flatiron Health, Clover Health, Plaid, Petal and Hometeam.

Image via Getty Images / OstapenkoOlena

“My first reaction when I met Troy, and he was describing what they’re doing, was that it couldn’t be done,” said Greg Yap, a partner with Menlo Ventures, who leads the firm’s life sciences investments. “We’ve understood how much of a challenge and how much of a tax the lack of easy portability of data puts on the healthcare system, but the problem has always felt like there are so many obstacles that it is too difficult to solve.”

What convinced Yap’s firm, Menlo Ventures, and the company’s other backers, was an ability to provide both data portability and privacy in a way that put patients’ choice at the center of how data is used and accessed, the investor said.

“[A service] has to be portable for it to be useful, but it has to be private for it to be well-used,” says Yap. 

The company isn’t the first business to raise money for a data integration service. Last year, Redox, a Madison, Wis.-based developer of API services for hospitals, raised $33 million in a later-stage round of funding. Meanwhile, Innovaccer, another API developer, has raised more than $100 million from investors for its own take.

Each of these companies is solving a different problem that the information silos in the medical industry presents, according to Patterson. “Their integrations are focused one-to-one on hospitals,” he said. Application developers can use Redox’s services to gain access to medical records from a particular hospital network, he explained. Whereas using Particle Health’s technology, developers can get access to an entire network.

“They get contracts and agreements with the hospitals. We go up the food chain and get contracts with the [electronic medical records],” said Patterson.

One of the things that’s given Particle Health a greater degree of freedom to acquire and integrate with existing healthcare systems is the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016. That law required that the providers of electronic medical records like Cerner and EPIC had to remove any roadblocks that would keep patient data siloed. Another is the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement, which was just enacted in the past month.

“We don’t like betting on companies that require a change in law to become successful,” said Yap of the circumstances surrounding Particle’s ability to leapfrog well-funded competitors. But the opportunity to finance a company that could solve a core problem in digital healthcare was too compelling.

“What we’re really saying is that consumers should have access to their medical records,” he said.

Isometric Healthcare and technology concept banner. Medical exams and online consultation concept. Medicine. Vector illustration

This access can make consumer wearables more useful by potentially linking them — and the health data they collect — with clinical data used by physicians to actually make care and treatment decisions. Most devices today are not clinically recognized and don’t have any real integration into the healthcare system. Access to better data could change that on both sides.

“Digital health application might be far more effective if it can take into context information in the medical record today,” said Yap. “That’s one example where the patient will get much greater impact from the digital health applications if the digital health applications can access all of the information that the medical system collected.” 

With the investment, which values Particle Health at roughly $48 million, Bannister and his team are looking to move aggressively into more areas of digital healthcare services.

“Right now, we’re focusing on telemedicine,” said Bannister. “We’re moving into the payer space… As it stands today we’re really servicing the third parties that need the records. Our core belief is that patients want control of their data but they don’t want the stewardship.”

The company’s reach is impressive. Bannister estimates that Particle Health can hit somewhere between 250 and 300 million of the patient records that have been generated in the U.S. “We have more or less solved the fragmentation problem. We have one API that can pull information from almost everywhere.”

So far, Particle Health has eight live contracts with telemedicine and virtual health companies using its API, which have pulled 1.4 million patient records to date.

The way it works right now, when you give them permission to access your data it’s for a very specific purpose of use… they can only use it for that one thing. Let’s say you were using a telemedicine service. I allow this doctor to view my records for the purpose of treatment only. After that we have built a way for you to revoke access after the point,” Bannister said.

Particle Health’s peers in the world of API development also see the power in better, more open access to data. “A lot of money has been spent and a lot of blood and sweat went into putting [electronic medical records] out there,” said Innovaccer chief digital officer Mike Sutten.

The former chief technology officer of Kaiser Permanente, Sutten knows healthcare technology. “The next decade is about ‘let’s take advantage of all of this data.’ Let’s give back to physicians and give them access to all that data and think about the consumers and the patients,” Sutten said.

Innovaccer is angling to provide its own tools to centralize data for physicians and consumers. “The less friction there is in getting that data extracted, the more benefit we can provide to consumers and clinicians,” said Sutten.

Already, Particle Health is thinking about ways its API can help application developers create tools to help with the management of COVID-19 populations and potentially finding ways to ease the current lockdowns in place due to the disease’s outbreak.

“If you’ve had an antibody test or PCR test in the past… we should have access to that data and we should be able to provide that data at scale,” said Bannister. 

“There’s probably other risk-indicating factors that could at least help triage or clear groups as well… has this person been quarantined has this person been to the hospital in the past month or two… things like that can help bridge the gap,” between the definitive solution of universal testing and the lack of testing capacity to make that a reality, he said. 

“We’re definitely working on these public health initiatives,” Bannister said. Soon, the company’s technology — and other services like it — could be working behind the scenes in private healthcare initiatives from some of the nation’s biggest companies as software finally begins to take bigger bites out of the consumer health industry.

#api, #cerner, #chief-digital-officer, #chief-technology-officer, #collaborative-fund, #digital-healthcare, #digital-services, #disease, #financial-services, #flatiron-health, #getty-images, #google, #greg-yap, #health, #health-care, #health-systems, #healthcare-technology, #innovaccer, #kaiser-permanente, #madison, #menlo-ventures, #new-york, #palantir, #partner, #practice-fusion, #primary-care, #redox, #software-engineer, #startup-health, #story-ventures, #tc, #telehealth, #telemedicine, #united-states, #wisconsin

0

NEA-backed Personal Genome Diagnostics receives FDA clearance for its cancer diagnostic

Personal Genome Diagnostics, the venture-backed developer of a novel diagnostic kit for genomic profiling of different cancers in lab settings, has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its PGDx elio tissue complete test.

The test’s approval is another step forward for precision therapies that rely on an understanding of the unique genomic profile of an individual patient’s tumor, according to the company.

The test detects single nucleotide variants and the small insertions and deletions known as indels. Single nucleotide variants, indels, and identifying characteristics like the tumor mutation burden can be used by physicians to determine how rapidly a disease like cancer to progress and can provide essential targets for precision therapies to individual tumors.

The information doctors collect from these tests can also be used to help oncologists identify patients for clinical trials.

The new diagnostics test cover 35 different tumor types.

“There has not, until this point, been one standardized test for all kinds of cancer that any lab across the country can perform,” said Dr. Pranil Chandra, Chief Medical Officer of Genomic and Clinical Pathology Services, PathGroup, an early collaborator for PGDx elio tissue complete, in a statement. “With this clearance, labs across the country will for the first time have an option for a regulated, standardized test that examines a broad view of cancer pathways and genomic signatures across advanced cancers.”

To date, Personal Genome Diagnostics has raised over $99 million, according to Crunchbase. The company’s investors include New Enterprise Associates, Bristol Myers Squibb, Inova Strategic Investments, Co-win Healthcare Fund, Helsinn Investment Fund, Windham Venture Partners, Maryland Venture Fund

“We are proud to have led the first institutional round for PGDx,” said Dr. Justin Klein, in a statement when the company raised a $75 million round back in 2018. “Rapid advances in immuno-oncology, targeted agents, and combination cancer therapies are heightening the importance of tumor genome testing that enables treatments to be targeted to those patients most likely to benefit.”

 

#biology, #biotechnology, #cancer, #disease, #life-sciences, #new-enterprise-associates, #tc, #tumor

0

Bill Gates details how his foundation shifted focus “almost entirely” to addressing COVID-19

Microsoft founder Bill Gates spoke to the Financial Times (via Fast Company) about how the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has shifted “almost entirely” to working on addressing COVID-19, in the interest of making the post impact possible in the ongoing effort to contain and combat the global coronavirus pandemic. Gates told the FT that the spread of COVID-19 could have dire economic consequences which will result in more suffering globally than anyone could’ve anticipated, hence the need to address it with the full weight of the resources of one of the world’s most well-capitalized charitable organizations.

The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation has been funding vaccine trials, clinical studies and basic research related to drug and therapy development for COVID-19 since basically the disease debuted on the world scene. It means that the exiting mandate of the foundation, which includes seeking to eradicate polio and AIDS worldwide, will be temporarily slowed or paused while the organization focuses its resources on the pandemic, but Gates’ decision to focus the group’s significant resources here should only emphasize the seriousness of the situation.

The foundation’s temporary shift is actually, long-term, the best way it can serve its core goals, since the global impact of the coronavirus crisis is likely to have repercussions for every aspect of human life, including access to medical care, testing and therapies, not to mention food and basic necessities. Curbing the disease’s spread early could have the most significant impact in economies ill-prepared to deal with the fallout, and any impact there will eventually result in better ability to work on eradicating those other diseases in a reasonable timeline, instead of undermining local infrastructure and allowing them a longer foothold.

In a 2015 TED talk, Gates predicted the coming of a global outbreak and urged global health organizations and governments to come together to prepare for what to do in case of a large, widespread contagion. Gates was working mostly from the perspective of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which exposed many of the existing gaps and flaws in the system, but his advice seems prescient in retrospect.

Unfortunately, Gates has been subject to a lot of spreading misinformation and bogus conspiracy theory nonsense owing to heightened paranoia and activity among groups that normally peddle in this kind of falsehood. Based on this interview, Gates seems to essentially expect that as something of a matter of course for high-profile individuals, however, and it doesn’t appear to be impacting the foundation’s ability to focus on potential fixes.

#aids, #articles, #bill-melinda-gates-foundation, #bill-gates, #biotech, #contents, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #disease, #ebola, #food, #gates, #health, #melinda-gates, #microsoft, #pandemic, #tc, #the-financial-times, #world-health-organization

0

Curative received FDA emergency use authorization for its novel COVID-19 tests

The diagnostics startup Curative has received an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its novel test to determine COVID-19 infection.

The company says that its tests have already been used by the City of Los Angeles since late March and have tested over 53,000 city residents.

Curative’s tests use an oral-fluid sample collected by having the subject cough to produce sputum, which release the virus from deep in the lungs, according to a spokesperson.

Here’s how the letter digitally signed by the FDA’s chief science officer, Denise Hinton, describes the Rucative test:

To use your product, SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid is first extracted, isolated and purified from oropharyngeal (throat) swab, nasopharyngeal swab, nasal swab, and oral fluid specimens. The purified nucleic acid is then reverse transcribed into cDNA followed by PCR amplification and detection using an authorized real-time (RT) PCR instrument. The Curative-Korva SARS-Cov-2 Assay uses all commercially sourced materials or other authorized materials and authorized ancillary reagents commonly used in clinical laboratories as described in the authorized procedures submitted as part of the EUA request. 

Curative, which was first covered by DotLA, is processing the tests in conjunction with Korva Labs, a testing facility associated with UCLA.

These tests hope to get around the supply chain shortages that constrain the number of tests the US can conduct. Currently, the US is still experiencing a shortage of test kits because the supply chain for critical components used in test kits has been disrupted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the company said.

Curative is working to build alternatives to many of the sample collection and extraction kit components and what it calls more scalable RNA extraction methods that don’t rely on the use of magnetic silica beads.

The company was initially founded in January 2020 to focus on a novel test for sepsis, but pivoted to focus on COVID-19 testing as the disease swept across the globe.

“Our goal is to assemble an orthogonal supply chain to supply coronavirus test kits. Doing so will help us avoid buying materials that would constrain public health and CDC laboratories from ramping up production,” the company said on its website. “We are also working to partner with other operations looking to spin up testing facilities to help them source necessary reagents.”

Curative says that its test is better for two reasons. Its sampling method reduces the risk of exposure for healthcare workers and requires less Personal Protective Equipment and its use of an alternative supply chain means it can scale tests rapidly.

The company can already process roughly 5,000 tests per day and is manufacturing 20,000 test kits over the same period. Test results can be delivered in around 31 hours.

“Broad access to testing is critical to our nation’s response to COVID-19 and with this authorization, we can continue scaling and distributing our test nationwide,” said Fred Turner, the chief executive and founder of Curative Inc. “Our work with the Cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach has helped thousands of people access testing at drive-through facilities and we are fully equipped to expand that access to help thousands more across the country. At the same time, we are continuing to work with the FDA to validate our test for at-home collection, which would expand access even more.”

With the new authorization, the company is going to begin working with additional distributors around the country.

The Curative tests are already used by Los Angeles, Long Beach and through testing organized by LA County and the LA County Fire and Sherrif’s Department. The tests aren’t being sold directly to consumers and must be ordered by a physician, the company said.

Backed by the venture firm DCVC, Curative has already been the subject of some controversy when its investor sent a letter to limited partners indicating they’d be able to get access to the Curative tests upon request.

The firm wrote:

“… please let us know as soon as possible if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are unable to get tested. Through a unique relationship with one of our portfolio companies, we will expedite delivery of a test kit (simple, fast, safe saliva/cheek swab) that should provide results within 1-3 days via return by mail.”

In a subsequent blog post, the partners at DCVC explained their outreach.

With changes in regulations enabling telemedicine across state lines, we wanted to make sure everyone DCVC knows was aware of Carbon’s excellent care and full suite of testing. And yes, that includes people who work at our Limited Partners, who are making difficult decisions for themselves and their families in difficult times like the rest of us.

With Carbon moving at the pace they do with their fast, friendly electronic on-boarding, and with Curative’s testing capability likely ramping to 10,000+ tests a day in the next ten days, the combined health care firepower can indeed “expedite” care for everybody.

Was our language a little boastful? Yes, no excuses. And we’re sorry if folks got the wrong idea. No one is “jumping in line.” We will always strive to point out to our friends and community where they can get quick access to quality care as well as access to other cutting-edge technology in our portfolio.

Accurate testing remains the most important feature of any effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak and a number of startup companies are working on novel diagnostics.

As Harvard University epidemiologist, William Hanage told Business Insider, “Figuring out what’s actually going on in the community is the key part of dealing with this pandemic.”

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