To help people with long COVID, scientists need to define it

A white-haired woman in a wheelchair looks out a window.

Enlarge (credit: Morsa Images | Getty Images)

Almost from the beginning of the COVID pandemic, reports have accumulated of persistent, weird, disabling symptoms in survivors, a syndrome that’s come to be known as long COVID. The complex of fatigue, confusion, heart arrhythmias, gut disorders, and other problems—which may persist months after an infection begins or arise months after it seems to have concluded—has attracted attention and sympathy, intense patient activism, substantial research interest, and huge government investment. Last December, the US Congress voted in $1.15 billion to fund four years of research into long COVID, and this February, the US National Institutes of Health announced it would use those funds to create a nested set of large studies examining adult and child experiences of the syndrome.

What makes long COVID research urgent is also what makes it, at this point, so challenging. No one has yet been able to determine its cause, beyond the association that it occurs in people who have had COVID—or who think they did but weren’t able to get a test to prove it. This makes it difficult to understand and therefore to predict who is vulnerable: why one patient develops lasting symptoms and another does not.

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#covid-19, #healthcare, #long-covid, #sars-cov-2, #science

Instacart shopper activist group asks customers to delete the app until demands for better conditions are met

Yesterday, the Gig Workers Collective — representing a body of about 13,000 Instacart shoppers — launched a #DeleteInstacart campaign, urging customers to delete the Instacart app as a show of solidarity with workers advocating for better treatment. The collective of shoppers asked that customers refrain from reinstalling the app until five demands are met. They are asking to be paid by individual order, not by a batch of orders; to re-introduce item-based commissions; to ensure the rating system doesn’t punish shoppers for issues beyond their control; to provide occupational death benefits; and to make the default tip at least 10%, up from the current 5% default.

“We’re deeply committed to creating the best possible experience for our shopper community. Over the past several years, this unwavering commitment has led us to introduce new features, policies, offerings, and support for shoppers — significantly improving the shopper experience and resulting in the highest shopper sentiment in company history. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve invested in countless new measures to support the health and safety of the shopper community. We take shopper feedback very seriously and remain committed to listening to and using that feedback to improve their experience,” Instacart said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

Instacart employs 500,000 shoppers, the company said, up from 200,000 before a pandemic-driven hiring spree. The company told TechCrunch that its payment structure has not changed since February 2019. That month, the company faced a class-action lawsuit over its practice of subsidizing wages with tips — Instacart had previously instituted a $10 earning minimum per order, but on small orders that totaled less than $10, customer tips would subsidize the rest of the cost (so, if a customer bought $8 of food and tipped $3, the customer would receive $10 plus $1 in tips, rather than the $10 minimum plus a $3 tip). Former CEO Apoorva Mehta wrote an apology to shoppers and affirmed that tips should always be separate from employee compensation, and Instacart retroactively compensated shoppers whose tips were included in minimums.

A Gig Workers Collective lead organizer and Instacart shopper, Willy Solis said that he was hopeful workers’ concerns would be met when Fidji Simo took over as Instacart CEO in August. Since then, the company set up an inbox for shoppers to send messages to a VP or CEO. Instacart said that Simo has been regularly conversing with shoppers about their experiences on the job, but Solis said that shoppers don’t feel like their concerns are being heard.

“While we had hope, there seems to be a disconnect from what she’s saying publicly and what she’s actually doing,” Solis told TechCrunch.

On her first day as CEO, Simo wrote an open letter to Instacart shoppers asking for feedback. In response, the Gig Workers Collective outlined the same five demands that they shared again yesterday, posing them as dire issues that needed to be addressed. But the collective said their letter was ignored, and shoppers’ emails to Simo were met with canned responses.

“Each time the company gives us one thing, they take something else away,” the Gig Workers Collective wrote. When former CEO Mehta apologized for subsidizing wages with tip money, Instacart changed the minimum order payment from $10 to a range between $7 and $10 per batch, which can contain up to three orders. The issue of batch order payment has become a key part of the Gig Workers Collective’s demands.

“If we shopped a single order, the base pay would be $7, but if we shopped three orders at once, the base pay would be $7 for the lot. Instead of a shopper fulfilling three orders for a total of $30 base, we now do it for $7 base,” the collective wrote in their post today. “This is effectively a 76% cut to base pay, and is unacceptable.”

Shoppers can see what payment is offered before they accept a batch. But Solis told TechCrunch that there is “no rhyme or reason” to the way orders are batched.

“You would think that they would be in the same geographic location that you’re delivering to, but they’re not,” he said. “It can be totally different parts of the city, so you have to drive east for one and west for the other.”

Instacart said that batching orders makes it possible for shoppers to earn three separate tips, and that the $7 base is a minimum that is adjusted based on time, effort, items, mileage, and other factors. But tipping is another hot issue for organizers.

“We rely on tips heavily,” Solis said. “Without tips, a large majority of orders that we take are not beneficial or profitable for us.”

The default tip on Instacart is set at 5%, which means customers must manually select a higher tip. Organizers want Instacart to make the default tip 10%. Instacart told TechCrunch that tipping is encouraged, but not required. Though the default tip is 5%, the company said, if a user chooses a different tip percentage, then that percentage will become the default for their following order. So, if a customer tips 15% on their first order, for example, then their second order will default to a 15% tip instead of a 5% tip.

The collective is also demanding occupational death benefits due to the risk of shoppers’ work during the coronavirus pandemic; even beyond that, one Instacart shopper Lynn Murray was killed in a mass shooting while on the job. But Instacart does offer coronavirus protections to its shoppers, as well as shopper injury protection, which is inclusive of accidental death benefits. For example, if a part-time employee or full-service shopper is diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in mandatory isolation, they can receive up to 14 days’ pay. Accrued sick pay is also available to in-store shoppers; pay is determined by the shopper’s average daily earnings. Instacart also provides a vaccine support stipend, enabling workers to take time off to get vaccinated, and offers access to free telemedicine and safety supplies. But in May 2020, the Gig Workers Collective alleged that a shopper who was on a ventilator was denied payment and healthcare under Instacart’s COVID-19 policy. Instacart reaffirmed to TechCrunch that since March 2020, shoppers have been able to receive up to 14 days’ pay if they have COVID-19 or are in mandatory isolation.

But some of shoppers’ health benefits were only extended after the Gig Workers Collective staged an emergency walkout on March 30, 2020. At the time, the collective said Instacart didn’t provide PPE or sick pay to people who had a doctor’s note urging them not to be on the job (for example, people who were quarantined due to an exposure).

Instacart didn’t indicate to TechCrunch that it has any plans to address the Gig Workers Collective’s demands. As Instacart considers going public, Solis thinks now is a good time to take shoppers’ demands to the next level by asking customers to boycott the service.

“People that speak out against us taking action will say things like, ‘You know, if you don’t want to do this, get another job,’” Solis said. “But the problem is that this work is so exploitative that if somebody doesn’t take a stand, then the next person in line is going to be exploited. Together, we gain so much power and traction by collectively speaking out.”

#activism, #apoorva-mehta, #apps, #ceo, #economy, #fidji-simo, #food, #gig, #gig-workers, #healthcare, #instacart, #labor, #telemedicine, #vp

The next healthcare revolution will have AI at its center

The global pandemic has heightened our understanding and sense of importance of our own health and the fragility of healthcare systems around the world. We’ve all come to realize how archaic many of our health processes are, and that, if we really want to, we can move at lightning speed. This is already leading to a massive acceleration in both the investment and application of artificial intelligence in the health and medical ecosystems.

Modern medicine in the 20th century benefited from unprec­edented scientific breakthroughs, resulting in improvements in every as­pect of healthcare. As a result, human life expectancy increased from 31 years in 1900 to 72 years in 2017. Today, I believe we are on the cusp of another healthcare revolution — one driven by artificial intelligence (AI). Advances in AI will usher in the era of modern medicine in truth.

Over the coming decades, we can expect medical diagnosis to evolve from an AI tool that provides analysis of options to an AI assistant that recommends treatments.

Digitization enables powerful AI

The healthcare sector is seeing massive digitization of everything from patient records and radiology data to wearable computing and multiomics. This will redefine healthcare as a data-driven industry, and when that happens, it will leverage the power of AI — its ability to continuously improve with more data.

When there is enough data, AI can do a much more accurate job of diagnosis and treatment than human doctors by absorbing and checking billions of cases and outcomes. AI can take into account everyone’s data to personalize treatment accordingly, or keep up with a massive number of new drugs, treatments and studies. Doing all of this well is beyond human capabilities.

AI-powered diagnosis

I anticipate diagnostic AI will surpass all but the best doctors in the next 20 years. Studies have shown that AI trained on sizable data can outperform physicians in several areas of medical diagnosis regarding brain tumors, eye disease, breast cancer, skin cancer and lung cancer. Further trials are needed, but as these technologies are deployed and more data is gathered, the AI stands to outclass doctors.

We will eventually see diagnostic AI for general practitioners, one disease at a time, to gradually cover all diagnoses. Over time, AI may become capable of acting as your general practitioner or family doctor.

#artificial-intelligence, #biotechnology, #cancer, #column, #drug-discovery, #ec-column, #ec-enterprise-health, #ec-robotics, #health, #healthcare, #medical-imaging, #pharmaceuticals, #precision-medicine, #robotics, #startups

9am.health launches with $3.7M to tackle virtual diabetes care

Founders like to create companies around what they know, and Frank Westermann and Anton Kittelberger know diabetes.

They met and bonded over both having type 1 diabetes — Westermann was diagnosed over 25 years ago — and started the MySugr app for diabetes self-management in 2012 (they won a TC pitch-off back in 2011). Four years later, Westermann moved to the U.S. from Austria to introduce MySugr stateside before the company was acquired by Roche for $100 million in 2017.

The pair moved on to their next journey, also in diabetes, starting 9am.health in April, a virtual diabetes clinic designed to provide people living with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes access to personalized care and affordable medications from their homes. 9am.health’s clinic was launched in August.

Today, the San Diego-based company announced a $3.7 million seed round from Founders Fund, Define Ventures, Speedinvest and iSeed Ventures to target the 1 in 3 people living with diabetes in the United States, Westermann told TechCrunch.

“We understand the day-to-day challenges that people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes have,” he added. “Access to care is the real issue, and rather than have patients wait weeks to get an appointment, we send a kit with tests to your home, and you send it back to us.”

9am.health kicked off in Texas and California, and is now available in 33 states. It is finding patients through digital outreach, community work and hospitals.

Even with insurance, the average person living with diabetes spends about $16,750 per year on medical expenses and has approximately 2.3 times higher the costs than if they didn’t have the disease. Instead, patients can subscribe to 9am.health for $40 per month; that includes online prescription shipping, unlimited personal medical care, medications to manage diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia and at-home lab tests.

Westermann sees other companies working in the diabetes space, but says 9am.health is unique in providing “a digital front door for entire diabetes care,” while others focus on specific pain points. By taking that whole approach, he sees opportunity in going beyond diabetes to the general chronic disease realm as many living with diabetes — 98% of Americans in fact — also have other comorbidities like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental health issues, he added.

The new funding will enable the company to grow its team and carve out some of the digital diabetes market share that was valued at $13 billion in 2020 and is forecasted to grow annually by 18.8% through 2027. 9am.health will also invest in advancing its virtual screening ability and expand the types of medication it can offer.

9am.health diabetes kit

“We want to tear down the barriers and make care as easy as possible and managing diabetes part of life,” Westermann said. “When you live with chronic illness, it is an everyday thing, and sometimes you feel good, and others days you don’t. That’s why we named the company 9am.health because you can wake up at 9 a.m. and start your diabetes journey all over again.”

Lynne Chou O’Keefe, founder and managing partner at Define Ventures, says the future of healthcare is going to be more consumer-focused and will be wrapped around the patient’s care journey. She considers 9am.health to be leading this type of care with a platform that bundles education, community, coaching and care that is direct-to-consumer.

Chou O’Keefe has been investing in healthcare her entire VC career, and sat on the board of Livongo for four years. Through that experience she learned how patients struggle with their care decisions, and finds 9am.health’s founders to have a similar deep expertise and understanding in diabetes, especially with the success they had with MySugr.

“The last place you should receive healthcare is in the doctor’s office, while the first place should be wherever you are,” she added. “This is a very different way than what the healthcare system is today. We feel that people want to manage their diabetes, but then go on and live their lives.”

 

#9am-health, #anton-kittelberger, #apps, #chronic-disease, #define-ventures, #diabetes, #ecommerce, #founders-fund, #frank-westermann, #funding, #health, #healthcare, #high-blood-pressure, #hypertension, #iseed-ventures, #lynne-chou-okeefe, #medicine, #my-sugr, #prediabetes, #recent-funding, #roche, #speedinvest, #startups, #tc

Pandemic’s shift to remote wellness helps Numan raise $40M Series B led by White Star

Numan, the European subscription service covering erectile dysfunction (ED) and men’s wellness/health needs more generally, has raised $40 million in a Series B funding round led by White Star Capital, with participation from existing investors Novator, Vostok New Global, Anthemis Exponential, Colle Capital, and new investor Hanwha Group. The new round will be used to fuel expansion.

Numan’s current roster of services cover ED, premature ejaculation, hair loss, gut and lung health, and nutritional deficiencies. But they can also do blood tests for general health needs which don’t require in-person appointments.

Post-pandemic, the digitization of health and wellness continues apace. Had we not had a pandemic, vitamins, and the like, delivered through the letterbox, would almost certainly have continued to grow steadily as a business. But with the pandemic, businesses that can speak to our health needs remotely have exploded.

Who would have considered taking a blood test remotely a ‘normal thing’ two years ago? Now it’s practically required. Into this space, wellness companies have uncovered an extremely lucrative nexus of trends: an aging male population with a desire to remain sexually active, increasing awareness of their own health, the convenience of subscription, and the imperative of the pandemic to keep things remote has proven to be a powerful combination of forces.

Numan is not alone in this space. Roman and Hims, for example, are two big players in the US. The open door Numan is pushing against is more this wider movement around male health, which men themselves are becoming more open to. As well as growing organically, Numan has also made two strategic acquisitions of companies in the UK and Sweden to expand its footprint. It’s likely this new round will lead to similar strategic plays.

With sexual health a tricky subject for men, digital services are stepping in to mitigate any embarrassment around having to sit in front of the family GP. Numan is also regulated by the Care Quality Commission as a registered healthcare provider, giving it a further stamp of approval.

Numan claims men now prefer its model to in-person healthcare meetings. In its own survey of 800 subscribers, 88% said that using the service has improved their confidence, while 68% say that using Numan has also improved their relationships, and over half said the effects of the pandemic had given them a more positive impression of using digital healthcare.

In a statement Sokratis Papafloratos, CEO & founder, Numan said: “This funding is a significant milestone on our journey to help millions of men be healthier. White Star Capital is one of the best investors in our space, and I’m delighted to be working together along with a wider team of brilliant investors.”

Speaking to me over a call, Papafloratos added that despite there being a lot of competition in the space “this is not a winner-takes-all-market. We have 25 languages on the team so we understand the market, patients, regulation, we understand it more in-depth than many competitors.”

Eric Martineau-Fortin, Founder and Managing Partner, White Star Capital: “Men’s health has been under-served by traditional services and needs innovative businesses to break down barriers and ensure taboos don’t prevent men from being happy and healthy. Numan’s digital offering helps men take charge of their health discreetly and decisively. We’re incredibly excited by Sokratis and his team, and look forward to working with them as they grow.”

#ceo, #digital-health, #digital-healthcare, #erectile-dysfunction, #europe, #healthcare, #managing-partner, #musicians, #numan, #sokratis-papafloratos, #sweden, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #white-star-capital

UK dials up the spin on data reform, claiming ‘simplified’ rules will drive ‘responsible’ data sharing

The U.K. government has announced a consultation on plans to shake up the national data protection regime, as it looks at how to diverge from European Union rules following Brexit.

It’s also a year since the U.K. published a national data strategy in which said it wanted pandemic levels of data sharing to become Britain’s new normal.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCPS) has today trailed an incoming reform of the information commissioner’s office — saying it wants to broaden the ICO’s remit to “champion sectors and businesses that are using personal data in new, innovative and responsible ways to benefit people’s lives”; and promising “simplified” rules to encourage the use of data for research which “benefit’s people’s lives”, such as in the field of healthcare.

It also wants a new structure for the regulator — including the creation of an independent board and chief executive for the ICO, to mirror the governance structures of other regulators such as the Competition and Markets Authority, Financial Conduct Authority and Ofcom.

Additionally, it said the data reform consultation will consider how the new regime can help mitigate the risks around algorithmic bias — something the EU is already moving to legislate on, setting out a risk-based proposal for regulating applications of AI back in April.

Which means the U.K. risks being left lagging if it’s only going to concern itself with a narrow focus on “bias mitigation”, rather than considering the wider sweep of how AI is intersecting with and influencing its citizens’ lives.

In a press release announcing the consultation, DCMS highlights an artificial intelligence partnership involving Moorfields Eye Hospital and the University College London Institute of Ophthalmology, which kicked off back in 2016, as an example of the kinds of beneficial data sharing it wants to encourage. Last year the researchers reported that their AI had been able to predict the development of wet age-related macular degeneration more accurately than clinicians.

The partnership also involved (Google-owned) DeepMind and now Google Health — although the government’s PR doesn’t make mention of the tech giant’s involvement. It’s an interesting omission, given that DeepMind’s name is also attached to a notorious U.K. patient data-sharing scandal, which saw another London-based NHS Trust (the Royal Free) sanctioned by the ICO, in 2017, for improperly sharing patient data with the Google-owned company during the development phase of a clinician support app (which Google is now in the process of discontinuing).

DCMS may be keen to avoid spelling out that its goal for the data reforms — aka to “remove unnecessary barriers to responsible data use” — could end up making it easier for commercial entities like Google to get their hands on U.K. citizens’ medical records.

The sizeable public backlash over the most recent government attempt to requisition NHS users’ medical records — for vaguely defined “research” purposes (aka the “General Practice Data for Planning and Research”, or GPDPR, scheme) — suggests that a government-enabled big-health-data-free-for-all might not be so popular with U.K. voters.

“The government’s data reforms will provide clarity around the rules for the use of personal data for research purposes, laying the groundwork for more scientific and medical breakthroughs,” is how DCMS’ PR skirts the sensitive health data sharing topic.

Elsewhere there’s talk of “reinforc[ing] the responsibility of businesses to keep personal information safe, while empowering them to grow and innovate” — so that sounds like a yes to data security but what about individual privacy and control over what happens to your information?

The government seems to be saying that will depend on other aims — principally economic interests attached to the U.K.’s ability to conduct data-driven research or secure trade deals with other countries that don’t have the same (current) high U.K. standards of data protection.

There are some purely populist flourishes here too — with DCMS couching its ambition for a data regime “based on common sense, not box ticking” — and flagging up plans to beef up penalties for nuisance calls and text messages. Because, sure, who doesn’t like the sound of a crackdown on spam?

Except spam text messages and nuisance calls are a pretty quaint concern to zero in on in an era of apps and data-driven, democracy-disrupting mass surveillance — which was something the outgoing information commissioner raised as a major issue of concern during her tenure at the ICO.

The same populist anti-spam messaging has already been deployed by ministers to attack the need to obtain internet users’ consent for dropping tracking cookies — which the digital minister Oliver Dowden recently suggested he wants to do away with — for all but “high risk” purposes.

Having a system of rights wrapping people’s data that gives them a say over (and a stake in) how it can be used appears to be being reframed in the government’s messaging as irresponsible or even non-patriotic — with DCMS pushing the notion that such rights stand in the way of more important economic or highly generalized “social” goals.

Not that it has presented any evidence for that — or even that the U.K.’s current data protection regime got in the way of (the very ample) data sharing during COVID-19… While negative uses of people’s information are being condensed in DCMS’ messaging to the narrowest possible definition — of spam that’s visible to an individual — never mind how that person got targeted with the nuisance calls/spam texts in the first place.

The government is taking its customary “cake and eat it” approach to spinning its reform plan — claiming it will both “protect” people’s data while also trumpeting the importance of making it really easy for citizens’ information to be handed off to anyone who wants it, so long as they can claim they’re doing some kind of “innovation”, while also larding its PR with canned quotes dubbing the plan “bold” and “ambitious”.

So while DCMS’ announcement says the reform will “maintain” the U.K.’s (currently) world-leading data protection standards, it directly rows back — saying the new regime will (merely) “build on” a few broad-brush “key elements” of the current rules (specifically it says it will keep “principles around data processing, people’s data rights and mechanisms for supervision and enforcement”).

Clearly the devil will be in the detail of the proposals which are due to be published tomorrow morning. So expect more analysis to debunk the spin soon.

But in one specific trailed change DCMS says it wants to move away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to data protection compliance — and “allow organisations to demonstrate compliance in ways more appropriate to their circumstances, while still protecting citizens’ personal data to a high standard”.

That implies that smaller data-mining operations — DCMS’s PR uses the example of a hairdresser’s but plenty of startups can employ fewer staff than the average barber’s shop — may be able to expect to get a pass to ignore those ‘high standards’ in the future.

Which suggests the U.K.’s “high standards” may, under Dowden’s watch, end up resembling more of a Swiss Cheese…

Data protection is a “how to, not a don’t do”…

The man who is likely to become the U.K.’s next information commissioner, New Zealand’s privacy commissioner John Edwards, was taking questions from a parliamentary committee earlier today, as MPs considered whether to support his appointment to the role.

If he’s confirmed in the job, Edwards will be responsible for implementing whatever new data regime the government cooks up.

Under questioning, he rejected the notion that the U.K.’s current data protection regime presents a barrier to data sharing — arguing that laws like GDPR should rather be seen as a “how to” and an “enabler” for innovation.

“I would take issue with the dichotomy that you presented [about privacy vs data-sharing],” he told the committee chair. “I don’t believe that policymakers and businesses and governments are faced with a choice of share or keep faith with data protection. Data protection laws and privacy laws would not be necessary if it wasn’t necessary to share information. These are two sides of the same coin.

“The UK DPA [data protection act] and UK GDPR they are a ‘how to’ — not a ‘don’t do’. And I think the UK and many jurisdictions have really finally learned that lesson through the COVID-19 crisis. It has been absolutely necessary to have good quality information available, minute by minute. And to move across different organizations where it needs to go, without friction. And there are times when data protection laws and privacy laws introduce friction and I think that what you’ve seen in the UK is that when it needs to things can happen quickly.”

He also suggested that plenty of economic gains could be achieved for the U.K. with some minor tweaks to current rules, rather than a more radical reboot being necessary. (Though clearly setting the rules won’t be up to him; his job will be enforcing whatever new regime is decided.)

“If we can, in the administration of a law which at the moment looks very much like the UK GDPR, that gives great latitude for different regulatory approaches — if I can turn that dial just a couple of points that can make the difference of billions of pounds to the UK economy and thousands of jobs so we don’t need to be throwing out the statute book and starting again — there is plenty of scope to be making improvements under the current regime,” he told MPs. “Let alone when we start with a fresh sheet of paper if that’s what the government chooses to do.”

TechCrunch asked another Edwards (no relation) — Newcastle University’s Lilian Edwards, professor of law, innovation and society — for her thoughts on the government’s direction of travel, as signalled by DCMS’ pre-proposal-publication spin, and she expressed similar concerns about the logic driving the government to argue it needs to rip up the existing standards.

“The entire scheme of data protection is to balance fundamental rights with the free flow of data. Economic concerns have never been ignored, and the current scheme, which we’ve had in essence since 1998, has struck a good balance. The great things we did with data during COVID-19 were done completely legally — and with no great difficulty under the existing rules — so that isn’t a reason to change them,” she told us.

She also took issue with the plan to reshape the ICO “as a quango whose primary job is to ‘drive economic growth’ ” — pointing out that DCMS’ PR fails to include any mention of privacy or fundamental rights, and arguing that “creating an entirely new regulator isn’t likely to do much for the ‘public trust’ that’s seen as declining in almost every poll.”

She also suggested the government is glossing over the real economic damage that would hit the U.K. if the EU decides its “reformed” standards are no longer essentially equivalent to the bloc’s. “[It’s] hard to see much concern for adequacy here; which will, for sure, be reviewed, to our detriment — prejudicing 43% of our trade for a few low value trade deals and some hopeful sell offs of NHS data (again, likely to take a wrecking ball to trust judging by the GPDPR scandal).”

She described the goal of regulating algorithmic bias as “applaudable” — but also flagged the risk of the U.K. falling behind other jurisdictions which are taking a broader look at how to regulate artificial intelligence.

Per DCMS’ press release, the government seems to be intending for an existing advisory body, called the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), to have a key role in supporting its policymaking in this area — saying that the body will focus on “enabling trustworthy use of data and AI in the real-world”. However it has still not appointed a new CDEI chair to replace Roger Taylor — with only an interim chair appointment (and some new advisors) announced today.

“The world has moved on since CDEI’s work in this area,” argued Edwards. “We realise now that regulating the harmful effects of AI has to be considered in the round with other regulatory tools not just data protection. The proposed EU AI Regulation is not without flaw but goes far further than data protection in mandating better quality training sets, and more transparent systems to be built from scratch. If the UK is serious about regulating it has to look at the global models being floated but right now it looks like its main concerns are insular, short-sighted and populist.”

Patient data privacy advocacy group MedConfidential, which has frequently locked horns with the government over its approach to data protection, also queried DCMS’ continued attachment to the CDEI for shaping policymaking in such a crucial area — pointing to last year’s biased algorithm exam grading scandal, which happened under Taylor’s watch.

(NB: Taylor was also the Ofqual chair, and his resignation from that post in December cited a “difficult summer”, even as his departure from the CDEI leaves an awkward hole now… )

“The culture and leadership of CDEI led to the A-Levels algorithm, why should anyone in government have any confidence in what they say next?” said MedConfidential’s Sam Smith.

#artificial-intelligence, #data-processing, #dcms, #deep-learning, #deepmind, #europe, #google, #google-health, #healthcare, #information-commissioners-office, #john-edwards, #moorfields-eye-hospital, #nhs, #oliver-dowden, #policy, #privacy, #uk-gdpr, #uk-government, #united-kingdom

New leAD Sports & Health, Tavistock Group fund comes as sport tech market poised for double-digit growth

Sports and health technology investor leAD Sports & Health Tech Partners and private investment organization Tavistock Group have come together to launch the $30 million Lake Nona Sports & Health Tech Fund for early-stage startups in the areas of fan engagement, connected athletes, health and well-being.

In addition to both of those general partners, investors in the fund include Kevin Reid, Andrew White and Harold Primat, leAD co-founder and CEO Christoph Sonnen told TechCrunch.

Founded in 2016, leAD Sports & Health Tech Partners was inspired by Adi Dassler, who founded sportswear company Adidas. Dassler’s family is one of the partners and biggest funders to date, Sonnen said.

Its first fund, called Advantage, invested at the Series A stage and has four companies under it currently, and will eventually have 10 to 15 companies in the portfolio, Anne Joachim, leAD’s finance director, said.

The Lake Nona fund will invest in seed and pre-Series A to support founders by bridging the gap between those two rounds to help them grow, she added. The fund is expected to be able to invest in 20 companies with smaller ticket sizes.

“When we moved to Nona, we were looking to integrate between sports and health tech, especially in the areas of mindfulness and longevity, which are two hot topics we are seeing,” Sonnen said.

The new fund comes as the global sports technology market is poised to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 17.5% to reach $40.2 billion by 2026, up from a valuation of around $17.9 billion in 2021, according to consultancy ResearchandMarkets.com.

Sonnen expects sports, esports and healthcare to be one big trend, driven by the global pandemic, that he doesn’t see stopping soon. For example, rather than people going back to the gym exclusively, it will be a hybrid of workouts and a bigger emphasis on sleep and recovery.

Of the technology out there, Joachim says devices enabling users to train in different ways is one of the more faster-moving segments.

“We learned during COVID about training without the gym, and we see more fascinating things coming out of that,” she added. “We are already seeing new technologies really disrupt the market and expect this to continue over the next couple of the years. We are also seeing more companies focused on mindfulness and training the brain like your body.”

 

#adi-dassler, #adidas, #anne-joachim, #christoph-sonnen, #finance, #funding, #health, #healthcare, #lake-nona-sports-health-tech-fund, #lead-sports-health-tech-partners, #sports, #sports-tech, #tavistock-group, #tc, #venture-capital

Startups should look to state-of-the-art tech to tackle diseases affecting women

Startups devoted to reproductive and women’s health are on the rise. However, most of them deal with women’s fertility: birth control, ovulation and the inability to conceive. The broader field of women’s health remains neglected.

Historically, most of our understanding of ailments comes from the perspective of men and is overwhelmingly based on studies using male patients. Until the early 1990s, women of childbearing age were kept out of drug trial studies, and the resulting bias has been an ongoing issue in healthcare. Other issues include underrepresentation of women in health studies, trivialization of women’s physical complaints (which is relevant to the misdiagnosis of endometriosis, among other conditions), and gender bias in the funding of research, especially in research grants.

For example, several studies have shown that when we look at National Institutes of Health funding, a disproportionate share of its resources goes to diseases that primarily affect men — at the expense of those that primarily affect women. In 2019, studies of NIH funding based on disease burden (as estimated by the number of years lost due to an illness) showed that male-favored diseases were funded at twice the rate of female-favored diseases.

Let’s take endometriosis as an example. Endometriosis is a disease where endometrial-like tissue (‘‘lesions’’) can be found outside the uterus. Endometriosis is a condition that only occurs in individuals with uteruses and has been less funded and less studied than many other conditions. It can cause chronic pain, fatigue, painful intercourse and infertility. Although the disease may affect one out of 10 women, diagnosis is still very slow, and the disease is confirmed only by surgery.

There is no non-invasive test available. In many cases, a woman is diagnosed only due to her infertility, and the diagnosis can take up to 10 years. Even after diagnosis, the understanding of disease biology and progression is poor, as well as the understanding of the relationships to other lesion diseases, such as adenomyosis. Current treatments include surgical removal of lesions and drugs that suppress ovarian hormone (mainly estrogen) production.

However, there are changes in the works. The NIH created the women’s health research category in 1994 for annual budgeting purposes and, in 2019, it was updated to include research that is relevant to women only. In acknowledging the widespread male bias in both human and animal studies, the NIH mandated in 2016 that grant applicants would be required to recruit male and female participants in their protocols. These changes are slow, and if we look at endometriosis, it received just $7 million in NIH funding in the fiscal year 2018, putting it near the very bottom of NIH’s 285 disease/research areas.

It is interesting to note that critical changes are coming from other sources, and not so much from the funding agencies or the pharmaceutical industry. The push is coming from patients and physicians themselves that meet the diseases regularly. We see pharmaceutical companies (such as Eli Lilly and AbbVie) in the women’s healthcare space following the lead of their patients and slowly expanding their R&D base and doubling efforts to expand beyond reproductive health into other key women’s health areas.

New technological innovations targeting endometriosis are being funded via private sources. In 2020, women’s health finally emerged as one of the most promising areas of investment. These include (not an exhaustive list by any means) diagnostics companies such as NextGen Jane, which raised a $9 million Series A in April 2021 for its “smart tampon,” and DotLab, a non-invasive endometriosis testing startup, which raised $10 million from investors last July. Other notable advances include the research-study app Phendo that tracks endometriosis, and Gynica, a company focused on cannabis-based treatments for gynecological issues.

The complexity of endometriosis is such that any single biotech startup may find it challenging to go it alone. One approach to tackle this is through collaborations. Two companies, Polaris Quantum Biotech and Auransa, have teamed up to tackle the endometriosis challenge and other women’s specific diseases.

Using data, algorithms and quantum computing, this collaboration between two female-led AI companies integrates the understanding of disease biology with chemistry. Moreover, they are not stopping at in silico; rather, this collaboration aims to bring therapeutics to patients.

New partnerships can majorly impact how fast a field like women’s health can advance. Without such concerted efforts, women-centric diseases such as endometriosis, triple-negative breast cancer and ovarian cancer, to name a few, may remain neglected and result in much-needed therapeutics not moving into clinics promptly.

Using state-of-the-art technologies on complex women’s diseases will allow the field to advance much faster and can put drug candidates into clinics in a few short years, especially with the help of patient advocacy groups, research organizations, physicians and out-of-the-box funding approaches such as crowdfunding from the patients themselves.

We believe that going after the women’s health market is a win-win for the patients as well as from the business perspective, as the global market for endometriosis drugs alone is expected to reach $2.2 billion in the next six years.

#column, #endometriosis, #health, #healthcare, #infertility, #opinion, #startups, #tc, #womens-health

Google confirms it’s pulling the plug on Streams, its UK clinician support app

Google is infamous for spinning up products and killing them off, often in very short order. It’s an annoying enough habit when it’s stuff like messaging apps and games. But the tech giant’s ambitions stretch into many domains that touch human lives these days. Including, most directly, healthcare. And — it turns out — so does Google’s tendency to kill off products that its PR has previously touted as ‘life saving’.

To wit: Following a recent reconfiguration of Google’s health efforts — reported earlier by Business Insider — the tech giant confirmed to TechCrunch that it is decommissioning its clinician support app, Streams.

The app, which Google Health PR bills as a “mobile medical device”, was developed back in 2015 by DeepMind, an AI division of Google — and has been used by the UK’s National Health Service in the years since, with a number of NHS Trusts inking deals with DeepMind Health to roll out Streams to their clinicians.

At the time of writing, one NHS Trust — London’s Royal Free — is still using the app in its hospitals.

But, presumably, not for too much longer since Google is in the process of taking Streams out back to be shot and tossed into its deadpool — alongside the likes of its ill-fated social network, Google+, and Internet ballon company Loon, to name just two of a frankly endless list of now defunct Alphabet/Google products.

Other NHS Trusts we contacted which had previously rolled out Streams told us they have already stopped using the app.

University College London NHS Trust confirmed to TechCrunch that it severed ties with Google Health earlier this year.

“Our agreement with Google Health (initially DeepMind) came to an end in March 2021 as originally planned. Google Health deleted all the data it held at the end of the [Streams] project,” a UCL NHS Trust spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust also told us it stopped using Streams this summer (in July) — and said patient data is in the process of being deleted.

“Following the decommissioning of Streams at the Trust earlier this summer, data that has been processed by Google Health to provide the service to the Trust will be deleted and the agreement has been terminated,” a spokesperson said.

“As per the data sharing agreement, any patient data that has been processed by Google Health to provide the service will be deleted. The deletion process is started once the agreement has been terminated,” they added, saying the contractual timeframe for Google deleting patient data is six months.

Another Trust, Taunton & Somerset, also confirmed its involvement with Streams had already ended. 

The Streams contracts DeepMind inked with the NHS Trusts were for five years — so these contracts were likely approaching the end of their terms, anyway.

Contract extensions would have had to be agreed by both parties. And Google’s decision to decommission Streams may be factoring in a lack of enthusiasm from involved Trusts to continue using the software — although if that’s the case it may, in turn, be a reflection of Trusts’ perceptions of Google’s weak commitment to the project.

Neither side is saying much publicly.

But as far as we’re aware the Royal Free is the only NHS Trust still using the clinician support app as Google prepares to cut off Stream’s life support.

No more Streams?

The Streams story has plenty of wrinkles, to put it politely.

For one thing, despite being developed by Google’s AI division — and despite DeepMind founder Mustafa Suleyman saying the goal for the project was to find ways to integrate AI into Streams so the app could generate predictive healthcare alerts — the Streams app doesn’t involve any artificial intelligence.

An algorithm in Streams alerts doctors to the risk of a patient developing acute kidney injury but relies on an existing AKI (acute kidney injury) algorithm developed by the NHS. So Streams essentially digitized and mobilized existing practice.

As a result, it always looked odd that an AI division of an adtech giant would be so interested in building, provisioning and supporting clinician support software over the long term. But then — as it panned out — neither DeepMind nor Google were in it for the long haul at the patient’s bedside.

DeepMind and the NHS Trust it worked with to develop Streams (the aforementioned Royal Free) started out with wider ambitions for their partnership — as detailed in an early 2016 memo we reported on, which set out a five year plan to bring AI to healthcare. Plus, as we noted above, Suleyman keep up the push for years — writing later in 2019 that: “Streams doesn’t use artificial intelligence at the moment, but the team now intends to find ways to safely integrate predictive AI models into Streams in order to provide clinicians with intelligent insights into patient deterioration.”

A key misstep for the project emerged in 2017 — through press reporting of a data scandal, as details of the full scope of the Royal Free-DeepMind data-sharing partnership were published by New Scientist (which used a freedom of information request to obtain contracts the pair had not made public).

The UK’s data protection watchdog went on to find that the Royal Free had not had a valid legal basis when it passed information on millions of patients’ to DeepMind during the development phase of Streams.

Which perhaps explains DeepMind’s eventually cooling ardour for a project it had initially thought — with the help of a willing NHS partner — would provide it with free and easy access to a rich supply of patient data for it to train up healthcare AIs which it would then be, seemingly, perfectly positioned to sell back into the self same service in future years. Price tbc.

No one involved in that thought had properly studied the detail of UK healthcare data regulation, clearly.

Or — most importantly — bothered to considered fundamental patient expectations about their private information.

So it was not actually surprising when, in 2018, DeepMind announced that it was stepping away from Streams — handing the app (and all its data) to Google Health — Google’s internal health-focused division — which went on to complete its takeover of DeepMind Health in 2019. (Although it was still shocking, as we opined at the time.)

It was Google Health that Suleyman suggested would be carrying forward the work to bake AI into Streams, writing at the time of the takeover that: “The combined experience, infrastructure and expertise of DeepMind Health teams alongside Google’s will help us continue to develop mobile tools that can support more clinicians, address critical patient safety issues and could, we hope, save thousands of lives globally.”

A particular irony attached to the Google Health takeover bit of the Streams saga is the fact that DeepMind had, when under fire over its intentions toward patient data, claimed people’s medical information would never be touched by its adtech parent.

Until of course it went on it hand the whole project off to Google — and then lauded the transfer as great news for clinicians and patients!

Google’s takeover of Streams meant NHS Trusts that wanted to continue using the app had to ink new contracts directly with Google Health. And all those who had rolled out the app did so. It’s not like they had much choice if they did want to continue.

Again, jump forward a couple of years and it’s Google Health now suddenly facing a major reorg — with Streams in the frame for the chop as part of Google’s perpetually reconfiguring project priorities.

It is quite the ignominious ending to an already infamous project.

DeepMind’s involvement with the NHS had previously been seized upon by the UK government — with former health secretary, Matt Hancock, trumpeting an AI research partnership between the company and Moorfield’s Eye Hospital as an exemplar of the kind of data-driven innovation he suggested would transform healthcare service provision in the UK.

Luckily for Hancock he didn’t pick Streams as his example of great “healthtech” innovation. (Moorfields confirmed to us that its research-focused partnership with Google Health is continuing.)

The hard lesson here appears to be don’t bet the nation’s health on an adtech giant that plays fast and loose with people’s data and doesn’t think twice about pulling the plug on digital medical devices as internal politics dictate another chair-shuffling reorg.

Patient data privacy advocacy group, MedConfidential — a key force in warning over the scope of the Royal Free’s DeepMind data-sharing deal — urged Google to ditch the spin and come clean about the Streams cock-up, once and for all.

“Streams is the Windows Vista of Google — a legacy it hopes to forget,” MedConfidential’s Sam Smith told us. “The NHS relies on trustworthy suppliers, but companies that move on after breaking things create legacy problems for the NHS, as we saw with wannacry. Google should admit the decision, delete the data, and learn that experimenting on patients is regulated for a reason.”

Questions over Royal Free’s ongoing app use

Despite the Information Commissioner’s Office’s 2017 finding that the Royal Free’s original data-sharing deal with DeepMind was improper, it’s notable that the London Trust stuck with Streams — continuing to pass data to DeepMind.

The original patient data-set that was shared with DeepMind without a valid legal basis was never ordered to be deleted. Nor — presumably has it since been deleted. Hence the weight of the call for Google to delete the data now.

Ironically the improperly acquired data should (in theory) finally get deleted — once contractual timeframes for any final back-up purges elapse — but only because it’s Google itself planning to switch off Streams.

And yet the Royal Free confirmed to us that it is still using Streams, even as Google spins the dial on its commercial priorities for the umpteenth time and decides it’s not interested in this particular bit of clinician support, after all.

We put a number of questions to the Trust — including about the deletion of patient data — none of which it responded to.

Instead, two days later, it sent us this one-line statement which raises plenty more questions — saying only that: “The Streams app has not been decommissioned for the Royal Free London and our clinicians continue to use it for the benefit of patients in our hospitals.”

It is not clear how long the Trust will be able to use an app Google is decommissioning. Nor how wise that might be for patient safety — such as if the app won’t get necessary security updates, for example.

We’ve also asked Google how long it will continue to support the Royal Free’s usage — and when it plans to finally switch off the service. As well as which internal group will be responsible for any SLA requests coming from the Royal Free as the Trust continues to use software Google Health is decommissioning — and will update this report with any response. (Earlier a Google spokeswoman told us the Royal Free would continue to use Streams for the ‘near future’ — but she did not offer a specific end date.)

In press reports this month on the Google Health reorg — covering an internal memo first obtained by Business Insider —  teams working on various Google health projects were reported to be being split up to other areas, including some set to report into Google’s search and AI teams.

So which Google group will take over responsibility for the handling of the SLA with the Royal Free, as a result of the Google Health reshuffle, is an interesting question.

In earlier comments, Google’s spokeswoman told us the new structure for its reconfigured health efforts — which are still being badged ‘Google Health’ — will encompass all its work in health and wellness, including Fitbit, as well as AI health research, Google Cloud and more.

On Streams specifically, she said the app hasn’t made the cut because when Google assimilated DeepMind Health it decided to focus its efforts on another digital offering for clinicians — called Care Studio — which it’s currently piloting with two US health systems (namely: Ascension & Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center). 

And anyone who’s ever tried to use a Google messaging app will surely have strong feelings of déjà vu on reading that…

DeepMind’s co-founder, meanwhile, appears to have remained blissfully ignorant of Google’s intentions to ditch Streams in favor of Care Studio — tweeting back in 2019 as Google completed the takeover of DeepMind Health that he had been “proud to be part of this journey”, and also touting “huge progress delivered already, and so much more to come for this incredible team”.

In the end, Streams isn’t being ‘supercharged’ (or levelled up to use current faddish political parlance) with AI — as his 2019 blog post had envisaged — Google is simply taking it out of service. Like it did with Reader or Allo or Tango or Google Play Music, or…. well, the list goes on.

Suleyman’s own story contains some wrinkles, too.

He is no longer at DeepMind but has himself been ‘folded into’ Google — joining as a VP of artificial intelligence policy, after initially being placed on an extended leave of absence from DeepMind.

In January, allegations that he had bullied staff were reported by the WSJ. And then, earlier this month, Business Insider expanded on that — reporting follow up allegations that there had been confidential settlements between DeepMind and former employees who had worked under Suleyman and complained about his conduct (although DeepMind denied any knowledge of such settlements).

In a statement to Business Insider, Suleyman apologized for his past behavior — and said that in 2019 he had “accepted feedback that, as a co-founder at DeepMind, I drove people too hard and at times my management style was not constructive”, adding that he had taken time out to start working with a coach and that that process had helped him “reflect, grow and learn personally and professionally”.

We asked Google if Suleyman would like to comment on the demise of Streams — and on his employer’s decision to kill the app — given his high hopes for the project and all the years of work he put into that particular health push. But the company did not engage with the request.

We also offered Suleyman the chance to comment directly. We’ll update this story if he responds.

#alphabet, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #deepmind, #fitbit, #google, #google-health, #health, #health-systems, #healthcare, #information-commissioners-office, #london, #matt-hancock, #medconfidential, #moorfields-eye-hospital, #mustafa-suleyman, #national-health-service, #privacy, #uk-government

Virtual clinic Hey Jane raises $2.2M to solve for state anti-abortion legislation

As more states pass some type of abortion ban, Hey Jane, a virtual clinic startup offering telemedicine abortion care, announced Thursday that it raised $2.2 million in an oversubscribed round from a group of investors, including Koa Lab, Gaingels and Foursight Capital Partners.

The idea for the remote-first company stemmed from a conversation in 2019 that founder and CEO Kiki Freedman had with some friends regarding Missouri being one of six states that has one abortion clinic left. Freedman, who goes by a nickname to avoid violence against abortion providers, explained that, in fact, the clinic was slated for closure that summer, which would have meant Missouri was the first state to not have any abortion care. The clinic was ultimately able to stay open.

“At the time, many of the emerging telemedicine clinics I saw were focused on men’s wellness and didn’t talk about women’s health,” Freedman told TechCrunch. “I thought this virtual model could be used for safe and discreet abortion care.”

One of Hey Jane’s investors, who wished to remain publicly anonymous, “was excited to invest in Freedman and Hey Jane” because he agreed — women’s health was an underserved category. Unlike men’s healthcare, abortion care is segregated from women’s health care. This stemmed from Reagan’s mandates separating abortion care from hospitals.

One in four women will have an abortion by age 45, according to Planned Parenthood. However, just in 2021, over 90 abortion restrictions were enacted in the United States, and there are 1,320 restrictions in total, according to The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. Currently, Arkansas and Oklahoma have near-total abortion bans except when a patient’s life is endangered. Meanwhile, Idaho, South Carolina and Texas ban abortion at either six weeks or with very limited exceptions.

In July 2020, a federal judge granted approval for women to obtain abortion medication without having to see a doctor, which opened the door for companies, like Hey Jane and others, to begin offering “no touch” services for people who were less than 10 weeks pregnant.

The $249 treatment includes screening by a medical doctor, FDA-approved medication prescribed and shipped overnight to the person’s house, follow-up virtual visits and the ability to chat with a doctor during the entire process. The Hey Jane team also checks in frequently with the patient via text message.

The company said removing financial barriers is “a huge priority for us.” Though the company does not accept insurance yet, it is offering financial assistance through a nonprofit abortion fund partner, Reprocare. This organization subsidizes up to $110 of the $249 treatment so that patients can pay as little as $139 for treatment.

The new funding will enable Hey Jane to expand into new states and add to its team of seven to build out the product and automated process and for legal research so the company can stay abreast of telemedicine laws and telemedicine abortion laws for each state.

There are several regulatory requirements Hey Jane must follow in each state, including ensuring that clinicians only provide care to patients in states in which they’re licensed. For this reason, the company has clinicians licensed in each state in which it operates who are ready to prescribe medication when appropriate. It also has on-demand experts for emotional relief.

Hey Jane just launched across California this week and is also in New York and Washington. This means that Hey Jane’s service areas now cover up to 34% of all abortions performed annually in the United States, Freedman said. Those states were chosen first because California and New York have the highest number of abortions performed annually, she added.

“Although people in those states may have easier access to clinics, they could still strongly benefit from treatment with Hey Jane since it’s as safe and effective and half the price of in-clinic care,” Freedman said. “It doesn’t require costs, or time for travel or child care, ensures privacy and discretion and provides additional layers of emotional support.”

Freedman expects to be in 10 states by the end of the year and plans to be able to offer treatment in all 50 states in coming years. However, there are regulatory barriers limiting access to telemedicine abortion in 19 states. Hey Jane is partnering with the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health research group out of the University of California at San Francisco to gather information to this end.

“We are working with leading researchers to expand the ample existing evidence that this modality of care is safe, effective and preferred by patients,” she added. “We hope this research can further advance discussions in more restrictive states, ultimately leading to much needed, patient-centric updates to outdated regulations. Existing data on the safety and effectiveness of telemedicine abortion paints a very clear picture that this is the future of abortion care.”

The company is currently seeing 250% quarterly growth in the number of patients using the service. As it has grown, it is focusing more on additional tools for coordinated care and new products.

Abortions are often kept secret due to worries of judgment and discrimination, and Hey Jane will provide a much-needed outlet for patients to discreetly share their experiences and emotion, Freedman said.

“We are focusing on convenience and privacy,” she added. “Two-thirds of women don’t want to talk about their experience, so we want to provide a space for them.”

Matters of women’s health are highly personal. If you or someone you know is struggling with a private women’s health concern, please contact your primary care physician or secular community health clinic for more information.

#abortion, #foursight-capital-partners, #funding, #gaingels, #health, #healthcare, #hey-jane, #kiki-freedman, #koa-lab, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #telehealth, #telemedicine

Israel’s DiA gets $14M to expand AI-driven ultrasound analysis

Israel-based AI healthtech company, DiA Imaging Analysis, which is using deep learning and machine learning to automate analysis of ultrasound scans, has closed a $14 million Series B round of funding.

Backers in the growth round, which comes three years after DiA last raised, include new investors Alchimia Ventures, Downing Ventures, ICON Fund, Philips and XTX Ventures — with existing investors also participating including CE Ventures, Connecticut Innovations, Defta Partners, Mindset Ventures, and Dr Shmuel Cabilly. In total, it’s taken in $25M to date.

The latest financing will go on expanding its product range and going after new and expanded partnerships with ultrasound vendors, PACS/Healthcare IT companies, resellers, and distributors while continuing to build out its presence across three regional markets.

The healthtech company sells AI-powered support software to clinicians and healthcare professionals to help them capture and analyze ultrasound imagery — a process which, when done manually, requires human expertise to visually interpret scan data. So DiA touts its AI technology as “taking the subjectivity out of the manual and visual estimation processes being performed today”.

It has trained AIs to assess ultrasound imagery so as to automatically hone in on key details or identify abnormalities — offering a range of products targeted at different clinical requirements associated with ultrasound analysis, including several focused on the heart (where its software can, for example, be used to measure and analyze aspects like ejection fraction; right ventricle size and function; plus perform detection assistance for coronary disease, among other offerings).

It also has a product that leverages ultrasound data to automate measurement of bladder volume.

DiA claims its AI software imitates the way the human eye detects borders and identifies motion — touting it as an advance over “subjective” human analysis that also brings speed and efficiency gains.

“Our software tools are supporting tool for clinicians needing to both acquiring the right image and interpreting ultrasound data,” says CEO and co-founder Hila Goldman-Aslan.

DiA’s AI-based analysis is being used in some 20 markets currently — including in North America and Europe (in China it also says a partner gained approval for use of its software as part of their own device) — with the company deploying a go-to-market strategy that involves working with channel partners (such as GE, Philips and Konica Minolta) which offer the software as an add on on their ultrasound or PACS systems.

Per Goldman-Aslan, some 3,000+ end-users have access to its software at this stage.

“Our technology is vendor neutral and cross platform therefore runs on any ultrasound device or healthcare IT systems. That is why you can see we have more than 10 partnerships with both device companies as well as healthcare IT/PACS companies. There is no other startup in this space I know that has these capabilities, commercial traction or many FDA/CE AI-based solutions,” she says, adding: “Up to date we have 7 FDA/CE approved solutions for cardiac and abdominal areas and more are on the way.”

An AI’s performance is of course only as good as the data-set it’s been trained on. And in the healthcare space efficacy is an especially crucial factor — given that any bias in training data could lead to a flawed model which misdiagnoses or under/over-estimates disease risks in patient groups who were not well represented in the training data.

Asked about how its AIs were trained to be able to spot key details in ultrasound imagery, Goldman-Aslan told TechCrunch: “We have access to hundreds of thousands ultrasound images through many medical facilities therefore have the ability to move fast from one automatic area to another.”

“We collect diverse population data with different pathology, as well as data from various devices,” she added.

“There is a Phrase ‘Garbage in Garbage out’. The key is not to bring garbage in,” she also told us. “Our data sets are tagged and classified by several physicians and technicians, each are experts with many years on experience.

“We also have a strong rejection system that rejects images that was taken incorrectly. This is how we overcome the subjectivity of how data was acquired.”

It’s worth noting that the FDA clearances obtained by DiA are 510(k) Class II approvals — and Goldman-Aslan confirmed to us that it has not (and does not intend) to apply for Premarket Approval (PMA) for its products from the FDA.

The 510(k) route is widely used for gaining approval for putting many types of medical devices into the US market. However it has been criticized as a light-touch regime — and certainly does not entail the same level of scrutiny as the more rigorous PMA process.

The wider point is that regulation of fast-developing AI technologies tends to lag behind developments in how they’re being applied — including as they push increasingly into the healthcare space where there’s certainly huge promise but also serious risks if they fail to live up to the glossy marketing — meaning there is still something of a gap between the promises made by device makers and how much regulatory oversight their tools actually get.

In the European Union, for example, the CE scheme — which sets out some health, safety and environmental standards for devices — can simply require a manufacturer to self declare conformity, without any independent verification they’re actually meeting the standards they claim, although some medical devices can require a degree of independent assessment of conformity under the CE scheme. But it’s not considered a rigorous regime for regulating the safety of novel technologies like AI.

Hence the EU is now working on introducing an additional layer of conformity assessments specifically for applications of AI deemed ‘high risk’ — under the incoming Artificial Intelligence Act.

Healthcare use-cases, like DiA’s AI-based ultrasound analysis, would almost certainly fall under that classification so would face some additional regulatory requirements under the AIA. For now, though, the on-the-table proposal is being debated by EU co-legislators and a dedicated regulatory regime for risky applications of AI remains years out of coming into force in the region.

#artificial-intelligence, #ce-ventures, #china, #dia, #disease, #downing-ventures, #europe, #european-union, #fda, #fundings-exits, #health, #healthcare, #israel, #konica-minolta, #machine-learning-technology, #medical-device, #medical-imaging, #mindset-ventures, #north-america, #philips, #ultrasound, #united-states, #xtx-ventures

Back to the suture: The future of healthcare is in the home

The pandemic has highlighted some of the brightest spots — and greatest areas of need — in America’s healthcare system. On one hand, we’ve witnessed the vibrancy of America’s innovation engine, with notable contributions by U.S.-based scientists and companies for vaccines and treatments.

On the other hand, the pandemic has highlighted both the distribution challenges and cost inefficiencies of the healthcare system, which now accounts for nearly a fifth of our GDP — far more than any other country — yet lags many other developed nations in clinical outcomes.

Many of these challenges stem from a lack of alignment between payment and incentive models, as well as an overreliance on hospitals as centers for care delivery. A third of healthcare costs are incurred at hospitals, though at-home models can be more effective and affordable. Furthermore, most providers rely on fee for service instead of preventive care arrangements.

These factors combine to make care in this country reactive, transactional and inefficient. We can improve both outcomes and costs by moving care from the hospital back to the place it started — at home.

Right now in-home care accounts for only 3% of the healthcare market. We predict that it will grow to 10% or more within the next decade.

In-home care is nothing new. In the 1930s, over 40% of physician-patient encounters took place in the home, but by the 1980s, that figure dropped to under 1%, driven by changes in health economics and technologies that led to today’s hospital-dominant model of care.

That 50-year shift consolidated costs, centralized access to specialized diagnostics and treatments, and created centers of excellence. It also created a transition from proactive to reactive care, eliminating the longitudinal relationship between patient and provider. In today’s system, patients are often diagnosed by and receive treatment from individual doctors who do not consult one another. These highly siloed treatments often take place only after the patient needs emergency care. This creates higher costs — and worse outcomes.

That’s where in-home care can help. Right now in-home care accounts for only 3% of the healthcare market. We predict that it will grow to 10% or more within the next decade. This growth will improve the patient experience, achieve better clinical outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

To make these improvements, in-home healthcare strategies will need to leverage next-generation technology and value-based care strategies. Fortunately, the window of opportunity for change is open right now.

Five factors driving the opportunity for change

Over the last few years, five significant innovations have created new incentives to drive dramatic changes in the way care is delivered.

  1. Technologies like remote patient monitoring (RPM) and telemedicine have matured to a point that can be deployed at scale. These technologies enable providers to remotely manage patients in a proactive, long-term relationship from the comfort of their homes and at a reduced cost.

    #column, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-health, #ec-insurtech, #ec-market-map, #health, #healthcare, #startups, #telehealth, #telemedicine

Y Combinator-backed Adra wants to turn all dentists into cavity-finding ‘super dentists’

Like other areas of healthcare, the dental industry is steadily embracing technology. But while much of it is in the orthodontic realm, other startups, like Adra, are bringing artificial intelligence into a dentist’s day-to-day workflow, particularly in finding cavities, of what will be a $435.08 billion global dental services market this year.

The Singapore-based company was founded in 2021, but was an idea that started last year. Co-founder Hamed Fesharaki has been a dentist for over a decade and owns two clinics in Singapore.

He said dentists learn to read X-rays in dental school, but it can take a few years to get good at it. Dentists also often have just minutes to read them as they hop between patients.

As a result, dentists end up misdiagnosing cavities up to 40% of the time, co-founder Yasaman Nemat said. Her background is in imaging, where she developed an artificial intelligence machine identifying hard-to-see cancers, something Fesharaki thought could also be applied to dental medicine.

Providing the perspective of a more experienced dentist, Adra’s intent is to make every dentist “a super dentist,” Fesharaki told TechCrunch. Its software detects cavities and other dental problems on dental X-rays faster and 25% more accurately, so that clinics can use that time to better serve patients and increase revenue.

Example of Adra’s software. Image Credits: Adra

“We are coming from the eye of an experienced dentist to help illustrate the problems by turning the X-rays into images to better understand what to look for,” he added. “Ultimately, the dentist has the final say, but we bring the experience element to help them compare and give them suggestions.”

By quickly pointing out the problem and the extent of it, dentists can decide in what way they want to treat it — for example, do a filling, a fluoride treatment or wait.

Along with third co-founder Shifeng Chen, the company is finishing up its time in Y Combinator’s summer cohort and has raised $250,000 so far. Fesharaki intends to do more formalized seed fundraising and wants to bring on more engineers to tackle user experience and add more features.

The company has a few clinics doing pilots and wants to attract more as it moves toward a U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance. Fesharaki expects it to take six to nine months to receive the clearance, and then Adra will be able to hit the market in late 2022 or early 2023.

#adra, #artificial-intelligence, #dentist, #dentistry, #enterprise, #funding, #hamed-fasharaki, #health, #healthcare, #imaging, #recent-funding, #saas, #shifeng-chen, #singapore, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator, #yasaman-nemat

This Week in Apps: OnlyFans bans sexual content, SharePlay delayed, TikTok questioned over biometric data collection

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

OnlyFans to ban sexually explicit content

OnlyFans logo displayed on a phone screen and a website

(Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Creator platform OnlyFans is getting out of the porn business. The company announced this week it will begin to prohibit any “sexually explicit” content starting on October 1, 2021 — a decision it claimed would ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform. The news angered a number of impacted creators who weren’t notified ahead of time and who’ve come to rely on OnlyFans as their main source of income.

However, word is that OnlyFans was struggling to find outside investors, despite its sizable user base, due to the adult content it hosts. Some VC firms are prohibited from investing in adult content businesses, while others may be concerned over other matters — like how NSFW content could have limited interest from advertisers and brand partners. They may have also worried about OnlyFans’ ability to successfully restrict minors from using the app, in light of what appears to be soon-to-come increased regulations for online businesses. Plus, porn companies face a number of other issues, too. They have to continually ensure they’re not hosting illegal content like child sex abuse material, revenge porn or content from sex trafficking victims — the latter which has led to lawsuits at other large porn companies.

The news followed a big marketing push for OnlyFans’ porn-free (SFW) app, OFTV, which circulated alongside reports that the company was looking to raise funds at a $1 billion+ valuation. OnlyFans may not have technically needed the funding to operate its current business — it handled more than $2 billion in sales in 2020 and keeps 20%. Rather, the company may have seen there’s more opportunity to cater to the “SFW” creator community, now that it has big names like Bella Thorne, Cardi B, Tyga, Tyler Posey, Blac Chyna, Bhad Bhabie and others on board.

U.S. lawmakers demand info on TikTok’s plans for biometric data collection

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max. Image Credits: Nur Photo/Getty Images

U.S. lawmakers are challenging TikTok on its plans to collect biometric data from its users. TechCrunch first reported on TikTok’s updated privacy policy in June, where the company gave itself permission to collect biometric data in the U.S., including users’ “faceprints and voiceprints.” When reached for comment, TikTok could not confirm what product developments necessitated the addition of biometric data to its list of disclosures about the information it automatically collects from users, but said it would ask for consent in the case such data collection practices began.

Earlier this month, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, which said they were “alarmed” by the change, and demanded to know what information TikTok will be collecting and what it plans to do with the data. This wouldn’t be the first time TikTok got in trouble for excessive data collection. Earlier this year, the company paid out $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that claimed TikTok had unlawfully collected users’ biometric data and shared it with third parties.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Image Credits: Apple

  • ⭐ Apple told developers that some of the features it announced as coming in iOS 15 won’t be available at launch. This includes one of the highlights of the new OS, SharePlay, a feature that lets people share music, videos and their screen over FaceTime calls. Other features that will come in later releases include Wallet’s support for ID cards, the App Privacy report and others that have yet to make it to beta releases.
  • Apple walked back its controversial Safari changes with the iOS 15 beta 6 update. Apple’s original redesign had shown the address bar at the bottom of the screen, floating atop the page’s content. Now the tab bar will appear below the page’s content, offering access to its usual set of buttons as when it was at the top. Users can also turn off the bottom tab bar now and revert to the old, Single Tab option that puts the address bar back at the top as before.
  • In response to criticism over its new CSAM detection technology, Apple said the version of NeuralHash that was reverse-engineered by a developer, Asuhariet Ygvar, was a generic version, and not the complete version that will roll out later this year.
  • The Verge dug through over 800 documents from the Apple-Epic trial to find the best emails, which included dirt on a number of other companies like Netflix, Hulu, Sony, Google, Nintendo, Valve, Microsoft, Amazon and more. These offered details on things like Netflix’s secret arrangement to pay only 15% of revenue, how Microsoft also quietly offers a way for some companies to bypass its full cut, how Apple initially saw the Amazon Appstore as a threat and more.

Platforms: Google

  • A beta version of the Android Accessibility Suite app (12.0.0) which rolled out with the fourth Android beta release added something called “Camera Switches” to Switch Access, a toolset that lets you interact with your device without using the touchscreen. Camera Switches allows users to navigate their phone and use its features by making face gestures, like a smile, open mouth, raised eyebrows and more.
  • Google announced its Pixel 5a with 5G, the latest A-series Pixel phone, will arrive on August 27, offering IP67 water resistance, long-lasting Adaptive Battery, Pixel’s dual-camera system and more, for $449. The phone makes Google’s default Android experience available at a lower price point than the soon to arrive Pixel 6.
  • An unredacted complaint from the Apple-Epic trial revealed that Google had quietly paid developers hundreds of millions of dollars via a program known as “Project Hug,” (later “Apps and Games Velocity Program”) to keep their games on the Play Store. Epic alleges Google launched the program to keep developers from following its lead by moving their games outside the store.

Augmented Reality

  • Snap on Thursday announced it hired its first VP of Platform Partnerships to lead AR, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis (“KP”). The new exec will lead Snap’s efforts to onboard partners, including individual AR creators building via Lens Studio as well as large companies that incorporate Snapchat’s camera and AR technology (Camera Kit) into their apps. KP will join in September, and report to Ben Schwerin, SVP of Content and Partnerships.

Fintech

  • Crypto exchange Coinbase will enter the Japanese market through a new partnership with Japanese financial giant Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG). The company said it plans to launch other localized versions of its existing global services in the future.

Social

Image Credits: Facebook

  • Facebook launched a “test” of Facebook Reels in the U.S. on iOS and Android. The new feature brings the Reels experience to Facebook, allowing users to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. Instagram Reels creators can also now opt in to have their Reels featured on users’ News Feed. The company is heavily investing its its battle with TikTok, even pledging that some portion of its $1 billion creator fund will go toward Facebook Reels.
  • Twitter’s redesign of its website and app was met with a lot of backlash from users and accessibility experts alike. The company choices add more visual contrast between various elements and may have helped those with low vision. But for others, the contrast is causing strain and headaches. Experts believe accessibility isn’t a one-size fits all situation, and Twitter should have introduced tools that allowed people to adjust their settings to their own needs.
  • The pro-Trump Twitter alternative Gettr’s lack of moderation has allowed users to share child exploitation images, according to research from the Stanford Internet Observatory’s Cyber Policy Center.
  • Pinterest rolled out a new set of more inclusive search filters that allow people to find styles for different types of hair textures — like coily, curly, wavy, straight, as well as shaved or bald and protective styles. 

Photos

  • Photoshop for iPad gained new image correction tools, including the Healing Brush and Magic Wand, and added support for connecting an iPad to external monitors via HDMI or USB-C. The company also launched a Photoshop Beta program on the desktop.

Messaging

  • WhatsApp is being adopted by the Taliban to spread its message across Afghanistan, despite being on Facebook’s list of banned organizations. The company says it’s proactively removing Taliban content — but that may be difficult to do since WhatsApp’s E2E encryption means it can’t read people’s texts. This week, Facebook shut down a Taliban helpline in Kabul, which allowed civilians to report violence and looting, but some critics said this wasn’t actually helping local Afghans, as the group was now in effect governing the region.
  • WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that will show a large preview when sharing links, which some suspect may launch around the time when the app adds the ability to have the same account running on multiple devices.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Netflix announced it’s adding spatial audio support on iPhone and iPad on iOS 14, joining other streamers like HBO Max, Disney+ and Peacock that have already pledged to support the new technology. The feature will be available to toggle on and off in the Control Center, when it arrives.
  • Blockchain-powered streaming music service Audius partnered with TikTok to allow artists to upload their songs using TikTok’s new SoundKit in just one click.
  • YouTube’s mobile app added new functionality that allows users to browse a video’s chapters, and jump into the chapter they want directly from the search page.
  • Spotify’s Anchor app now allows users in global markets to record “Music + Talk” podcasts, where users can combine spoken word recordings with any track from Spotify’s library of 70 million songs for a radio DJ-like experience.
  • Podcasters are complaining that Apple’s revamped Podcasts platform is not working well, reports The Verge. Podcasts Connect has been buggy, and sports a confusing interface that has led to serious user errors (like entire shows being archived). And listeners have complained about syncing problems and podcasts they already heard flooding their libraries.

Dating

  • Tinder announced a new feature that will allow users to voluntarily verify their identity on the platform, which will allow the company to cross-reference sex offender registry data. Previously, Tinder would only check this database when a user signed up for a paid subscription with a credit card.

Gaming

Image Source: The Pokémon Company

  • Pokémon Unite will come to iOS and Android on September 22, The Pokémon Company announced during a livestream this week. The strategic battle game first launched on Nintendo Switch in late July.
  • Developer Konami announced a new game, Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls, which will come exclusively to Apple Arcade. The game is described as a “full-fledged side-scrolling action game,” featuring a roster of iconic characters from the classic game series. The company last year released another version of Castelvania on the App Store and Google Play.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle has now surpassed $3 billion in player spending since its 2015 debut, reported Sensor Tower. The game from Bandai Namco took 20 months to reach the figure after hitting the $2 billion milestone in 2019. The new landmark sees the game joining other top-grossers, including Clash Royale, Lineage M and others.
  • Sensor Tower’s mobile gaming advertising report revealed data on top ad networks in the mobile gaming market, and their market share. It also found puzzle games were among the top advertisers on gaming-focused networks like Chartboost, Unity, IronSource and Vungle. On less game-focused networks, mid-core games were top titles, like Call of Duty: Mobile and Top War. 

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Health & Fitness

  • Apple is reportedly scaling back HealthHabit, an internal app for Apple employees that allowed them to track fitness goals, talk to clinicians and coaches at AC Wellness (a doctors’ group Apple works with) and manage hypertension. According to Insider, 50 employees had been tasked to work on the project.
  • Samsung launched a new product for Galaxy smartphones in partnership with healthcare nonprofit The Commons Project, that allows U.S. users to save a verifiable copy of their vaccination card in the Samsung Pay digital wallet.

Image Credits: Samsung

Adtech

Government & Policy

  • China cited 43 apps, including Tencent’s WeChat and an e-reader from Alibaba, for illegally transferring user data. The regulator said the apps had transferred users location data and contact list and harassed them with pop-up windows. The apps have until August 25 to make changes before being punished.

Security & Privacy

  • A VICE report reveals a fascinating story about a jailbreaking community member who had served as a double agent by spying for Apple’s security team. Andrey Shumeyko, whose online handles included JVHResearch and YRH04E, would advertise leaked apps, manuals and stolen devices on Twitter and Discord. He would then tell Apple things like which Apple employees were leaking confidential info, which reporters would talk to leakers, who sold stolen iPhone prototypes and more. Shumeyko decided to share his story because he felt Apple took advantage of him and didn’t compensate him for the work.

Funding and M&A

💰 South Korea’s GS Retail Co. Ltd will buy Delivery Hero’s food delivery app Yogiyo in a deal valued at 800 billion won ($685 million USD). Yogiyo is the second-largest food delivery app in South Korea, with a 25% market share.

💰 Gaming platform Roblox acquired a Discord rival, Guilded, which allows users to have text and voice conversations, organize communities around events and calendars and more. Deal terms were not disclosed. Guilded raised $10.2 million in venture funding. Roblox’s stock fell by 7% after the company reported earnings this week, after failing to meet Wall Street expectations.

💰 Travel app Hopper raised $175 million in a Series G round of funding led by GPI Capital, valuing the business at over $3.5 billion. The company raised a similar amount just last year, but is now benefiting from renewed growth in travel following COVID-19 vaccinations and lifting restrictions.

💰 Indian quiz app maker Zupee raised $30 million in a Series B round of funding led by Silicon Valley-based WestCap Group and Tomales Bay Capital. The round values the company at $500 million, up 5x from last year.

💰 Danggeun Market, the publisher of South Korea’s hyperlocal community app Karrot, raised $162 million in a Series D round of funding led by DST Global. The round values the business at $2.7 billion and will be used to help the company launch its own payments platform, Karrot Pay.

💰 Bangalore-based fintech app Smallcase raised $40 million in Series C funding round led by Faering Capital and Premji Invest, with participation from existing investors, as well as Amazon. The Robinhood-like app has over 3 million users who are transacting about $2.5 billion per year.

💰 Social listening app Earbuds raised $3 million in Series A funding led by Ecliptic Capital. Founded by NFL star Jason Fox, the app lets anyone share their favorite playlists, livestream music like a DJ or comment on others’ music picks.

💰 U.S. neobank app One raised $40 million in Series B funding led by Progressive Investment Company (the insurance giant’s investment arm), bringing its total raise to date to $66 million. The app offers all-in-one banking services and budgeting tools aimed at middle-income households who manage their finances on a weekly basis.

Public Markets

📈Indian travel booking app ixigo is looking to raise Rs 1,600 crore in its initial public offering, The Economic Times reported this week.

📉Trading app Robinhood disappointed in its first quarterly earnings as a publicly traded company, when it posted a net loss of $502 million, or $2.16 per share, larger than Wall Street forecasts. This overshadowed its beat on revenue ($565 million versus $521.8 million expected) and its more than doubling of MAUs to 21.3 million in Q2.  Also of note, the company said dogecoin made up 62% of its crypto revenue in Q2.

Downloads

Polycam (update)

Image Credits: Polycam

3D scanning software maker Polycam launched a new 3D capture tool, Photo Mode, that allows iPhone and iPad users to capture professional-quality 3D models with just an iPhone. While the app’s scanner before had required the use of the lidar sensor built into newer devices like the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models, the new Photo Mode feature uses just an iPhone’s camera. The resulting 3D assets are ready to use in a variety of applications, including 3D art, gaming, AR/VR and e-commerce. Data export is available in over a dozen file formats, including .obj, .gtlf, .usdz and others. The app is a free download on the App Store, with in-app purchases available.

Jiobit (update)

Jiobit, the tracking dongle acquired by family safety and communication app Life360, this week partnered with emergency response service Noonlight to offer Jiobit Protect, a premium add-on that offers Jiobit users access to an SOS Mode and Alert Button that work with the Jiobit mobile app. SOS Mode can be triggered by a child’s caregiver when they detect — through notifications from the Jiobit app — that a loved one may be in danger. They can then reach Noonlight’s dispatcher who can facilitate a call to 911 and provide the exact location of the person wearing the Jiobit device, as well as share other details, like allergies or special needs, for example.

Tweets

When your app redesign goes wrong…

Image Credits: Twitter.com

Prominent App Store critic Kosta Eleftheriou shut down his FlickType iOS app this week after too many frustrations with App Review. He cited rejections that incorrectly argued that his app required more access than it did — something he had successfully appealed and overturned years ago. Attempted follow-ups with Apple were ignored, he said. 

Image Credits: Twitter.com

Anyone have app ideas?

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Medical supply marketplace startup bttn. sews up additional $5M seed

Coming off a $1.5 million seed round in June, bttn. announced Thursday that it secured another $5 million extension, led by FUSE, to the round to give it a $26.5 million post-money valuation.

The Seattle-based company was founded in March 2021 by JT Garwood and Jack Miller after seeing the challenges medical organizations had during the global pandemic to not only find supplies, but also get fair prices for them.

“We went into this building on the pain points customers had dealing with a system that is so archaic and outdated — most were still faxing in order forms and keeping closets full of supplies, but not knowing what was there,” Garwood, CEO, told TechCrunch.

Bttn. is going after the U.S. wholesale medical supply market, which is predicted to be valued at $243.3 billion by the end of 2021, according to IBISWorld. The company created a business-to-business e-commerce platform with a variety of high-quality medical supplies, saving customers an average of between 20% and 40%, while providing a better ordering and shipping experience, Garwood said.

It now boasts more than 300 customers, including individual practices and surgical centers, and multiple government contracts. It is also currently the preferred supplier for over 17 healthcare associations across the country, Garwood said. In addition to expanding into dental supplies, bttn. is also attracting customers like senior living facilities and home and hospice care.

Garwood intends to use the funds to expand bttn.’s technology, sales and operations teams, and increase its partnerships. The company is also adding new features like a portal to track shipments more easily, better order automation and improve the ability to control when supplies will get to them.

Bttn. is also analyzing more of the data coming in from its marketplace to recognize where the trends are coming from, including hospitalization rates, to share with customers. For example, if hospitals are overcrowded, supply shortages will follow, Garwood said.

“The medical supply industry was built on inequity, and we have a sense of duty to build a product that enables a better future for our customers,” he added. “We can proactively let customers know that spikes are expected, provide them with correct information and give that power back to the consumers and healthcare providers in ways they never had before.”

Whereas bttn.’s first seed round was “about pouring gas on the fire,” partnering with FUSE this time around was an easy decision for Garwood, who said the firm is bringing new assets to the table.

Brendan Wales, general partner at FUSE, said via email that his firm backs promising entrepreneurs building businesses in the Pacific Northwest and discovered bttn. before they announced any funding.

He said there is massive consumerization of healthcare, most evident on the patient side for years, but now becoming so on the provider side. Medical office employees are looking for the same type of customer experience they get from online businesses they frequently shop at, and bttn. “has a relentless drive to provide the same type of experiences and interactions to health providers.”

“We fell in love with the idea of providing a transparent and delightful customer experience to health providers, something that has been sorely lacking,” Wales added. “That, tied in with a young and ambitious team, made it so that our entire partnership worked tirelessly to partner with them.”

 

#brendan-wales, #bttn, #customer-experience, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #funding, #fuse, #health, #healthcare, #jt-garwood, #logistics, #recent-funding, #seattle, #startups, #tc

How to establish a health tech startup advisory board

When you enter the health tech industry as a new startup, an advisory board is a crucial foundational step. A board can guide you through industry-specific nuances, help you make important decisions and prove your legitimacy to investors looking for a strong industry background.

An advisory board will be able to give you strategic insights about both your company and the wider healthcare and technology industries.

In my experience of raising capital, the unpredictable financial situation at the beginning of the pandemic meant we nearly lost our $2 million round, but came through with a committed $250,000, which we used to bring in about $500,000 in revenue.

Something that helped this process was building our advisory board and starting small — we didn’t go for all of healthcare but instead focused on two healthcare verticals. This allowed us to prove our concept, build case studies and win contracts with specific teams in our customers’ companies.

It pays off to stay focused and prove your worth so that your advisory board members can champion you in niche markets, with the potential to expand in the future. For this reason, it’s important to identify the main intention behind your board, and exactly who should be on it.

Who to recruit

Three to five people is an ideal starting point for an advisory board, depending on the size and stage of your company. In health tech, you need more than just the healthcare perspective — you also need the insight of those who have already grown technology companies, perhaps outside of the industry. Our company’s board is an even split of two healthcare and two technology advisers, and, ideally, you want to find a fifth who is well versed in both industries.

It pays off to stay focused and prove your worth so that your advisory board members can champion you in niche markets, with the potential to expand in the future.

An M.D., a Ph.D. from a respected institution or a thought leader in your relevant field of healthcare is the most important asset to an advisory board. These are the highly decorated physicians who have strong connections and act as a reference for their peers.

They provide instant credibility for your company, help you get into the minds of both patients and healthcare providers, and can outline how various health systems work.

#advisory-board, #board-member, #column, #corporate-governance, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-health, #ec-enterprise-health, #ec-how-to, #health, #healthcare, #startups, #tc

Early-stage benchmarks for young cybersecurity companies

We’re quick to celebrate the extraordinary victories of Israel’s multiplying cybersecurity unicorns, but every success story must start somewhere. The early days of any young startup decide how successful it can be, which is why we’ve developed a focused, value-add program to support cybersecurity founders during this most critical stage and maximize their potential in building market-leading companies.

However, the early stages of cybersecurity company-building are often shrouded in mystery, only coming into the light for fundraising and feature announcements. This leaves many entrepreneurs we speak with asking what exactly cybersecurity companies are achieving behind the curtain to earn these huge victories.

Though every company’s journey is unique, we can tease out trends and patterns to establish performance benchmarks for the cybersecurity ecosystem as a whole. To most entrepreneurs, however, the sensitive data required to understand the early success of a company is often unavailable or obscured. Moreover, the industry has yet to formally define proxies for growth and momentum beyond fundraising — leaving cybersecurity founders aiming for landmarks without guideposts.

When it comes to contracts, timing can provide important insight into the quality and performance of the sales pipeline. On average, successful companies will have closed their first paying customers in the U.S. within 12 months of their seed round.

Entrepreneurs require guideposts to aspire to when building large companies, and critical customer and revenue expectations can be best established by looking at what already successful cybersecurity companies have accomplished. Such metrics have been previously established for wider areas of technology, such as SaaS.

Leveraging our experience and resources, we collect this knowledge to keep our founders informed with the most up-to-date cybersecurity-specific metrics for long-term and large-scale growth. We hope that sharing these unique insights into early-stage cybersecurity companies — based on our own portfolio companies’ average performance — will help entrepreneurs in the wider Israeli ecosystem more confidently build their budgets and roadmaps with industry evidence.

Benchmarks for early-stage cybersecurity companies

Image Credits: YL Ventures

What should revenue look like over the first few years?

Though today’s investors are growing more aggressive, $500,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR) is a traditional baseline requirement for a successful Series A from strong investors, and hitting that mark quickly should remain every entrepreneur’s goal. Hitting this target indicates product-market fit and customer willingness to commit to your solution.

Discounting variances in pricing, the best companies we’ve seen are able to reach the $500,000 benchmark in less than 18 months. From there, top-performing companies can expect to gain momentum and reach $1 million in ARR in 18 to 24 months. Such momentum is contingent on a number of factors for Israeli cybersecurity entrepreneurs, but growth is mainly reliant on how well founders connect with relevant customers outside the Israeli market.

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The gray revolution: Fundraising within the older adult space

The technology industry is often thought of as being the domain of the young and the new. We see an emphasis on young founders (“40 Under 40”), innovative ideas and disruptive challenges to legacy brands, incumbent companies and “old” ways of thinking.

But one of the things I’ve learned on my journey in co-founding my latest startup is that technology should be enabling and accessible to all, and nowhere is this more critical than for empowering our older adults.

Older adults are one of the most underrepresented audiences for new technology products and platforms. There is a massive opportunity to provide products and services that will make life better for today’s seniors and future generations of older adults to come. Founders in every space, from edtech to healthcare, from financial services to robotics, can make a bigger impact if we recognize the opportunity of being of service to older adults.

One of the best strategies for tech companies that want to serve the older adult market is to focus your value proposition on empowering older adults.

Don’t make a product “for old people”

Older adults often get overlooked by tech companies. In fairness, it can be hard (and insensitive and uninspiring) to market products and services as being “for old people,” because people in this group don’t tend to think of themselves as “old.”

One of the best strategies for tech companies that want to serve the older adult market is to focus your value proposition on empowering older adults. Don’t make a product “for old people” — make a product that helps older adults lead a healthier, more active, more connected life.

Whether it’s the education tech space, financial services, health tech, consumer products or other innovative digital services for seniors, tech companies have big opportunities to empower older adults.

We are seeing some great examples, including:

  • AgeBold is doing interesting work with at-home exercise programs for older adults to improve their balance, strength and mobility. The value proposition: Exercise for better aging. It’s a product “for” older adults, but the message is focused on empowerment and building strength, helping people live healthier, more active lives as they age.
  • Eldera.ai connects children with vetted older adult mentors, for one-on-one or group conversations and remote learning activities. This concept is powerful because it helps older adults share their life experience and build relationships with other families.

Older adults have so much to offer. Instead of approaching this market as a “problem” to be solved, startups should engage with older adults as an active, curious, ready-to-learn group of people who are eager to be empowered.

Recognize the size of the opportunity of the older adult market

It often seems like so many consumer-facing apps today are created for younger people. But there’s a big disconnect between where so much of the tech industry’s attention and investment is going and the spending power and lifestyle preferences of today’s older adults.

Older adults are the most underserved demographic for the tech world. They’re also one of the fastest-growing age cohorts. The number of people worldwide who are 65 and older is expected to grow from 524 million in 2010 to 1.5 billion in 2050.

The “silver economy,” driven by the spending power of older adults, is expected to grow into the 2030s because the senior population is the wealthiest age group and their numbers are growing 3.2% per year (compared with 0.8% for the overall population).

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Accel leads Lucid Lane’s $16M round aimed at treating people with medication dependency

Telehealth company Lucid Lane raised $16 million in Series A funding to continue developing its platform that enables real-time intervention for people with medication dependence and substance-use disorders.

Adnan Asar, co-founder and CEO of Lucid Lane, started the company five years ago after watching his wife struggle to stop taking medication she was prescribed following an illness.

There are 40 million people prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines each year, many like Asar’s wife, after surgery or in conjunction with cancer treatment to address acute and chronic pain as well as co-occurring mental health challenges, he told TechCrunch.

However, though the medications work well, out of the number of people prescribed, about 15 million people will continue to use the medication after the prescription runs out. This leads to ballooning healthcare costs with the healthcare system spending $150 billion annually to take care of this population, Asar said.

Lucid Lane’s latest services are aimed toward avoidance of becoming a persistent medication user or addict. They include comprehensive medication taper management for those dependent on opioids, benzodiazepines, alcohol and nicotine, and a medication assisted treatment designed for patients diagnosed with opioid and alcohol substance disorders. The evidence-based treatments are available in more than 25 states.

Its technology utilizes web and mobile-based applications to provide remote patient monitoring and connection to dedicated therapists on a daily basis. A newly developed analytics engine collects health signals from patients to measure symptoms like anxiety, depression, pain levels and withdrawal effects so that the platform and therapists can personalize their treatments. If needed, the engine will connect patients instantly with an on-call counselor.

Over 90% of Lucid Lane patients who start medication tapering safely taper off, while members who are persistent opioid or benzodiazepine users tapered by 50% in six months after they started the process, which is better than Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Asar said. Patients also reported improvements in pain, emotional well-being and quality of life.

The Series A funding comes one year after the Los Altos-based company secured $4 million in a seed round. Accel Partners led the Series A and was joined by Battery Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Morado Ventures and strategic angel investors. As part of the investment, Eric Wolford, venture partner at Accel, joined the Lucid Lane board of directors.

Asar wasn’t planning for the Series A until later this year, but as the healthcare world was changing around him, venture capital firms began knocking on his door asking when he was raising the next round.

“I met Eric through Battery Ventures, and we had tremendous alignment with passion and mission and it seemed a great fit,” Asar said.

Wolford said he recognized how big of a problem opioid addiction was, that it was a worthy cause, and the size of the market opportunity. “There is something beyond the returns that is compelling, the extent of the problem and the awareness that exists already,” he added.

He also felt that Asar and his team knew the healthcare system and how to introduce technology into it. He mentioned that the industry is complicated to interface with due the complex nature of payers, providers, patients and regulations from state to state. He said that Lucid Lane was embracing the system and working with it.

Wolford was also attracted to the personalized nature of the company’s approach and that it can become the standard of care, taking the pressure off of doctors who want to do right by their patients, but want to prescribe less medication so they don’t become dependent.

“It’s a pressure release value so doctors are appropriately prescribing drugs, are accommodating patients and also providing an intervention to avoid the bad that may start,” he added. “Personalization is what doesn’t exist in healthcare right now, and will help get a person to a state of wholeness and encouragement while also progressing them when they are ready.”

Indeed, things are moving quickly for Lucid Lane. As with the healthcare industry itself, the global pandemic helped adoption of the company’s telehealth platform surge as remote care became more mandatory than a discretionary feature. In addition, Asar said it would have normally taken two years for the company to get into Medicare, but with the government’s updated regulations around telehealth, Lucid Lane is now nationwide with Medicare.

The company has a team of more than 40 therapists across 30 states and will be using the new funding to drive its commercial growth, including building up its sales, business development and product development teams. In addition to a leadership team with experience across the technology spectrum, Lucid Lane also announced that Beau Norgeot, former Anthem clinical AI executive, is joining the company as its chief data officer.

The company is also engaged in peer-reviewed, evidence-based, clinical trials at academic institutions, including Stanford University, the United States Veteran Affairs System and The University of Texas Health System.

“We are the only company addressing the whole spectrum of dependent patients and addicted patients,” Asar said. “Doctors don’t have the time or capability to do this, so we work with them to set a goal for patients to improve their quality of life and reduce their pain.”

 

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Baleon Capital closes first fund to provide capital infusion to healthcare startups

Baleon Capital, a one-year-old venture capital firm started by investment veteran Jon Kaiden, closed its first fund to invest in pre-Series A and Series A companies focused on health and medical care in the United States.

Before starting the Miami-based firm, Kaiden was a founding member and principal of Sopris Capital, where he told TechCrunch his track record of internal return on revenue landed him in the top 95th percentile of all early-stage funds. Baleon is a mash-up of the names of Kaiden’s four children: Brooke, Allie, Leo and Nicole.

Though he did not disclose the fund amount, Kaiden did say he was targeting $100 million for the fund. He expects to initially be able to invest in between eight and 12 companies with $5 million to $10 million in check sizes. If he is able to get the $100 million, Kaiden plans for nearly three-fourths to go into initial investments and the rest for follow-on or new opportunities that come in.

Despite the pandemic, the past year was a “great environment to raise a fund,” he said. After running Sopris for 18 years, he thought it was time to raise a fund especially targeting the healthcare industry, which saw a boom.

“The pandemic tweaked a lot of the industry, especially virtual healthcare, and sped up a lot of things to be more efficient,” Kaiden said. “However, doctors are still among the slowest group to adopt technology.”

As a result, Baleon Capital will invest in companies building the new digital infrastructure for healthcare, aimed at reducing costs, improving access and solving inefficiencies that are hindering patient care. In addition to healthcare, the firm has identified opportunities in vertical SaaS, like finance and real estate.

Baleon’s first fund invested in three companies: Mantra Health, a digital mental health clinic on a mission to improve access to evidence-based mental healthcare for young adults; LifeLink, which is building infrastructure for modern patient engagement; and ClearStep, a care navigation platform leveraging artificial intelligence to match patients to the right provider based on their symptoms, insurance and location.

As healthcare settles into its new digital transformation, Kaiden sees an industry that will rely more heavily on data interoperability as electronic medical records and gleaning insights from big data will evolve. He expects that to help reduce costs without reducing patient satisfaction and provide better health outcomes.

“It’s always a good time in healthcare, and there will always be companies that are disruptive,” Kaiden said. “Healthcare is 18% of the country’s GDP — that is a huge part of our economy, and it is inefficient. That makes it ripe for entrepreneurs to disrupt it.”

 

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