We pee or flush drugs into waterways—does that matter to aquatic life?

Image of a crayfish crawling.

Enlarge (credit: National Park Service)

When people flush their old prescription (or off-prescription) drugs, the compounds invariably make their way into the waters nearby. The same is true even when people using these chemicals urinate them into the sewage system. Once there, these compounds—from prozac to cocaine—can end up in the bodies of aquatic creatures. And, research suggests, the chemicals can impact them: birth control, for instance, affects frog breeding after it enters the water.

We metabolize many of the drugs we take, and water treatment plants remove some of rest. But some concentration can still remain as the water is released to the surrounding lakes and streams.

So far, there’s not been much research into how, if at all, other drugs like cocaine and various opioids, affect aquatic life—but scientists say negative effects are not wholly impossible. And there is now some evidence that at least some classification of drugs do cause trouble. New research suggests that a common antidepressant, citalopram, can change the behavior of crayfish, making them bolder than they would be otherwise.

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#animal-behavior, #antidepressants, #crayfish, #fentanyl, #pharmaceutical, #science, #shrimp, #waste-water

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Industrial cybersecurity startup Claroty raises $140M in pre-IPO funding round

Claroty, an industrial cybersecurity company that helps customers protect and manage their Internet of Things (IoT) and operational technology (OT) assets, has raised $140 million in its latest, and potentially last round of funding. 

With the new round of Series D funding, co-led by Bessemer Venture and 40 North, the company has now amassed a total of $235 million. Additional strategic investors include LG and I Squared Capital’s ISQ Global InfraTech Fund, with all previous investors — Team8, Rockwell Automation, Siemens, and Schneider Electric — also participating. 

Founded in 2015, the late-stage startup focuses on the industrial side of cybersecurity. Its customers include General Motors, Coca-Cola EuroPacific Partners, and Pfizer, with Claroty helping the pharmaceutical firm to secure its COVID-19 vaccine supply chain. Claroty tells TechCrunch it has seen “significant” customer growth over the past 18 months, largely fueled by the pandemic, with 110% year-over-year net new logo growth and 100% customer retention. 

It will use the newly raised funds to meet this rapidly accelerating global demand for The Claroty Platform, an end-to-end solution that provides visibility into industrial networks and combines secure remote access with continuous monitoring for threats and vulnerabilities. 

“Our mission is to drive visibility, continuity, and resiliency in the industrial economy by delivering the most comprehensive solutions that secure all connected devices within the four walls of an industrial site, including all operational technology (OT), Internet of Things (IoT), and industrial IoT (IIoT) assets,” said Claroty CEO Yaniv Vardi.

To meet this growing demand, the startup is planning to expand into new regions and verticals, including transportation government-owned industries, as well as increase its global headcount. The company, which is based in New York, currently has around 240 employees. 

Claroty hasn’t yet made any acquisitions, though CEO Yaniv Vardi tells TechCrunch that this could be part of the startup’s roadmap going forward.

“We’re waiting for the right opportunity at the right time, but it’s definitely part of the plan as part of the financial runway we just secured,” he said, adding that this latest funding round will likely be the company’s last before it explores a potential IPO.

“We are thinking that this is a pre-IPO funding round,” he said. “The end goal here is to be the market leader for industrial cybersecurity. One of the mascots can be going public with an IPO, but there are different options too, such as SPAC.”

The funding round comes amid a sharp increase in cyber targeting organizations that underpin the world’s critical infrastructure and supply chains. According to a recent survey carried out by Claroty, the majority (53%) of US industrial enterprises have seen an increase in cybersecurity threats since the start of 2020. The survey of 1,110 IT and OT security professionals also found that over half believed their organization is now more of a target for cybercriminals, with 67% having seen cybercriminals use new tactics amid the pandemic. 

“The number of attacks, and impact of these attacks, is increasing significantly, especially in verticals like food, automotive, and critical infrastructure. Vardi said. “That creates a lot of risk assessments public companies had to do, and these risks needed to be addressed with a security solution on the industrial side.”

#articles, #ceo, #coca-cola, #computer-security, #computing, #data-security, #food, #funding, #general-motors, #industrial-automation, #industrial-internet-of-things, #internet-of-things, #lg, #new-york, #operational-technology, #pfizer, #pharmaceutical, #siemens, #startup-company, #startups, #team8, #techcrunch, #technology, #united-states

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Ada Health closes $90M Series B led by Leaps by Bayer

The digital health space continues cooking on gas: Berlin-based Ada Health has closed a $90M Series B round of funding led by Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment arm of the German multinational pharma giant, Bayer AG. Other investors in the round include Samsung Catalyst Fund, Vitruvian Partners, Inteligo Bank, F4 and Mutschler Ventures.

The startup last raised around four years’ ago, reporting a $47M Series A round in 2017. But don’t be fooled by the low lettering of these rounds: Ada Health has been working on its symptom assessment tech for around a decade at this point — relying, in the first several years of its mission, on private funding from high net worth individuals in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Initially it was also focused on building a decision support tool for doctors before pivoting to directly addressing patients via an AI-driven symptom assessment app.

It’s not alone in offering this type of tool. Others in the space include Babylon, Buoy, K Health, Mediktor, Symptomate, WebMD and Your.MD — but Ada claims its app is the most used and highest rated by users. It can also point to a peer reviewed study it led, which was published in the BMJ, and compared the condition coverage, accuracy and safety of eight competitors. The study found its app led the pack on all fronts.

One reason for that edge is that Ada Health’s medical knowledge base covers around 30,000 ICD-10 codes (aka the alphanumeric codes used by doctors to represent different diagnoses) at this point — which co-founder and CEO, Daniel Nathrath, tells us is “by far the largest coverage of any of the systems in this space”.

The Ada Health app, which launched in late 2016 — and remains free to use — has been downloaded by more than 11 million people across 150 countries so far. Users have completed some 23M assessments using the tool which he likens to having “24/7 access to your trusted family doctor”.

Currently, the app has support for 10 languages. But the goal with the funding is to push for truly massive scale.

“The idea is to help as many people as possible get better access to healthcare around the world,” Nathrath tells TechCrunch. “Our ambition is, in a few years, that a billion people instead of 11M people will be using out technology. In order to get there we think that working with the right investors can help us accelerate that growth path and give more people the benefit of our technology faster.”

“With 11M app downloads I believe we are the most used AI symptom assessment technology that I know of in the world,” he goes on. “We are also the most rated and reviewed app in the medical category of the App Store and Google Play Store ever — after, what, just four years. With about 300,000 ratings and reviews, most of them five-star. So… we have gained some users but we think it’s just the beginning.

“Digital health — with all the things you see going on — is at an inflection point where it’s being realized not only by the users who have already been using our technology but also by health systems, governments, and payers, insurers, and life sciences companies — I think everyone has realized digital health is here to stay.”

As well as putting its symptom assessment app directly in the hands of patients, Ada Health offers a suite of enterprise solutions where partners pay it to be able to embed and deeply integrate its triage technology into their websites and digital services. That means they can use it to offer an entry point for their users — to help direct them to the correct service and provide administrative support by arming clinicians with health information provided by patient via the Ada interface (and the AI’s own assessment) ahead of the appointment.

One publicly disclosed customer for Ada’s enterprise offering is Sutter Health, in the Bay Area.

“They have integrated Ada into their own homepage and into their app so people can use it as a digital front door to the entire service of Sutter,” says Nathrath, explaining that the difference vs the version of the app that patients can download is “people don’t just get generic advice”. “It’s fully integrated. So if it says — for instance — you need to go to the emergency room… then you can go straight into appointment booking.

“And not only that; when you book the appointment the outcome of the Ada pre-assessment can then be shared with the health professional who will then look at you so the doctor doesn’t start from a blank sheet of paper but is already pre-briefed and gets decision support in terms of ‘this is constellation of symptoms the patient is reporting’ and ‘based on that these could be the most likely diagnosis and these should be the tests, examinations or investigations I should consider next to get to the confirmed diagnosis’.”

The added advantage for Ada’s enterprise partners is that patient data arrives with the doctor that sees them already structured so — after a few confirmations — they can easily import it into their documentation, saying precious minutes per patient, per Nathrath. “[If] you save a few minutes with each patient that means you have more time for the patients who really need you and not the patients who maybe has a cold and shows up in the emergency room, which unfortunately is a reality,” he adds.

With this enterprise strand of its business Ada is continuing to provide support for doctors. Nathrath suggests its patient-facing app is also being used for some informal decision support for doctors too.

More and more doctors are using the app “together with their patients”, he tells us, or else recommending it to their patients —  asking them “so what did Ada say?”.

The role of AI in healthcare will be a core one, Nathrath predicts — given that demand for healthcare professionals is always going to outstrip supply.

He argues that’s true even with rising use of telehealth platforms which can certainly make more efficient use of doctors’ time.

Ada did, at one point, offer a telehealth service itself — before deciding to fully focus its efforts on AI — so its approach now is to partner and integrate with other healthcare and health data providers throughout the care ecosystem.

“We think there’s a place for telehealth, obviously. It adds convenience. During the pandemic I guess it had a special role where for many it was almost the only way to interact with a doctor,” he says. “So we do see a place for telehealth but we also see an issue with telehealth in that it doesn’t address the structural issue in healthcare — that simply there aren’t enough doctors to serve the entire population of the world.”

“We’re building Ada as a multi-sided platform,” he adds. “We’ll be computing different sources of input data — which is sensor data, wearables data, lab data, genetic testing data — that’s on the input side — and then on the more downstream, on the next step after Ada, we can partner with any telehealth company in the world. And we’re seeing enormous interest from literally all corners of the world where telehealth companies approach us. And insurance companies and governments — where they say yes there is a use-case for telehealth but we basically need something before that, that filters people to the right next step.”

Whatever that right next step is in a patient’s care journey, “Ada is like the gatekeeper at the beginning of the journey that then sends you on your way,” is how Nathrath puts it.

The overarching vision is that Ada becomes not just an app in your pocket but an omnipresent “personal health companion” — or what it describes as “a personal operating system for health” — which is powerful enough to deliver preventative healthcare by being able to aggregate all sorts of data and spot health issues sooner so as to enable earlier and less costly interventions.

“What we’re building is really much more than a symptom assessment technology,” he tells TechCrunch. “Where you would also take into account lab results which can now be done much more direct to consumer than was previously possible, sensors and wearables data — and you probably say that Samsung is one of our investors but we’re obviously talking to all the large players in the space about this; how we can integrate that data best — and all the way to genetic testing and even the full genome sequence.

“When you take all these different sources of health information and compute them against each other on a continuous basis you’ll have something like an early warning system for your health — which, again, from a population health and system level perspective should be desirable for anyone who’s in charge of providing healthcare or paying for healthcare because you can catch the problem when it’s still a £100 problem and not yet a £100,000 a year problem.”

Given that ambition it’s interesting that big pharma is investing in Ada. (And its PR notes that it’s also in talks with Bayer on a potential strategic partnership.) But Nathrath suggests that the industry is well aware of the shifts being driven by digital health — and keen to avoid its own ‘Kodak moment’, i.e. by not adapting to the coming changes in a timely enough manner.

If AI-powered health interventions end up being so successful that they can shrink drug bills through earlier intervention and more preventative care then it makes good business sense for big pharma to be plugged into the cutting edge of digital health.

At the same time this type of tech might end up driving demand for medicines — exactly because of its scalability and because it can present a higher dimension view of more people’s health — meaning there’s more opportunity for increased prescription. So there’s not really a downside for pharma to get involved here.

“We’re really excited about the possibilities we can find by working together [with pharmaceutical companies] to really deliver a better healthcare experience to patients,” says Nathrath. “If you look at Bayer they have a consumer health business, they also have a pharmaceutical business and if you look at the cases within Ada if you look at the top ten most common ones it’s very comparable to what a GP would see all the time and a lot of those basically can end up in the recommendation towards healthcare where oftentimes an over the counter drug will be enough to address the issue. One area where Bayer has a lot of offerings, of course. But then their spectrum goes all the way towards rare diseases — where we’re also particularly strong. Where they have some drugs that help patients with very rare conditions.”

There are also potentially major research riches to be derived from the health data generated via Ada’s app which could also be interesting to pharma companies doing drug discovery.

Although Nathrath emphasizes that app users’ data is never used for research purpose without explicit consent from the individual (as is required under Europe’s General Data Protection Act).

But he also notes that Ada is able to do some interesting studies based on aggregated user data, too — giving an example of how it looked at kids mental health during COVID-19 lockdowns, comparing areas where schools had been shut vs those where they had remained open. “You could really compare what happened in different countries,” he says, noting that rates of depression in kids in Germany where schools and pre-schools were closed went up by over 100%, whereas in Switzerland where schools remained opened throughout there was no rise and even a slight improvement in children’s mental health.

In another example, involving aggregated data from usage of the app in US, he says it was able to show that it could have spotted a measles epidemic via the cases in the app slightly sooner than the CDC’s official announcement of an epidemic.

“If you think about the potential of that, in terms of spotting outbreaks earlier, that can be quite significant,” he suggests.

“We think there’s really a long list of ways we can work together [with researchers, policymakers and pharma companies] for the benefit of patients,” he adds. “The mission of all the people I spoke to at Bayer was really similar to ours — which is to help people, basically… That’s why we’re really happy to work with them.”

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Dr. Jürgen Eckhardt, head of Leaps by Bayer, added: “Investing in breakthrough technologies that drive digital change in healthcare is one of the strategic imperatives for Leaps by Bayer and for the entire field of healthcare. Ada’s truly transformative technology, combining powerful artificial intelligence with an emphasis on medical rigor and high levels of clinical accuracy will lead the way in helping more patients and consumers in achieving better health outcomes sooner by intervening earlier in their healthcare journey.”

#ada-health, #artificial-intelligence, #berlin, #digital-health, #europe, #germany, #health, #healthcare, #leaps-by-bayer, #pharmaceutical, #samsung-catalyst-fund, #science-and-technology, #sutter-health, #tc, #vitruvian-partners

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Medchart raises $17M to help businesses more easily access patient-authorized health data

Electronic health records (EHR) have long held promise as a means of unlocking new superpowers for caregiving and patients in the medical industry, but while they’ve been a thing for a long time, actually accessing and using them hasn’t been as quick to become a reality. That’s where Medchart comes in, providing access to health information between businesses, complete with informed patient consent, for using said data at scale. The startup just raised $17 million across Series A and seed rounds, led by Crosslink Capital and Golden Ventures, and including funding from Stanford Law School, rapper Nas and others.

Medchart originally started out as more of a DTC play for healthcare data, providing access and portability to digital health information directly to patients. It sprung from the personal experience of co-founders James Bateman and Derrick Chow, who both faced personal challenges accessing and transferring health record information for relatives and loved ones during crucial healthcare crisis moments. Bateman, Medchart’s CEO, explained that their experience early on revealed that what was actually needed for the model to scale and work effectively was more of a B2B approach, with informed patient consent as the crucial component.

“We’re really focused on that patient consent and authorization component of letting you allow your data to be used and shared for various purposes,” Bateman said in an interview. “And then building that platform that lets you take that data and then put it to use for those businesses and services, that we’re classifying as ‘beyond care.’ Whether those are our core areas, which would be with your, your lawyer, or with an insurance provider, or clinical researcher — or beyond that, looking at a future vision of this really being a platform to power innovation, and all sorts of different apps and services that you could imagine that are typically outside that realm of direct care and treatment.”

Bateman explained that one of the main challenges in making patient health data actually work for these businesses that surround, but aren’t necessarily a core part of a care paradigm, is delivering data in a way that it’s actually useful to the receiving party. Traditionally, this has required a lot of painstaking manual work, like paralegals poring over paper documents to find information that isn’t necessarily consistently formatted or located.

“One of the things that we’ve been really focused on is understanding those business processes,” Bateman said. “That way, when we work with these businesses that are using this data — all permissioned by the patient — that we’re delivering what we call ‘the information,’ and not just the data. So what are the business decision points that you’re trying to make with this data?”

To accomplish this, Medchart makes use of AI and machine learning to create a deeper understanding of the data set in order to be able to intelligently answer the specific questions that data requesters have of the information. Therein lies their longterm value, since once that understanding is established, they can query the data much more easily to answer different questions depending on different business needs, without needing to re-parse the data every single time.

“Where we’re building these systems of intelligence on top of aggregate data, they are fully transferable to making decisions around policies for, for example, life insurance underwriting, or with pharmaceutical companies on real world evidence for their phase three, phase four clinical trials, and helping those teams to understand, you know, the the overall indicators and the preexisting conditions and what the outcomes are of the drugs under development or whatever they’re measuring in their study,” Bateman said.”

According to Ameet Shah, Partner at co-lead investor for the Series A Golden Ventures, this is the key ingredient in what Medchart is offering that makes the company’s offering so attractive in terms of long-term potential.

“What you want is you both depth and breadth, and you need predictability — you need to know that you’re actually getting like the full data set back,” Shah said in an interview. “There’s all these point solutions, depending on the type of clinic you’re looking at, and the type of record you’re accessing, and that’s not helpful to the requester. Right now, you’re putting the burden on them, and when we looked at it, we were just like ‘Oh, this is just a whole bunch of undifferentiated heavy lifting that the entire health tech ecosystem is trying to like solve for. So if [Medchart] can just commoditize that and drive the cost down as low as possible, you can unlock all these other new use cases that never could have been done before.”

One recent development that positions Medchart to facilitate even more novel use cases of patient data is the 21st Century Cures Act, which just went into effect on April 5, provides patients with immediate access, without charge, to all the health information in their electronic medical records. That sets up a huge potential opportunity in terms of portability, with informed consent, of patient data, and Bateman suggests it will greatly speed up innovation built upon the type of information access Medchart enables.

“I think there’s just going to be an absolute explosion in this space over the next two to three years,” Bateman said. “And at Medchart, we’ve already built all the infrastructure with connections to these large information systems. We’re already plugged in and providing the data and the value to the end users and the customers, and I think now you’re going to see this acceleration and adoption and growth in this area that we’re super well-positioned to be able to deliver on.”

#artificial-intelligence, #crosslink-capital, #digital-health, #golden-ventures, #health, #healthcare-data, #informed-consent, #insurance, #machine-learning, #nas, #pharmaceutical, #tc

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K Health expands into virtual childcare and raises $132 million at a $1.5 billion valuation

K Health, the virtual health care provider that uses machine learning to lower the cost of care by providing the bulk of the company’s health assessments, is launching new tools for childcare on the heels of raising cash that values the company at $1.5 billion.

The $132 million round raised in December will help the company expand and help pay for upgrades including an integration with most electronic health records — an integration that’s expected by the second quarter.

Throughout 2020 K Health has leveraged its position operating at the intersection of machine learning and consumer healthcare to raised $222 million in a single year.

This appetite from investors shows how large the opportunity is in consumer healthcare as companies look to use technology to make care more affordable.

For K Health, that means a monthly subscription to its service of $9 for unlimited access to the service and physicians on the platform, as well as a $19 per-month virtual mental health offering and a $19 fee for a one-time urgent care consultation.

To patients and investors the pitch is that the data K Health has managed to acquire through partnerships with organizations like the Israel health maintenance organization Maccabi Healthcare Services, which gave up decades of anonymized data on patients and health outcomes to train K Health’s predictive algorithm, can assess patients and aid the in diagnoses for the company’s doctors.

In theory that means the company’s service essentially acts as a virtual primary care physician, holding a wealth of patient information that, when taken together, might be able to spot underlying medical conditions faster or provide a more holistic view into patient care.

For pharmaceutical companies that could mean insights into population health that could be potentially profitable avenues for drug discovery.

In practice, patients get what they pay for.

The company’s mental health offering uses medical doctors who are not licensed psychiatrists to perform their evaluations and assessments, according to one provider on the platform, which can lead to interactions with untrained physicians that can cause more harm than good.

While company chief executive Allon Bloch is likely correct in his assessment that most services can be performed remotely (Bloch puts the figure at 90%), they should be performed remotely by professionals who have the necessary training.

There are limits to how much heavy lifting an algorithm or a generalist should do when it comes to healthcare, and it appears that K Health wants to push those limits.

“Drug referrals, acute issues, prevention issues, most of those can be done remotely,” Bloch said. “There’s an opportunity to do much better and potentially cheaper. 

K Health has already seen hundreds of thousands of patients either through its urgent care offering or its subscription service and generated tens of millions in revenue in 2020, according to Bloch. He declined to disclose how many patients used the urgent care service vs. the monthly subscription offering.

Telemedicine companies, like other companies providing services remotely, have thrived during the pandemic. Teladoc and Amwell, two of the early pioneers in virtual medicine have seen their share prices soar. Companies like Hims, that provide prescriptions for elective conditions that aren’t necessarily covered by health, special purpose acquisition companies at valuations of $1.6 billion.

Backing K Health are a group of investors led by GGV Capital and Valor Equity Partners. Kaiser Permanente’s pension fund and the investment offices of the owners of 3G Capital (the Brazilian investment firm that owns Burger King and Kraft Heinz), along with 14W, Max Ventures, Pico Partners, Marcy Venture Partners, Primary Venture Partners and BoxGroup, also participated in the round. 

Organizations working with the company include Maccabi Healthcare; the Mayo Clinic, which is investigating virtual care models with the company; and Anthem, which has white labeled the K Health service and provides it to some of the insurer’s millions of members.

#articles, #boxgroup, #burger-king, #drug-discovery, #ggv-capital, #health, #healthcare, #healthcare-industry, #israel, #k-health, #kaiser-permanente, #kraft, #machine-learning, #max-ventures, #mayo-clinic, #pharmaceutical, #primary-care, #primary-venture-partners, #tc, #technology, #teladoc-health, #telehealth, #telemedicine, #valor-equity-partners

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Uber and Moderna partner on COVID-19 vaccine access and information

Uber and pharmaceutical company Moderna have announced a partnership around COVID-19 vaccination, which will include a number of different initiatives. To start, it’s only confirmed component is to provide users with credible, factual information about COVID-19 vaccine safety through Uber’s consumer app, but the companies have also discussed additional “options” including building ride scheduling via Uber directly into the immunization appointment booking process.

Still in its early days, the U.S. COVID-19 vaccination program is already beset with challenges, including providing timely access to vaccines to swaths of the population who need it most. The inoculation program also has to contend with significant misinformation proliferating on social media about vaccine safety, and any app with the surface area of something like Uber has a chance to get positive messages and accurate information in front of a lot of people, so that’s good news on its own.

But one of the very real challenges to an effective vaccination campaign remains logistical, and getting people to make their initial and follow-up appointments for the first round of the Moderna vaccine, and its second shot booster, is a bigger challenge than many might suspect. I spoke to Healthvana CEO Ramin Bastani about their work with  LA County on creating an immunization record that integrates with Apple Wallet to provide patients with timely info and reminders about vaccination appointments, but integrating a ride-booking service or appointment reminder directly in the Uber app that most users already have on their phone anyway could be another very effective way to increase success rates for first and follow-up inoculation visits.

Uber has already offered up free and discounted rides to help lower the friction of actually going out and getting a vaccine, but a product-level integration could do a lot more than that by providing easy, user-friendly access. As noted, this is still just one of the options being discussed, but if Uber and Moderna are willing to commit it to print, that at least means they’re serious about trying to find a way. We’re holding them to account, too, so rest assured we’ll follow up on their progress as this collaboration develops.

#apps, #ceo, #health, #healthvana, #medicine, #moderna, #pharmaceutical, #social-media, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #united-states, #vaccination, #vaccine, #vaccines

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Senti Bio raises $105 million for its new programmable biology platform and cancer therapies

Senti Biosciences, a company developing cancer therapies using a new programmable biology platform, said it has raised $105 million in a new round of financing led by the venture arm of life sciences giant, Bayer.

The company’s technology uses new computational biological techniques to manufacture cell and gene therapies that can more precisely target specific cells in the body.

Senti Bio’s chief executive, Tim Lu, compares his company’s new tech to the difference between basic programming and object oriented programming. “Instead of creating a program that just says ‘Hello world’, you can introduce ‘if’ statements and object oriented programming,” said Lu.

By building genetic material that can target multiple receptors, Senti Bio’s therapies can be more precise in the way they identify genetic material in the body and deliver the kinds of therapies directly to the pathogens. “”Instead of the cell expressing a single receptor… now we have two receptors,” he said.

The company is initially applying its gene circuit technology platform to develop therapies that use what are called chimeric antigen receptor natural killer (CAR-NK) cells that can target cancer cells in the body and eliminate them. Many existing cell and gene therapies use chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, which are white blood cells in the body that are critical to immune response and destroy cellular pathogens in the body.

However, T-cell-based therapies can be toxic to patients, stimulating immune responses that can be almost as dangerous as the pathogens themselves. Using CAR-NK cells produces similar results with fewer side effects.
That’s independent of the gene circuit,” said Lu. “The gene circuit gets you specificity… Right now when you use a CAR-T cell or a CAR-NK cell… you find a target and hope that it doesn’t affect normal cells. We can build logic in our gene circuits in the cell that means a CAR-NK cell can identify two targets rather than one.”

That increased targeting means lower risks of healthy cells being destroyed alongside mutations or pathogens that are in the body.

For Lu and his co-founders — fellow MIT professor Jim Collins, Boston University professor, Wilson Wong, and longtime synthetic biology operator, Phillip Lee — Senti Bio is the culmination of decades of work in the field.

“I compare it to the early days of semiconductor work,” Lu said of the journey to develop this gene circuit technology. “There were bits and pieces of technology being developed in research labs, but to realize the scale at which you need, this has to be done at the industrial level.”

So licensing work from MIT, Boston University and Stanford, Lu and his co-founders set out to take this work out of the labs to start a company.

When the company was started it was a bag of tools and the know-how on how to use them,” Lu said. But it wasn’t a fully developed platform. 

That’s what the company now has and with the new capital from Leaps by Bayer and its other investors, Senti is ready to start commercializing.

The first products will be therapies for acute myeloid leukemia, hepatocellular carcinoma, and other, undisclosed, solid tumor targets, the company said in a statement.

“Leaps by Bayer’s mission is to invest in breakthrough technologies that may transform the lives of millions of patients for the better,” said Juergen Eckhardt, MD, Head of Leaps by Bayer. “We believe that synthetic biology will become an important pillar in next-generation cell and gene therapy, and that Senti Bio’s leadership in designing and optimizing biological circuits fits precisely with our ambition to prevent and cure cancer and to regenerate lost tissue function.”

Lu and his co-founders also see their work as a platform for developing other cell therapies for other diseases and applications — and intend to partner with other pharmaceutical companies to bring those products to market.  

“Over the past two years, our team has designed, built and tested thousands of sophisticated gene circuits to drive a robust product pipeline, focused initially on allogeneic CAR-NK cell therapies for difficult-to-treat liquid and solid tumor indications,” Lu said in a statement. “I look forward to continued platform and pipeline advancements, including starting IND-enabling studies in 2021.”

The new financing round brings Senti’s total capital raised to just under $160 million and Lu said the new money will be used to ramp up manufacturing and accelerate its work partnering with other pharmaceutical companies.

The current timeframe is to get its investigational new drug permits filed by late 2022 and early 2023 and have initial clinical trials begun in 2023.

Developing gene circuits is new and expanding field with a number of players including Cell Design Labs, which was acquired by Gilead in 2017 for up to $567 million. Other companies working on similar therapies include CRISPR Therapeutics, Intellius, and Editas, Lu said.

#bayer, #biology, #biotechnology, #boston-university, #cancer, #crispr-therapeutics, #emerging-technologies, #gilead, #head, #jim-collins, #manufacturing, #mit, #pharmaceutical, #semiconductor, #stanford, #synthetic-biology, #tc

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H1’s Linkedin for the healthcare industry raises $58 million

The idea sounds almost too simple. Create a version of Linkedin that’s specifically for the healthcare industry, where professionals can find out not just who has what credentials, but also learn about the research those professionals are conducting and the specialties they have.

In the middle of a global pandemic, when industry insiders are all trying to find out who is an expert in particular fields of medicine that are most impacted by a novel virus spreading like wildfire around the world, that simple idea becomes a necessity.

That’s the situation that H1, a startup which just raised $58 million in new financing, found themselves in as the pandemic hit American shores earlier this year.

The company only graduated from Y Combinator in January, and now, less than a year later is closing on over $70 million in total financing.

Doubling down on its previous investment in the company is Menlo Ventures, which along with the growth stage investment firm, IVP, co-led the new financing for the company.

 

Their rationale for investing can be attributed to H1’s explosive growth. The company now has 250 employees after launching from Y Combinator just 12 months ago. Already a player in the US, H1 is looking to expand to Europe and Asia in 2021 and counts 13 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies as its clients. As of its last tally, the company already had profiles on over 9 million healthcare professionals worldwide.

According to one person with knowledge of the company’s fundraising history, Menlo Ventures was so pleased with the company’s performance that it offered tens of millions of dollars in pre-emptive financing.

“We have created a platform for the healthcare ecosystem to connect in the same way Linkedin connected professional workers in the early 2000’s. There hasn’t been a global platform like H1 before that has connected industry to the right doctors the way H1 does,” said H1 co-founder and CEO Ariel Katz. “This next round of funding, with our excellent investment group, including Menlo who has been a great partner for us, will help us continue to become the largest healthcare professional platform and ultimately create a healthier future.”

Menlo Ventures certainly thinks so.

“When we started working with H1, we could already see early evidence of product-market fit, including both early ‘beachhead’ pharma deals and good logo velocity in smaller biotechs. Feedback from customers was stellar, both in terms of product value and commitment to customer success by the H1 team,” wrote Menlo Ventures partner Greg Yap and JP Sanday in a blog post. “One of our diligence intros even turned into a multi-million dollar customer and investor. But H1 was clearly still at an early stage of maturity for supporting large demanding enterprise customers. Now, at the Series B, H1 has ramped up execution, winning 13 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies as customers and meeting top-tier venture metrics in gross retention, net retention, and sales efficiency.”

#asia, #companies, #europe, #greg-yap, #healthcare-industry, #ivp, #linkedin, #menlo-ventures, #pharmaceutical, #recruitment, #tc, #united-states, #y-combinator

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AstraZeneca says it will likely do another study of COVID-19 vaccine after accidental lower dose shows higher efficacy

AstraZeneca’s CEO told Bloomberg that the pharmaceutical company will likely conduct another global trial of the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine trial, following the disclosure that the more effective dosage in the existing Phase 3 clinical trial was actually administered by accident. AstraZeneca and its partner the University of Oxford reported interim results that showed 62% efficacy for a full two-dose regimen, and a 90% efficacy rate for a half-dose followed by a full dose – which the scientists developing the drug later acknowledged was actually just an accidental administration of what was supposed to be two full doses.

To be clear, this shouldn’t dampen anyone’s optimism about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The results are still very promising, and an additional trial is being done only to ensure that what was seen as a result of the accidental half-dosage is actually borne out when the vaccine is administered that way intentionally. That said, this could extend the amount of time that it takes for the Oxford vaccine to be approved in the U.S., since this will proceed ahead of a planned U.S. trial that would be required for the FDA to approve it for use domestically.

The Oxford vaccine’s rollout to the rest of the world likely won’t be affected, according to AstraZeneca’s CEO, since the studies that have been conducted, including safety data, are already in place from participants around the world outside of the U.S.

While vaccine candidates from Moderna and Pfizer have also shown very strong efficacy in early Phase 3 data, hopes are riding high on the AstraZeneca version because it relies on a different technology, can be stored and transported at standard refrigerator temperatures rather than frozen, and costs just a fraction per dose compared to the other two leading vaccines in development.

That makes it an incredibly valuable resource for global inoculation programs, including distribution where cost and transportation infrastructures are major concerns.

#astrazeneca, #biotech, #ceo, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fda, #health, #medical-research, #moderna, #oxford, #pfizer, #pharmaceutical, #tc, #united-states, #vaccine, #vaccines

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The US now seems to be pinning all of its hopes on COVID-19 therapies and vaccines

Almost eight months after the White House first announced it would move from containment to mitigation efforts to stop the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, the Administration is now pinning its hopes on vaccines to inoculate the population and therapies to treat the disease.

Months after announcing it would be working with technology giants Apple and Google on a contact tracing app (and nearly two months after Google and Apple rolled out their exposure notification features) and initiating wide spread testing efforts nationwide with the largest national pharmacies (which never received the coordinated support it needed),  the Administration appears to be giving up on a national effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic.

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that the US is “not going to control the pandemic… We are gonna control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation.”

The admission is a final nail in the coffin for a federal response that could have involved a return to lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus, or national testing and contact tracing and other mitigation measures. Meadows statement comes as the US experiences a second peak in infection rates. There are now over 8.1 million cases and over 220,000 deaths since the first confirmed infection on US soil on January 20. 

Now, the focus is all on the vaccines, therapies and treatments being developed by large pharma companies and startups alike that are making their way through the approval processes of regulatory agencies around the world.

The vaccines in phase three clinical trials

There are currently 12 vaccines in large scale, late-stage clinical trials around the world, including ones from American companies Novavax, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna Therapeutics, and Pfizer who are recruiting tens of thousands of people in the US and UK to volunteer for testing.

In China, the state run pharmaceutical company Sinopharm has filed its application to China’s regulatory commission for the approval of a vaccine and hundreds of thousands of civilians have already been vaccinated under emergency use approvals from the Chinese government, according to a report in the New Yorker. Meanwhile the privately held Chinese pharmaceutical company, Sinovac, is moving forward with phase three trials for its own vaccine in Brazil, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Another private Chinese company, CanSino Biologics developed a vaccine that was already being distributed to members of the Chinese military in late July,

A collaboration in the U.K. between the University of Oxford and European pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is also recruiting volunteers in Brazil, India, the United Kingdom, the US and South Africa. And, in Australia, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute is trying to see whether a vaccine used to prevent tuberculosis could be used to vaccinate against the coronavirus.

Finally in Russia, the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in partnership with the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund have claimed to have developed a vaccine that the country has registered as the first one on the market cleared for widespread use. Russia has not published any data from the clinical trials it claims to have conducted to prove the efficacy of the vaccine and the World Health Organization still considers the treatment to be in the first phase of development.

Therapies in phase three clinical trials

If vaccines can prevent against infection, a slew of companies are also working on ways to limit the severity of the disease should someone become infected with Sars-Cov-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The Milken Institute lists 41 different therapies that have made it through to phase three of their clinical trials (the last phase before approval for widespread delivery).

These therapies come in one of five primary categories: antibody therapies, antivirals, cell-based therapies, RNA-based treatments, and repurposing existing treatments that may be in pharmaceutical purgatory.

Antibody therapies use the body’s natural defense systems either taken from the blood of people who have recovered from an infection or manufactured in a lab to neutralize the spread of a virus or bacteria. Antivirals, by contrast, stop a virus from spreading by attacking the viruses’ ability to replicate. Cell-based therapies are designed to boost the immune system’s ability to fight pathogens like viruses or bacteria. Meanwhile RNA-based treatments are another method to stop the virus from replicating by blocking the construction of viral proteins. Finally, several companies are mining their libraries of old drug compounds to see if any might be candidates for COVID-19 treatments.

So far, only three therapeutics have been approved to treat COVID-19. In the U.K. and Japan dexamethasone has received approvals, while favilavir is being used in China, Italy and Russia; and — famously thanks to its use by the President — remdesivir has been approved in the United States, Japan and Australia.

The US is also using convalescent plasma to treat hospitalized patients under emergency use authorizations. And special cases, like the President’s, have had access to other experimental treatments like Regeneron’s cell therapy under emergency use authorizations.

And there are several US-based startups developing potential COVID-19 therapies in each of these areas.

Adaptive Biotechnologies, Cytovia Therapeutics, and SAB Biotherapeutics are all developing antibody treatments. Applied Therapeutics is using an understanding of existing compounds to develop treatments for specific conditions associated with COVID-19. Cellularity has a cell-therapy that could reduce a patient’s viral load by stimulating so-called natural killer cells to attack infected cells. Humanigen has developed a new drug that could reduce fatalities in high-risk COVID-19 patients with severe pneumonia. Meanwhile Partner Therapeutics is working on a drug that could improve lung function in COVID-19 patients — and potentially boost antibody production against the virus and restore damaged lung cells. Finally, Sarepta Therapeutics has been working with the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases to find ways for its RNA-based treatment to stop the spread of coronaviruses by attacking the ability for the virus to replicate.

Beyond therapies, startups are finding other ways to play a role in helping the nation address the COVID-19 epidemic.

“At this point the U.S. doesn’t have the best public health system, but at the same time we have best-in-class private companies who can sometimes operate a lot more efficiently than governments can,” Carbon Health chief executive Eran Bali told the audience at TechCrunch’s Disrupt 2020 conference. “We also just recently launched a program to help COVID-positive patients get back to health quickly, a rehabilitation program. Because as you know even if you survive it doesn’t mean your body was not affected, there are permanent effects.”

Indeed the drive for more effective at-home tests and remote treatments for consumers are arguably more important when the federal government refuses to make the prevention of viral spread a priority, because consumers may voluntarily lock down if the government won’t.

“This is an opportunity to take a technology that naturally is all about detecting viruses — that’s what CRISPR does in [its native environment] bacteria — and repurposing it to use it as a rapid diagnostic for coronavirus,” said the Nobel Prize-winning co-inventor of some foundational CRISPR gene-editing technology, Jennifer Doudna. “We’re finding in the laboratory that that means that you can get a signal faster, and you can also get a signal that is more directly correlated to the level of the virus.”

#astrazeneca, #covid-19, #jake-tapper, #jennifer-doudna, #johnson-johnson, #moderna-therapeutics, #pfizer, #pharmaceutical, #tc, #vaccine, #world-health-organization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

0

Ro makes the weight loss product Plenity commercially available to everyone in the U.S.

In what could be the first step in the development of a significant new line of business for the telemedicine prescription provider Ro, the company is finally announcing the general commercial availability of weight loss product, Plenity.

Developed by Gelesis, a biotech company that makes treatments for gastro-intestinal disorders, Plentiy is a weight loss treatment that uses citric acid and cellulose to create a non-toxic paste that makes people feel more full after they ingest it. Taken before meals, the pill becomes a substance that expands to take up about 25% of the stomach, so people eat less.

The product has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is available for a much broader segment of the population than other weight loss products. While most prescription medicines are intended for people who are obese, the Gelesis product is made for people who are overweight, too.

“That’s adults who have a BMI from 25 up to 40. That’s 150 million Americans,” according to Gelesis chief commercial and operating officer, David Pass.

Plenity received FDA approval last April and Gelesis started working with Ro soon after, according to Pass. The idea was to craft a strategy that could get the treatment, which is classified as a medical device and not a drug, in the hands of as many patients as quickly as possible.

For Ro, the agreement with Gelesis is a sign of potential things to come. The company is the exclusive online provider of the Plenity treatment and Ro founder Zachariah Reitano said that there’s an incredible potential to engage in more of these types of deals.

“We would love to be able to partner with pharmaceutical companies to decrease the cost of distribution,” said Reitano. “We were excited to build an exciting treatment solution for weight management. Our high-level mission is to be the patient’s first call.”

With the Gelesis partnership Ro can add another highly desirable treatment to its roster of therapies — and one that can be a contributing factor to increasing the severity of other conditions that the company already provides treatment for, Reitano said. 

“There are a few conditions that we currently treat that are exacerbated by a patient being overweight or obese. People who struggle with weight management will also experience ED. Obesity can lead to heart failure stroke, coronary heart disease, hypetension, depression,” Reitano said. “The breadth of the label is interesting. Only FDA approved with a BMI from 25 to 40. FDA approved treatment have been between 30 and 40. [It] makes the treatment more accessible to a wider variety of people.”

As the only online provider of the treatment, Ro has developed an onboarding process to ensure that the Plenity therapy isn’t abused by people who suffer from eating disorders.

“During our onboarding we not only ask questions to patients about their weight management. There’s a consecutive set of images that need to be uploaded and taken with the provider. That’s something we’ve taken a lot of time and energy to make sure about,” said Reitano. 

Like the other treatments Ro offers, Plenity is a cash pay prescription, because the weight loss treatments aren’t typically covered by insurance, he said.

The benefit of working with an online pharmacy like Ro to provide distribution for a new therapy was obvious to both startups.

“We turned this market on its head by putting the consumer at the heart of everything we do,” said Pass. The treatment costs $98 per month, compared to other therapies or branded medications that could be as much $300 and $350 per month, according to Pass.

One reason that Gelesis is able to reduce the price of the drug is that it won’t have to hire a massive sales force to pitch it. The company has Ro for that.

“Normally you have a pharmaceutical company that would have to hire a sales force and go door to door and it increases the cost of a new drug. [Ro] can make a new, innovative treatment available, like Plenity, available nationwide,” Reitano said. 

#depression, #drugs, #energy, #food-and-drug-administration, #health, #obesity, #officer, #online-pharmacy, #pharmaceutical, #ro, #tc, #telemedicine

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Ohio-based collaboration service for biotech and pharma research, Within3, raises $100 million

Within3, a collaboration and communication service for the biotech and pharma industries, has raised over $100 million in new financing, the company said.

The investment came from Insight Partners with participation from Silversmith Capital Partners.

Most of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies already use the Lakewood, Ohio-based company’s service to publish clinical studies, host advisory boards, and collaborate with researchers and other participants in the drug development process, according to a statement from the company.

Within3 said it would use the new funding to continue its product development and build additional capacity to support its growth.

“Investment opportunities in companies like Within3 don’t come around very often,” said Deven Parekh, Managing Director at Insight Partners, in a statement. “The company has seen explosive growth over the last 12 quarters and continues to break new records each month… At a time when collaboration, communication and cooperation is more critical than ever across the global life sciences ecosystem, we are excited to bring our strategic operations expertise to help Within3 scale.”

Parekh, and Insight Partners’ Managing Directors Adam Berger and Ross Devor, will join Within3’s board as a result of the financing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed an increasing number of companies in a variety of industries to pursue virtual collaboration tools and the pharmaceutical and biotech business is no different.

Indeed, given the regulatory requirements, it makes sense that a bespoke toolkit designed around the industry’s more robust needs would raise a heaping amount of cash.

Within3 boasts of users in over 150 countries.

“Global demand for our solution is surging at an unprecedented rate,” said Lance Hill, CEO of Within3, in a statement. “Life science companies are looking for virtual work solutions that exceed the level of engagement of traditional live interactions, meets all their compliance needs, and that will scale across the enterprise. They have found that solution with Within3.”

#ceo, #drug-development, #insight-partners, #pharmaceutical, #tc

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Building a white label tool for telemedicine services nabs OnCall Health $6 million

As medical providers across the world turn to digital delivery of consultations and services, OnCall Health a Toronto-based provider of back-end services for telemedicine is having a moment.

The company, which competes with services like Truepill to offer physicians, pharmacies and other potential point of care services a way to consult online, has grown exceptionally quickly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

OnCall Health’s services include the ability to schedule a video or text appointment with a physician, hosting those video consultations on its secured servers, and the integration of back end billing systems so physicians can get paid.

Services like OnCall and TruePill’s have increased exponentially since the advent of lockdown orders put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. In a sign of how hungry investors are for these kinds of deals, Truepill just raised $75 million to expand its own health services offerings.

“Since COVID-19, telemedicine has shifted from a nice-to-have revenue source for primary care, mental health, and home care and chronic conditions to a need-to-have,” said Base10 Partners principal Chris Zeoli, who led the investment into OnCall.

Joining Base10 in its $6 million investment into OnCall were several existing investors from the company’s $2 million seed round, including Ripple Ventures, Panache Ventures, and Stout Street Capital.

The bulk of the company’s customers come from small and medium-sized physician’s practices, according to Zeoli. Roughly 500 of the company’s existing customers consist of offices with less than ten practicing doctors.

Capturing this long tail is important because it actually represents a huge proportion of healthcare providers.

“OnCall provides everything that healthcare brands like pharmaceutical companies, insurers, and direct to consumer digital health startups need to get into the space and launch their own virtual care programs, often for the first time,” said Nicholas Chepesiuk, founder and CEO of OnCall Health. “Meanwhile, we are well positioned to help conventional healthcare clinics and systems adopt virtual care technology in the context of their operational processes. In the past year we have been able to roll out our technology with two global insurance companies, several leading pharmaceutical brands, and many rapidly growing digital health startups.”

OnCall now has over 30 employees and supports 7,000 primary care, mental health, and paramedical service providers across North America.

#articles, #base10-partners, #ceo, #digital-health, #insurance, #north-america, #pharmaceutical, #physician, #tc, #telehealth, #telemedicine, #toronto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Osmind pitches clinical management and data analysis for mental health practices using psychedelics

Jimmy Qian and Lucia Huang, the co-founders of a new clinical practice management and data analysis platform for mental health providers focusing on cutting edge psychedelic treatments, met at Stanford University. 

The two both come from healthcare backgrounds. Huang, whose mother was a biomedical engineer, worked as an associate at Warburg Pincus focused on healthcare and worked at the startup Verge Genomics before heading to Stanford’s business school while Qian was in medical school at Stanford.

Both also went to high school in the Bay Area and were intimately familiar with the mental health crisis affecting the communities around Silicon Valley.

Qian worked on a few non-profits in the mental health space through his undergraduate years at Penn and then again in the Bay Area while he was at Stanford.

Osmind’s founders say the goal for their young startup is to help patients access innovative treatments to mental health by providing clinicians and pharmaceutical companies with software and services that will make the provision of care, and proof of the efficacy of treatment, more readily available.

There are 11 million Americans that are resistant to most mental health therapies, according to Huang and Qian. Those patients can cost the healthcare as much as $250 billion, they said. “Nobody has been able to help this patient population,” said Huang in an interview. “Pharma doesn’t develop drugs for them.”

Now graduating with Y Combinator’s latest cohort of companies, Osmind’s public benefit corporation intends to aggregate data from the sickest patient population and provide that data to drug developers for clinical trials and to help insurers route patients to the treatment providers that can benefit them the most, according to Qian.

The company, which launched its services two months ago, already has 30 practices using its software covering 3,000 patients.

“The beauty of all of this is that it’s a win-win for everyone,” said Huang. Providers get a software platform that streamlines administrative tasks and provides patient outreach and remote monitoring services. They also have a web portal that allows them to view patient progress.

Qian said its a service designed for physicians that are not necessarily technically savvy. It also provides a dataset that can be used to clinically validate some of these more experimental forms of therapy including psychedelics and ketamine treatment.

“We improve the care journey,” said Qian. “These are clinics that don’t have the manpower to do that.. You can’t call your patients every single day.”

#articles, #disability, #health, #health-care, #healthcare, #mental-health, #pennsylvania, #pharmaceutical, #primary-care, #software-platform, #stanford-university, #tc, #verge-genomics, #warburg-pincus, #web-portal, #y-combinator

0

Hydroxychloroquine linked to increase in COVID-19 deaths, heart risks

A bottle and pills of Hydroxychloroquine. US President Donald Trump announced May 18 he has been taking hydroxychloroquine for almost two weeks as a preventative measure against COVID-19.

Enlarge / A bottle and pills of Hydroxychloroquine. US President Donald Trump announced May 18 he has been taking hydroxychloroquine for almost two weeks as a preventative measure against COVID-19. (credit: Getty | George Frey)

Two closely related anti-malarial drugs championed by President Donald Trump as promising treatments for COVID-19 appear to substantially increase the risks of death and heart complications in patients hospitalized from the disease.

That’s according to the largest study yet on the topic, which involved more than 96,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients on six continents. The peer-reviewed study, appearing Friday in The Lancet, was led by Mandeep Mehra, a professor of medicine at Harvard.

The drugs studied included chloroquine and its analogue hydroxychloroquine, which are used to treat autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as malaria. Early laboratory work suggested that they also have potent anti-viral properties. But small clinical studies looking into potential benefits for COVID-19 patients have largely provided mixed and inconclusive results to this point.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#anti-viral, #chloroquine, #covid-19, #drug-develompment, #hydroxychloroquine, #infectious-disease, #pharmaceutical, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #trump

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Emerging from stealth, Octant is bringing the tools of synthetic biology to large scale drug discovery

Octant, a company backed by Andreessen Horowitz just now unveiling itself publicly to the world, is using the tools of synthetic biology to buck the latest trends in drug discovery.

As the pharmaceuticals industry turns its attention to precision medicine — the search for ever more tailored treatments for specific diseases using genetic engineering — Octant is using the same technologies to engage in drug discovery and diagnostics on a mass scale.

The company’s technology genetically engineers DNA to act as an identifier for the most common drug receptors inside the human genome. Basically, it’s creating QR codes that can flag and identify how different protein receptors in cells respond to chemicals. These are the biological sensors which help control everything from immune responses to the senses of sight and smell, the firing of neurons; even the release of hormones and communications between cells in the body are regulated.

“Our discovery platform was designed to map and measure the interconnected relationships between chemicals, multiple drug receptor pathways and diseases, enabling us to engineer multi-targeted drugs in a more rational way, across a wide spectrum of targets,” said Sri Kosuri, Octant’s co-founder and chief executive officer, in a statement.

Octant’s work is based on a technology first developed at the University of California Los Angeles by Kosuri and a team of researchers, which slashed the cost of making genetic sequences to $2 per gene from $50 to $100 per gene.

“Our method gives any lab that wants the power to build its own DNA sequences,” Kosuri said in a 2018 statement. “This is the first time that, without a million dollars, an average lab can make 10,000 genes from scratch.”

Joining Kosuri in launching Octant is Ramsey Homsany, a longtime friend of Kosuri’s, and a former executive at Google and Dropbox . Homsany happened to have a background in molecular biology from school, and when Kosuri would talk about the implications of the technology he developed, the two men knew they needed to for a company.

“We use these new tools to know which bar code is going with which construct or genetic variant or pathway that we’re working with [and] all of that fits into a single well,” said Kosuri. “What you can do on top of that is small molecule screening… we can do that with thousands of different wells at a time. So we can build these maps between chemicals and targets and pathways that are essential to drug development.”

Before coming to UCLA, Kosuri had a long history with companies developing products based on synthetic biology on both the coasts. Through some initial work that he’d done in the early days of the biofuel boom in 2007, Kosuri was connected with Flagship Ventures, and the imminent Harvard-based synthetic biologist George Church . He also served as a scientific advisor to Gen9, a company acquired by the multi-billion dollar synthetic biology powerhouse, Ginkgo Bioworks.

“Some of the most valuable drugs in history work on complex sets of drug targets, which is why Octant’s focus on polypharmacology is so compelling,” said Jason Kelly, the co-founder and CEO of Gingko Bioworks, and a member of the Octant board, in a statement. “Octant is engineering a lot of luck and cost out of the drug discovery equation with its novel platform and unique big data biology insights, which will drive the company’s internal development programs as well as potential partnerships.”

The new technology arrives at a unique moment in the industry where pharmaceutical companies are moving to target treatments for diseases that are tied to specific mutations, rather than look at treatments for more common disease problems, said Homsany.

“People are dropping common disease problems,” he said. “The biggest players are dropping these cases and it seems like that just didn’t make sense to us. So we thought about how would a company take these new technologies and apply them in a way that could solve some of this.”

One reason for the industry’s turn away from the big diseases that affect large swaths of the population is that new therapies are emerging to treat these conditions which don’t rely on drugs. While they wouldn’t get into specifics, Octant co-founders are pursuing treatments for what Kosuri said were conditions “in the metabolic space” and in the “neuropsychiatric space”.

Helping them pursue those targets, since Octant is very much a drug development company, is $20 million in financing from investors led by Andreessen Horowitz .

“Drug discovery remains a process of trial and error. Using its deep expertise in synthetic biology, the Octant team has engineered human cells that provide real-time, precise and complete readouts of the complex interactions and effects that drug molecules have within living cells,” said Jorge Conde, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, and member of the Octant board of directors. “By querying biology at this unprecedented scale, Octant has the potential to systematically create exhaustive maps of drug targets and corresponding, novel treatments for our most intractable diseases.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #biology, #biotechnology, #chemicals, #dna, #dna-sequencing, #dropbox, #drug-development, #drug-discovery, #emerging-technologies, #executive, #flagship-ventures, #general-partner, #genetic-engineering, #genetics, #george-church, #ginkgo-bioworks, #google, #harvard, #jason-kelly, #jorge-conde, #pharmaceutical, #synthetic-biology, #tc

0

Owkin raises $25 million as it builds a secure network for healthcare analysis and research

Imagine a model of collaborative research and development among hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, universities and other research institutions where no one shared any actual data.

That’s the dream of the new New York-based startup Owkin, which has raised $25 million in fresh financing from investors, including Bpifrance Large Venture, Cathay Innovation and MACSF (the French Pension Fund for Clinicians), alongside previous investors GV, F-Prime Capital and Eight Roads

The company’s pitch is that data scientists, clinical doctors, academics and pharmaceutical companies can all log in to the virtual lab that Owkin calls the Owkin Studio.

In that virtual environment, all parties can access anonymized data sets and models exclusively to refine their own research and development and studies to ensure that the most cutting-edge insights into novel biomarkers, mechanisms of action and predictive models inform the work that all of the relevant parties are doing.

The ultimate goal, the company said, is to improve patient outcomes.

In its quest to get more companies and institutions to open up and share information — with the promise that the information can’t be extracted or used in a way that isn’t allowed by the owners of the data — Owkin is replicating work that other companies are pursuing in fields ranging from healthcare to financial services and beyond.

The Israeli company Qedit has developed similar technologies for the financial services industry, and Sympatic, a recent graduate from one of the recent batches of Techstars companies, is working on a similar technology for the healthcare industry.

Owkin makes money by enabling remote access to the data sets for pharmaceutical companies and licensing the models developed by universities to those companies. It’s a way for the company to entice researchers to join the platform and provide another revenue stream for research institutions who have seen their funding decline over the last 40 years.

We have a huge loop of academic universities that have access to the data and are developing algorithms and we share data,” said the company’s chief executive Dr. Thomas Clozel. “At the end what it helps is developing better drugs.”

Declines in federal funding for scientific research since the 1980s (Image courtesy of The Conversation)

The investment from Owkin’s new and existing investors takes the company to $55 million in total capital raised through the extension of its Series A round. In all, the round totaled $52 million, Clozet said.

“We are exactly where we need to be because it’s about privacy and privacy is more important than ever before,” said Clozet.

The COVID-19 epidemic has emphasized the need for closer collaboration among different corporations and research institutions, and that has also increased demand for the company’s technology. “It touches everything… We have access to the right data sets and centers to build the best models for COVID,” said Clozet. “We’re lucky to have the right traction before the COVID happens and we have the right research that has been done.”

In fact, the company has launched the Covid-19 Open AI Consortium (COAI), and is using its platform to advance collaborative research and accelerate clinical development of effective treatments for patients infected with the coronavirus, the company said. All of its findings will be shared with the global medical and scientific communities.

The initial focus on the research is on cardiovascular complications in COVID-19 patients in collaboration with CAPACITY, an international registry working with over 50 centers worldwide, the company said. Other areas of research will include patient outcomes and triage, and the prediction and characterization of immune response, according to Owkin.

“Since we first backed Owkin in 2017, we have been sharing its vision to apply AI to fighting one of the most dreadful diseases on earth: cancer,” said Jacky Abitbol, a partner at Cathay Innovation. “Owkin has risen to become a leader in digital health, we are proud to grow our investment in the company to fuel its ambition to pioneer AI for medical research, while preserving patient-privacy and data security.”

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Potential new treatment for COVID-19 uncovered by BenevolentAI enters trials

BenevolentAI, a startup which has raised $292 million to apply AI to create drugs faster, today says it has uncovered an already approved drug as a potential treatment for COVID-19, after it applied its AI platform and team to the problem. The revelation, which has now appeared in peer-reviewed scientific journals and has already entered clinical trials with a major pharmaceutical company, could offer a glimmer of hope to a world locked-down by the pandemic.

In February, BenevolentAI set up a specialist scientific team and launched an investigation using its drug discovery platform.

Baroness Joanna Shields, CEO of BenevolentAI, explained: “In response to the COVID-19 global health emergency, we turned our AI drug discovery and development platform toward understanding the body’s response to this novel infectious disease.”

Key to their approach was that “rather than focusing solely on drugs that could affect the virus directly, we explored ways to inhibit the cellular processes that the virus uses to infect human cells,” she said.

The idea was to identify approved drugs that could potentially stop the progression of COVID-19, inhibit the “cytokine storm” and reduce the inflammatory damage associated with this disease.

Diseases such as covid-19 and influenza can be fatal due to an overreaction of the body’s immune system called a cytokine storm.

Cytokines are small proteins released by many different cells in the body, including those of the immune system where they coordinate the body’s response against infection and trigger inflammation.

The body’s response to infection goes into overdrive when SARS-CoV-2 – the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic – enters the lungs, triggering an immune response, and attracting immune cells to the region to attack the virus. This resulting in localized inflammation. Some people experience worse symptoms than others at this point. But in some people, excessive or uncontrolled levels of cytokines are released which then activate more immune cells, resulting in ‘hyperinflammation’ which can seriously harm or even kill the person.

BenevolentAI’s team fed everything they knew about COVID-19, and the drugs that could inhibit the cellular processes that the virus uses, into their platform.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Peter Richardson, BenevolentAI’s VP of Pharmacology, explained how the discovery came about.

“Using the BenevolentAI Knowledge Graph there were two processes. One was finding the connections, and the regulators,” he said.

“It’s incredibly, incredibly difficult to hold in your head what’s irrelevant, all the time, without having the Knowledge Graph to show you the basic points. It’s really good at showing the basic interactions that are so important in understanding a biological process. Cellular tracking is an amazingly complicated thing to process.”

But, he said, the BenevolentAI platform handled the information with aplomb: “This took an hour for the platform to process.”

The next process was for the human team to find possible drugs to inhibit regulators. These were then fed into the Knowledge Graph. Richardson said this “took roughly half an hour to process.”

The result was that they identified baricitinib as a potential drug with both anti-viral and anti-cytokine properties, with 90 minutes of computing time, inside three days of additional human work.

Benevolent’s research findings were published in The Lancet in early February and again twice in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. These proposed baricitinib as a potential treatment with both anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties for COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital prior to the development of critical lung damage.

By March, investigator-led studies began recruiting and treating infected patients with baricitinib. Today, Eli Lilly and the US National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have announced that the drug will now begin it’s first large randomized trial in COVID-19 patients.

Baricitinib, sold as a prescription drug called Olumiant, is an already approved drug developed by Eli Lilly and Incyte for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

The randomized trial announced by Eli Lilly with NIAID will investigate the efficacy and safety of baricitinib as a potential treatment for patients with serious COVID-19 infections.

The study will begin in the US in late April with planned expansion to additional sites in Europe and Asia, with the results being expected within the next two months. This new trial joins a Canadian government randomised trial already underway assessing baricitinib as a potential treatment.

Commenting, Shields said: “We are pleased that Eli Lilly is progressing baricitinib to clinical testing for COVID-19 patients. While we wait for a vaccine to be developed, there is an immediate need for medicines that can prevent life-threatening respiratory and other serious complications of COVID-19 infections.”

Daniel Skovronsky, M.D., Ph.D., Lilly’s chief scientific officer and president of Lilly Research Laboratories said: “Lilly is moving at top speed and using all available resources to help fight this pandemic. Developing potential therapeutic medicines for COVID-19 is part of our vital and humanitarian mission.”

Professor Justin Stebbing from Imperial College, London, who has been collaborating on this work between Eli Lilly and BenevolentAI, also commented, saying: “There are no specific therapeutic agents for any coronavirus infections – we rely on quarantine, isolation and public health policies to prevent disease spread, and on supportive care measures for those who become ill. What we lack is a specific agent to treat the infected and, optimally, decrease viral shedding and subsequent transmission. The results of such trials will be central to clinical care as the outbreak continues and we anticipate that this treatment will improve mortality and reduce the pressure on hospitals and ICU’s worldwide. This research is notable for its incredible speed from computer to bench and bedside within a few months.”

Commenting, Richardson added: “If you turned the BenevolentAI 250-person team and turned all of them into 65-year old ex-pharmacology teachers, it would have taken probably a year to come up with this treatment. Instead, it took my three colleagues working so two hours a day, and myself working full time, three days to come up with this. We’ve gone from computer to bedside, as it were, in two months.”

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African genomics startup 54gene raises $15M led by Adjuvant Capital

Greater availability of African genomic data could lead to medical breakthroughs for the continent’s 1.2 billion people.

That’s the driving proposition of 54gene — a U.S. and Nigeria based startup — that collects African genetic code for use in health research and drug development.

The company has closed a $15 million Series A round, in part, to address a deficiency in these processes.

“As of the time we launched, less then 3% of all genome wide association studies globally had been conducted in Africa. There was a lack of data coming from Africans…and the diaspora,” 54gene founder and CEO Dr. Abasi Ene-Bong said.

“We are trying to address the gap that currently exists in precision medicine for people of the African continent,” he told TechCrunch on a call from Lagos.

New York based Adjuvant Capital led the round 54gene will now deploy toward that goal. Founded in 2019 by Ene-Bong, the company is headquartered in San Francisco with a biobank facility in Lagos that holds capacity for 60,000 samples. The startup has an engineering team and a proprietary platform to catalog and analyze the genetic data.

Image Credits: 54gene

54gene also has over 300 researchers, clinicians and geneticists across the continent and a research lab in Nigeria.

With the $15 million — which brings total VC to $19.5 million — the startup will expand its biobank capabilities to 200,000 samples, with a longer term goal to manage up to 500,000. 54gene is also boosting its lab capabilities. “With this funding we are about to expand that lab so we can process actual genetic data for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people,” said Ene-Bong.

54gene plans to hire across the organization, from seeking a new VP of finance to adding additional scientists.

The company recruits research participants in Africa through studies at venues, such as hospitals, to take genetic samples via swab or blood tests. “Participants have to give us their informed consent before any testing,” explained Ene-Bong.

Adjuvant Capital Managing Partner Jenny Yip confirmed the VC firm’s lead on the $15 million investment. In addition to funds from Adjuvant — which itself is backed by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Novartis — 54gene is a 2019 Y Combinator alum and received follow on funding from the Silicon Valley accelerator.

The company has a longer time horizon to income, but the primary path to revenues is paid co-development of drugs and medicine working with pharmaceutical companies. “When the drug is in the market…and approved medicine [54gene] and the pharma company will share revenues,” said Ene-Bong.

When it comes to life-saving treatments in Africa, big pharma has faced criticism going back decades. The primary point of friction: the industry’s insistence on strict IP enforcement and high-margin prices for HIV-Aids related treatments on the continent. This has led to legal battles between pharma companies and the government of South Africa over that country allowing production of cheaper generic versions of those drugs.

On the value of Africa’s pharmaceutical industry, McKinsey and Company research estimates it at roughly $14 billion, and grossly under its potential — given an addressable market of some percentage of 1.2 billion people for new drugs.

For its part, 54gene’s CEO Abasi Ene-Bong is clear the company is a for-profit entity, but aims to balance money-making motives (and those of pharma partners) with advancing health in Africa.

The startup plans to exert leverage over the pricing process through its practice of co-developing drugs.

Dr Abasi Ene Obong, Image Credits: 54gene

“When you are a service provider to big pharma you can’t really make such a request. But when you are a development partner you co-own a significant stake of what’s being developed and have more of a say,” said Ene-Bong.

The startup is unable to disclose any current big pharma partners or which health issues in Africa it’s aiming genetic research toward tackling.

“I can say we will prioritize diseases that affect Africans disproportionately,” Ene-Bong said.

One obvious ailment in need of more effective prevention and treatment is malaria — with 92% of the world’s 219 million cases occurring in Africa, according to WHO data.

54gene has also turned its capabilities to COVID-19, which has spiked in Africa since mid-March. The company has re-positioned itself to do testing for the virus in Nigeria’s public health facilities and plans to offer coronavirus screening in its Lagos lab soon.

“We hope that when given approval, we can do more than 3000 tests a day,” said Ene-Bong

#54gene, #adjuvant-capital, #africa, #ceo, #covid-19, #drug-development, #finance, #lagos, #malaria, #new-york, #nigeria, #novartis, #pharmaceutical, #san-francisco, #science, #series-a, #south-africa, #tc, #techcrunch, #united-states, #world-health-organization, #y-combinator

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Duke University uses vaporized hydrogen peroxide to clean N95 face masks for reuse

With shortages of N95 face masks persisting nationwide, healthcare facilities are scrambling to find ways to clean and treat the masks for reuse to protect doctors and nurses most at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Duke University thinks it has found a solution using vaporized hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate the masks.

The process uses specialized equipment to vaporize hydrogen peroxide, which can then infuse all the layers of the mask to kill germs (including viruses) without degrading mask material.

“This is a decontamination technology and method we’ve used for years in our biocontainment laboratory,” said Scott Alderman, associate director of the Duke Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, in a statement.

The university said it has proven effective and will begin using the technology at all three of its hospitals, according to Matthew Stiegel, the director of the Occupational and Environmental Safety Office at Duke.

Ideally, the hospitals would be able to use fresh masks and not need to try to decontaminate their masks, but these are not ideal times.

Duke’s decision to use hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate N95 masks is based on published studies conducted in 2016, but the practice wasn’t widespread, because the industry wasn’t facing shortages. Those earlier studies also didn’t include fit-testing — or the resizing of masks for individual wearers — after cleaning. Duke has now done that efficacy testing in the real world, the university said.

“The ability to reuse the crucial N95 masks will boost the hospitals’ ability to protect front-line healthcare workers during this time of critical shortages of N95 masks,” said Cameron Wolfe, MD, associate professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist.

Monte Brown, MD, vice president at Duke University Health System, said the Duke team is working to spread the word about the technique, making the protocols widely available. He said several health systems and many pharmaceutical companies already have the needed equipment, which is currently used in different ways, and could ramp up operations to come to the aid of their local hospitals.

“We could stand up in front of our staff and state with confidence that we are using a proven decontamination method,” Brown said. “It has been a proven method for years. While this alone will not solve the problem, if we and others can reuse masks even once or twice, that would be a huge benefit given the current shortages.”

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #duke, #duke-university, #health, #mask, #n95, #pharmaceutical, #tc, #vice-president

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