Intermountain Healthcare recently partnered with a startup named Story Health to help manage patients’ heart failure by increasing access to specialty care. Under the partnership, Intermountain clinicians are working with Story’s health coaches to help patients keep up with their treatment plans while they’re outside the walls of the doctor’s office.

Founded in 2020 and based in Cupertino, Story has raised over $26 million to date, according to Crunchbase. Like many digital health startups, the idea to form the company came from the CEO’s personal experience with the U.S. healthcare system.

Story CEO Tom Stanis’ father suffered a stroke years ago. Though much time has passed since the event, it’s still a struggle to manage his recovery.

“This gap between the intensivist and the coordinating primary care physicians is a place where many of us fall behind. Our specialists are overburdened — unable to manage the constant tweaking and deluge of data being generated from patients at home. Primary care is often out of the loop, not knowing or having the confidence to optimize a complex ongoing recovery process. My father fell into this hole,” Stanis said.

Patients are presenting to clinicians with increasing complexity and incomplete care experiences, he pointed out. This problem is made worse by the fact that clinicians are short on time. Constricted by growing administrative tasks and shortened appointment lengths, clinicians often do not have the time they need to contextualize a patient’s full story (hence the startup’s name) and how that story can directly impact their outcome, Stanis said.

To address this issue, Story’s platform offers two key solutions. 

The first is its electronic health record-integrated AI. This technology allows providers to easily connect disparate data from various sources, such as EHRs, medical devices, remote patient monitoring databases and lab results.

“By leveraging data, we can find patients that need support and then automate a personalized care plan based on clinical guidelines, which can be further customized by the physician. This removes the administrative requirements for clinicians to find those patients that aren’t at optimal or goal therapy and makes it easier to get them back on track with the care plan,” Stanis declared.

Once a personalized care plan is established, Story integrates a human touch element. Through its health coaches (which are real people, not AI bots), Story helps ensure that the care plan is followed and the treatment goal is achieved.

Stanis said that Story’s health coaches are an essential part of the business because they serve as an extension of the clinician to identify and resolve challenges like medication optimization, lab draw coordination, transportation arrangements and prescription assistance. These coaches also respond to patient questions via texts and calls.

Story is currently focused on cardiology and heart failure because only 1% of heart failure patients receive the appropriate medications, Stanis pointed out. 

The startup partnered with Intermountain because the startup is seeking to expand its reach and serve more patients. Stanis declined to comment on whether Story’s services are covered for Intermountain patients or how the partners will measure the success of their collaboration. However, Story said that whitepapers detailing the program’s results will be published later this year.

Photo: kieferpix, Getty Images

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Fed up with poor staffing levels and excessive burnout, nurses continue to leave their hospital jobs in droves. In fact, experts predict that the U.S. healthcare industry will be short 2.1 million nurses by 2025.

Hydreight was founded in 2018 as a telehealth platform and medical network that addresses this issue by letting nurses be their own boss and work as independent 1099 contractors. Last week, the Las Vegas-based company launched an updated app so that the hundreds of nurses on its platform can have a more streamlined experience.

The startup’s platform makes it possible for nurses, med spa technicians and other licensed healthcare professionals to be in control of their own schedules and deliver services outside of a hospital or traditional medical facility, said Hydreight CEO Shane Madden.

“The platform operates as a marketplace, essentially as an ‘Uber for nurses,’ allowing them to connect directly with patients and deliver services anywhere,” he said. 

Nurses use Hydreight’s platform to offer services such as IV drip, Botox, Covid-19 testing and other medical and med spa treatments. These services can be delivered at the patient’s home, hotel, office or any other suitable location, Madden said.

Patients who join Hydreight’s medical network can use its app — which operates similarly to popular food delivery apps — to order a medical service from its pharmaceutical IV menu or aesthetic services menu.

Hydreight’s platform provides medical director oversight, liability insurance, HIPAA-compliant documentation and access to a digital pharmacy, Madden added. This means that nurses can work for themselves without the stress of operating their own business.

Across all 50 states, Hydreight currently has 688 accounts that provide medical services and tens of thousands of patients using its app. The startup said it’s difficult to say the exact number of nurses on its platform because each account is different — some have one nurse working solo and others consist of a team of nurses who joined using one account.

Some Hydreight nurses went viral on TikTok last year for posting videos saying they earn higher wages than travel nurses. Hydreight nurses said they earn as much as $3,500 a week. The average monthly salary for travel nurses is $9,790, which breaks down to about $2,500 a week.

Madden said Hydreight was founded to give nurses more autonomy and freedom, and the company will remain dedicated to serving their best interests.

“We are committed to continuous improvement and listening to what users need. This update gives nurses and other health and wellness service providers more control over what they offer, as well as overall improved performance, usability, reporting, and aesthetic and functional upgrades. For both patients and service providers, it includes an improved booking experience and more options for how each wants to use the platform,” he said.

Still, Hydreight is not the only company offering at-home IV services — there’s also The IV Doc. Madden believes his company differentiates itself with its proprietary HIPAA-compliant software, medical director oversight, medical liability insurance and infusions protocols.

“There is no other mobile wellness organization that provides its partners with everything they need to run their business all in one place,” he said.

Photo: Dilok Klaisataporn, Getty Images

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The innovation institute run by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill teamed up with Amazon Web Services on Wednesday to create a venture studio to turn the university’s digital health research concepts into full-fledged startups. AWS’ platform beat out the other major cloud providers because it was “the most entrepreneurial,” according to Bob Dieterle, the venture studio’s managing director.

Dieterle helped create the venture studio because he noticed something important: despite the fact that universities produce plenty of valuable digital health research, they often fail to commercialize digital health products in the form of modern app technology. 

Universities need a better pipeline model to quickly turn research into cloud-based digital health apps, he said in an interview.

The collaboration will support 25 concept development projects over three years. Refining the venture concept and validating technology may take longer than three years for some projects, so the collaboration has a goal of launching 10 startups during that time period, Dieterle said in an interview.

UNC and AWS are selecting projects that improve healthcare access, patient outcomes and the patient and provider experience. UNC researchers whose projects are selected will receive guidance from AWS software developers who specialize in cybersecurity, computing, biomedical research, and healthcare machine learning. 

There are five types of projects the collaboration is looking to support: platforms to help providers better run their enterprises, platforms to help clinicians and clinical support staff, products that store and transmit clinical information to guide care, products that aid in the diagnosis or monitoring of patients, and medical interventions or therapies.

UNC researchers will collaborate with experts from AWS at UNC-Chapel Hill’s health research labs. They can use the research labs’ software building platform to build their concepts into production-ready models to run on AWS.

When choosing a cloud partner for this venture studio, UNC looked at other major cloud providers, including Google, Microsoft and Oracle, according to Dieterle. He said UNC went with AWS because it was the company that demonstrated the most commitment to building a new type of cloud-based pipeline to commercialize more digital health research from universities.

“We need a new model than what is currently being done,” Dieterle said. “If you look at the big tech companies, they’re very siloed. They have a public sector team, and all they care about is selling to a university, for example. Then they have a startups team. These teams don’t necessarily work together. And then the startups team will wait for a university startup to be spun out, and then they engage with them. And they have innovation programs — and these programs, disparately, really don’t work. We need to identify a pipeline.”

Under this pipeline model, researchers can access cloud-based software and data science tools to help them validate their algorithms sooner — and hopefully get to commercialization sooner.

AWS was the cloud provider who demonstrated the most enthusiasm about this pipeline model, according to Dieterle. He said AWS brought together its public sector team, startup team and research team together into one and worked with UNC to create a single concept development process.

“I tried to do this with the others, and they weren’t really very interested in doing that. So that’s how we settled on Amazon,” Dieterle said.

Eight of the collaboration’s 25 planned projects have already kicked off. As startups begin to be launched out of the venture studio, UNC will share upside with them. For example, UNC will financially benefit when startups license the technology that was developed at the university. UNC is also becoming investors in these companies and getting on their capital tables, according to Dieterle.

Photo: Eva Almqvist, Getty Images

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Cancer continues to be a big draw for biotech investors, and cancer research is well represented in the past week’s financing activity. Seven biotech companies announced financing rounds to support a range of tumor-targeting therapeutic approaches that include small molecules, oncolytic viruses, and peptide drugs.

Peptides are the focus of FogPharma, which raised the largest financing round of the Thanksgiving holiday-shortened week. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech is developing a new class of peptide drugs that address therapeutic targets deemed “undruggable.” FogPharma is led by CEO Greg Verdine, a former Harvard professor who has become a biotech entrepreneur. Verdine is also chief executive of LifeMine Therapeutics, a GSK-partnered startup that analyzes fungal genes to discover new drugs.

Arch Venture Partners and Invus are among the financial backers of LifeMine, and those firms also participated in FogPharma’s new $178 million round of funding. The Series D financing comes as the biotech prepares for its first clinical trial. The company says polypeptide drugs from its Helicon platform combine the targeting abilities of antibodies with the features of small molecule drugs: broad tissue distribution, intracellular target engagement, and oral dosing. Lead program FOG-001 is designed to block TCF-blocking beta-catenin to address a dysregulated signaling pathway found in an estimated 20% of all human cancers.

In preclinical research, FogPharma says FOG-001 stopped tumor growth and led to tumor regression. The company plans to submit an investigational new drug application and start Phase 1 testing by mid-2023. The new capital will also support development of FogPharma’s preclinical pipeline, which addresses other biologically validated but elusive cancer drug targets such as TEAD, NRAS, Pan-KRAS, and Cyclin E1.

Here’s a look at the other biotech financings for the past week:

—Nearly three months after Roche reached a deal to acquire cancer drug developer Good Therapeutics in a $250 million deal, a spinout from the biotech called Bonum Therapeutics has raised $93 million in Series A financing. Seattle-based Bonum is developing cytokine cancer therapies for cancer therapies. These drugs will be conditionally activated, meaning that they will activate only when the antibody sensor component of the therapy binds to its target, which is intended to reduce toxicity.

The technology that is the basis for Bonum’s drugs was validated by Good. Good’s financial backers, including Rivervest Venture Partners, Roche Venture Fund, Digitalis Ventures, 3×5 Partners, and Codon Capital, teamed up again for Bonum’s Series A financing, which added a new investor, Vivo Capital.

—Clinical-stage CG Oncology closed a $120 million Series E financing. The Irvine, California-based biotech’s lead drug candidate, CG0070, is an oncolytic virus that has reached Phase 3 testing as a monotherapy for non-muscle invasive bladder cancer that does not respond to Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, the most common intravesical immunotherapy used for treating early-stage bladder cancer. A Phase 2 study is also underway testing CG0070 in combination with Merck immunotherapy Keytruda. CG Oncology said it will use the new capital to advance its lead programs toward FDA review and broaden its drug pipeline to address other unmet needs in urologic cancer.

—CatalYM closed a €50 million Series C financing to expand Phase 2 clinical testing of its lead program, which is in development for treating solid tumors. The antibody drug candidate, visugromab, is engineered to neutralize Growth Differentiation Factor-15 (GDF-15), a tumor-produced protein that regulates immune cell activation and stops immune cells from infiltrating tumor tissue. Visugromab’s solid tumor test is evaluating the drug in combination with a type of immunotherapy that blocks the checkpoint protein PD-1. Preliminary data are expected in early 2023. Munich, Germany-based CatalYM’s new round of financing was co-led by Brandon Capital and Jeito Capital.

—Casma Therapeutics closed $46 million in Series C financing to bring its lead program for MYD88 mutant lymphoma through the preclinical research that will support an investigational new drug application. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company develops therapies that leverage autophagy, a mechanism for recycling old or damaged cellular components. A similar approach called targeted protein degradation focuses only on proteins and peptides. But autophagy can address larger cellular components such as organelles.

—Rezo Therapeutics, a University of California at San Francisco spinout that is developing new cancer drugs, launched with $78 million. The technology of the San Francisco-based company identifies how mutations rewire cancer-driving networks, using that insight to uncover tumor-specific drug targets. This tech platform comes from UCSF’s Quantitative Biosciences Institute. Rezo’s Series A financing was led by SR One, a16z Bio + Health, and Norwest Venture Partners.

—Opna Bio, a startup developing cancer therapies acquired from Plexxikon, unveiled $38 million in Series A financing. The company’s co-founders include Douglas Hanahan, a distinguished scholar in the Lausanne Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and emeritus professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne. Opna’s launch and financing comes as research from Hanahan’s EPFL laboratory was published in the journal Science describing the role of fragile X mental retardation protein (FMPL) as an immuno-oncology target. Opna has licensed this FMPL technology. Longitude Capital and Northpond Ventures led the Series A round of Opna, which maintains operations in Lausanne, Switzerland, and South San Francisco.

—In non-cancer biotech funding news, MBX Biosciences raised $115 million to develop therapies in a new class of peptide drugs, including a lead program in early-stage clinical development for hypoparathyroidism. Carmel, Indiana-based MBX says its precision endocrine peptides, or PEPS, overcome limitations of traditional peptide drugs. In addition to supporting lead PEP product candidate MBX 2109, MBX said the new capital will support its preclinical drug pipeline. The Series B round of funding was led by Wellington Management.

—Bain Capital Life Sciences led a $107 million investment in Jnana Therapeutics as the biotech continues Phase 1 testing that could demonstrate clinical proof of concept for its lead program, a potential treatment for phenylketonuria. The inherited metabolic disorder leads to a deficiency of phenylalanine hydroxylase, an enzyme required to break down an amino acid called phenylalanine. Jnana’s drug, JNT-517, is small molecule designed to block phenylalanine reabsorption in the kidney, which in turn reduces blood levels of phenylalanine.

Separate from Jnana’s Series C financing, the biotech announced a second collaboration with Roche focused on the discovery of small molecule drugs for cancer, immune-mediated diseases, and neurological disorders. The Swiss pharmaceutical giant is paying Jnana $50 million up front; milestone payments could reach up to $2 billion.

Image by nopparit, Getty Images

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From left: Dr. Cheryl Pegus of Walmart, Dr. Sachin Jain of SCAN Health Plan and Matt Holt of The Health Care Blog at HLTH 2022

The HLTH 2022 conference in its fifth year was more expansive than ever before. The conference at the Venetian Expo included drug developers, diagnostics and medtech companies, each with an assortment of health tech components. There was also a great deal of content on the consumer experience in healthcare, mindfulness and wellness both in the form of sessions as well as sponsors. It was also the first year HLTH presented the conference in an open plan setting, which worked surprisingly well.

The conference attracted 2,500 healthcare CEOs, with one-third of the estimated 9,000 attendees coming from the C-suite of their businesses. HLTH also made the splashy announcement that the event producer would debut a European version of HLTH in Amsterdam in 2024. 

Here’s a look at some of the themes of the event.

The clinician exodus in healthcare and what can be done to improve it

After years of consolidation, particularly health systems acquiring hospitals and physician practices, Sachin Jain, SCAN Group CEO, described the toll these deals have taken on physicians as part of a wider conversation with Walmart EVP Health and Wellness Dr. Cheryl Pegus.

“The job of being a front-line clinician is no longer what we imagined it to be in medical school – building meaningful relationships with patients that are long lasting and that produce great outcomes for patients…I would say that with the largest health systems, in many ways, their management infrastructures have not kept up with the needs that they have. We used to have health systems where doctors used to know each other, where they could just pick up the phone and get things done for their patients. We’ve added a lot of bureaucratic red tape as organizations have gotten bigger and bigger and bigger, so that the average physician in a large health system feels anonymous, invisible, and even lonely. They don’t necessarily feel like they have agency or mastery over their work anymore because it’s complex and it’s been made complex in ways that aren’t value-add for patients anymore.”

Pegus observed that last year, over 300,000 healthcare professionals left medicine – over 120,000 were doctors in many different areas.

“[They left] not just because there’s a lot to do. We’ve introduced two times the number of treatment modalities and have allowed no room for people to take that science and put it into practice. If you continue to push that innovation, which we’re all hoping for, into a very narrow funnel, something has to give.”

For Pegus, the solution is to add more clinicians to the care team to support physicians at Walmart. She pointed out that Walmart has come to be a place people in rural communities can rely on for their healthcare and reminded the audience of the role big box pharmacies like Walmart played in providing Covid-19 testing and vaccines. 

SCAN, which serves patients on Medicare Advantage plans, is expanding into new markets, such as Texas, driven by invitations from local health systems and medical groups who align with SCAN’s approach. It also has initiated a program to deliver care to homeless older adults called Healthcare in Action.

Hybrid approaches to care

There was also the recognition that even as they leave traditional hospital settings, physicians are still interested in practicing medicine. Virtual care companies such as Wheel and MD Integrations are providing a way for some of these physicians to continue to practice and set their own hours. Elsewhere at the conference, health tech companies presented refined approaches to natural language processing and clinical decision support tools with the goal of making the job of physicians easier, saving them time, and helping patients get healthier.

In a session discussing different forms of primary care, Zak Holdsworth, co-founder and CEO of Hint Health, acknowledged that the healthcare consolidation trend worries him.

“We are trying to make primary care a revenue generator rather than the heart of healthcare,” said Holdsworth. “We need to make payments predictable and avoid layering additional administrative burdens.”

Another aspect of the care delivery discussion that intersects with the consumerization of healthcare is a growing number of hybrid care models. One of the challenges is that only 40% of physicians feel equipped to do virtual care. The goal is to balance delivering primary care through telemedicine or other types of virtual care with the acknowledgement that in-person care should be a critical component of primary and specialized care.

Assure Health sits at the intersection of virtual care and remote patient monitoring, delivering virtual-first care and helping patients manage chronic conditions. The company recently closed a $8.7 million Seed round from strategic investors. There are not enough endocrinologists to meet diabetes patients in person, so the company enlists the support of nurse care managers who engage with patients.

In an interview at the conference, COO and co-founder Craig Bolz said the business is leveraging devices that rely on cellular connections (rather than bluetooth) around diabetes, hypertension, COPD, and congestive heart failure.

Assure Health has also launched a comprehensive diabetes program where it takes full ownership over the diabetes disease state and can prescribe lab tests.

Bolz said the business has a fee-for-service side and value-based care side. In 2023, it plans to expand its value-based care business, supported by the recent fundraise.

Redi Health co-founder Like Buchanan explained that his startup helps patients improve the way they manage their chronic conditions, in part, by identifying pharmaceutical company programs patients may not be aware they are eligible to participate. Its app enables pharma manufacturers, health systems, and payers to integrate their patient support programs directly into the application.

CEO and bioengineer Jane Zhang founded Remmie Health and developed the Home Ear Monitor / Otoscope as a way to better address her son’s chronic ear infections. as part of the Plug and Play pavilion. The device has two functions, according to Zhang. Embedded with a camera, it works as a monitor to capture ear, nose, and throat symptoms. There’s also an app that helps parents track symptoms, images, and videos, which can be shared with a physician through software plug-ins such as MyChart. Chief Commercial Officer Lorren Wyatt joined the company two years ago — HLTH marked the first time the two met in person.

Among the milestones Remmie Health achieved was a deal with Medtronic Labs last year to provide the device to underserved markets in Asia to treat non communicable diseases. It’s also working on a device to assess hearing loss from noise pollution in these markets.

Based in Seattle with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Remmie won an SBIR grant last month. The $350,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders will be used to support the development of a deep learning diagnosis assistance engine for ENT diseases.

Health equity

In a panel discussion on different approaches to primary care, Dr. Kyu Rhee, senior vice president and Aetna chief medical officer with CVS Health, talked about the importance of promoting “techquity” or using health tech to promote health equity. He also urged newcomers to the space to embrace these tenets.

  1. “Ensure that your workforce represents the people you serve. One thing I’m very proud of at CVS Health is that 40%-50% of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians represent the people they serve and have made a difference with vaccine delivery across the country by brokering that trust.
  2. You have to collect race, ethnicity, and language data. Aetna was the first to do this. You have to collect the data to show the inequities that exist.
  3.  You need to have a health equity dashboard as standard when you do assessments and contracts to reduce the disparities.
  4. Need to ensure AI is ethical and transparent.
  5. It’s not enough to know; you have to be prepared to act.”

Intersection of mind and body 

The connection between our state of mind and how we physically feel was also a significant theme at the conference as many of us try to reduce the stress and anxiety that exploded with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Calm, a company that promotes breathing and other mindfulness exercises to help people reduce stress and anxiety, shared its plans to expand from its d2c business through its app into the b2b world. Calm Health and Calm for Business serve self-insured employers, health systems and payers. CEO David Ko noted that a combined 400 million people have downloaded the app or visited its website.

Ko pointed out that the first set of customers who used Calm did it mainly for meditation. Then people came to the app because they had trouble sleeping. But during Covid-19 pandemic they’ve seen a spike in users arising from depression and loneliness. As more people return to the office after years of working remotely, anxiety is increasing.

The recent launch of Calm for work seeks to make employees happier and healthier in the workforce, Ko said.

“Three thousand employers are coming to us to help with their workforce and employees. We wanted to take what we’ve done with Calm and bring that to healthcare.”

Lucid is another company focused on the mind but uses music therapy to help users relax, energize, and sleep. Based in Toronto, Ontario, the company is also working with research institutions to use music to manage symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and work with patients’ caregivers.

Making diagnostics more easily accessible 

Meeting patients/consumers where they are was a theme that permeated several areas, not just primary care delivery. In-home testing has been on the rise for years, whether it’s for genetic testing, STDs, or more recently, Covid-19. Pouria Sanae, ixlayer CEO and founder, offered an overview of the company, which provides lab testing services to people through CVS Health and health systems, as well as testing as part of clinical trial support for CROs.

“The goal is to be a new layer that lives on top of diagnostic testing that integrates many different services, to power remote testing — in-home and in-office testing,” Sanae said. “We focus on preventive care and consumerization of healthcare.”

In 2018 when ixlayer launched, its first test was a polygenic Alzheimer’s test for Alzheimer’s patients’ family members. Since then, it has rolled out testing services for people with chronic conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes. The Covid-19 pandemic led the company to rapidly expand its testing capabilities. Among its customers are DNA testing business PlumCare, Him & Hers, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Its board includes Paul Martino, co-founder and chief strategy officer of VillageMD, David Shulkin, a former Secretary of the U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs, and Moncef Siaoul, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed — the public-private partnership created to speed up the development, manufacturing and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics and testing.

Food as medicine

The acknowledgement that access to fresh, nutritious food is a social determinant of health and plays a critical role in helping people manage chronic conditions has led to the launch of healthcare startups focused on this niche as well as initiatives by healthcare organizations. A panel discussion on this topic led to some compelling insights from players in the space on how making access to fresh, nutritious food could reduce the need for some medications to manage chronic conditions, making such programs cost effective.

Sven Gierlinger, chief experience officer with Northwell Health, deplored the quality of food hospitals and health systems serve to patients. He discussed an initiative to change that on a few fronts. Gierlinger said the health system made a commitment five years ago to serve food with the best ingredients available prepared by a team of chefs. The health system also began offering cooking classes to physicians in training so that they could appreciate the benefits of preparing their own meals. Northwell also formed a partnership with a 400-acre farm in Queens, New York.

“Incentives need to be aligned better – the U.S. health system isn’t set up to incentivize a healthy population,” Gierlinger said. “The food industry has to change and that’s where I think the government and policy need to work together or it will never move forward.”

To address food insecurity, Gierlinger noted that the health system connects patients to resources and community-based organizations through the Unite Us app.

Ashley Tyrner, FarmboxRx founder and CEO, shared that the company, which started in 2014, is moving into its third year of being offered as a benefit by health plans supporting Medicaid, Medicare and Medicare Advantage programs. Its condition-specific food boxes are designed by a team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists to support the wellness of those with certain health conditions.

Tyrner said a health plan that piloted its program reported that FarmboxRx was an effective care management tool to engage members in their health and to spur them to get their flu shot. She also emphasized that it’s important for providers to make patients aware of their eligibility for Farmbox Rx.

Photo: HLTH

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machine learning AI

The evolution of machine learning is still in its early stages, but at the HLTH 2022 conference this week, companies shared how they are working to fine tune their approaches to AI. Those efforts included everything from improving the quality of patient data that underpin the algorithms, which has been criticized for not reflecting a diverse enough patient population, to making it easier for healthcare organizations to validate their effectiveness. Health tech companies also highlighted different approaches they are taking to how they work with providers to pilot machine learning algorithms and market them.

Dr. John Halamka, president of Mayo Clinic Platform, used his talk at HLTH to highlight an initiative to assess and reduce bias in patient data to improve the effectiveness of machine learning algorithms. Launched three years ago, Mayo Clinic Platform built an ecosystem to coordinate collaborations with health tech companies to enable innovation in healthcare.

Halamka’s talk on the “algorithmically underserved” noted that currently, when healthcare organizations use an algorithm, they often have no idea whether it performs well or not. The goal of its AI validation platform, Mayo Clinic Platform _ Validate, is to provide clinical validation for machine learning algorithms.

Mayo Clinic Platform is also partnering with other healthcare organizations to set standards and reporting for models as part of The Coalition for Health AI. In addition to Mayo, other founding members include University of California Berkeley, Duke Health, Johns Hopkins University, MITRE, Stanford Medicine, and University of California San Francisco. Industry members include Change Healthcare, Google, Microsoft, and SAS.

Halamka announced that a webinar is planned for December 7, which will offer a preview of plans for a public-private partnership to create a national register to assess the usefulness of a variety of healthcare algorithms.

“We feel we need a national set of assurance standards for algorithms,” Halamka said. The registry will host the metadata for algorithms produced in healthcare.

AI marketplace

Health tech companies are also developing marketplaces to improve the way collaboration partners, such as providers, payers and research groups, select algorithms.

“Data may be the new oil but the data needs to be refined,” said Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health General Partner Jay Goss. One of its portfolio companies, Gradient Health, partners with medical data providers around the globe (generally hospitals and imaging centers) to curate annotated medical images for AI research labs and corporations, so that they don’t have to do one-off deals with hospitals to obtain the data. Companies can search through segmented and labeled studies, or request a custom dataset, spending less time tracking down data and more time developing new tools.

AI hubs

Ferrum Health developed a program to enable health systems to assess machine learning algorithms without exposing their de-identified patient data to a cloud or otherwise forcing them to centralize that data. The company, which is part of the United Healthcare Accelerator 2022 cohort, exhibited on the accelerator’s pavilion.  Ferrum’s approach enables these tests to be done on-premises, behind a firewall, an approach David Miller, Ferrum’s vice president of sales – West, said is designed to de-risk their business for hospitals and health systems. The algorithms in its marketplace are FDA approved.

“We run a test of the algorithms using the hospital’s de-identified patient data to show how they perform for them,” said West. “We let our clients try it before they buy it.”

The company’s four AI Hubs include: oncology, orthopedics, cardiovascular, and breast care.

Reducing physician burnout

DeepScribe exhibited as part of the Plug and Play accelerator’s footprint at the conference. Its automated physician natural language processing software automatically summarizes a physician’s conversation with their patient and auto-populates those notes into EMR fields. Among the EMR companies it works with are athenahealth, dr chrono, AdvancedMD and Claimpower.

Earlier this year, DeepScribe closed a $30 million Series A round to support the company’s growth. The business is designed to negate the need for an in-person medical scribe, saving clinicians money.

The validation approach to algorithms seems like a natural progression in machine learning, similar to the rise of digital health apps followed by the need to validate them to ensure adoption by healthcare organizations skeptical of overhyped tech. It’s a natural progression balancing the interest in machine learning with the recognition that healthcare algorithms are not created equal.

Photo: Hemera Technologies, Getty Images

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Zenas BioPharma is preparing to take its lead drug candidate into a global Phase 3 test and it now has $118 million to finance the clinical research.

The Zenas drug, obexelimab, is being developed as a treatment for IgG4-RD, a chronic inflammatory disease that affects multiple organs. First-line treatment includes steroids, but these drugs can have toxic effects and relapse is common.

Obexelimab is intended to tamp down the activity of B cells, a type of immune cell. The drug is a bispecific antibody. One part of the drug binds to CD19, a protein on the surface of B cells. The other part of obexelimab binds to another immune cell target called FcYRIIB. According to the company, binding to both targets simultaneously mimics a natural antigen-antibody complex that down regulates B cell activity. This approach has potential applications in many autoimmune disorders.

Zenas acquired global rights to obexelimab from Xencor last year, issuing equity to that company as an upfront payment. According to the deal terms, Xencor could receive up to $480 million in milestone payments depending on Zenas’s progress with the drug.

In addition to supporting obexelimab, Zenas said the new capital, a Series B financing, will also go toward advancing other programs into clinical development in 2023. Enavate Sciences led the latest investment in Waltham, Massachusetts-based Zenas. Other new investors in the company include Longitude Capital, Vivo Capital, Rock Springs Capital, Perceptive Advisors, Agent Capital, Pivotal bioVenture Partners and Superstring Capital. Earlier investors Fairmount, Wellington Management, Tellus BioVentures, Quan Venture Fund, and Xencor also participated in the financing

Zenas’s $118 million financing was the biggest biotech financing of this week. Here’s a look at other companies that raised money:

—Bringing computational techniques to the study of secreted proteins, Juvena Therapeutics is developing new drugs for chronic disorders and diseases of aging. Juvena’s lead program is in preclinical development for the muscle disorder myotonic dystrophy type 1 and the Redwood City, California-based startup has raised $41 million to support that drug and others in the pipeline. Mubadala Capital and Horizons Ventures led Juvena’s Series A financing.

—Sensorium Therapeutics emerged with $30 million in funding to develop psychoactive molecules to address mental health disorders. Founded by scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Sensorium’s research has produced a lead program, SENS-01, for anxiety and depression. The Boston-based biotech said it expects to begin preclinical research that could support an investigational new drug application in 2023, laying the groundwork to reach clinical testing by early 2024. Santé Ventures led Sensorium’s Series A financing.

—New investors pumped money into Lipidio Pharmaceuticals, extending the biotech’s Series A round of financing to more than $20 million. San Diego-based Lipidio is developing drugs for metabolic and skin disorders. Lead drug candidate GDD3898 is in development for treating acne, sebaceous hyperplasia, obesity, and Prader-Willi syndrome. The company said it expects to complete three early-stage studies of the drug by the end of this year, laying the groundwork for data analysis and a Series B financing planned for the first quarter of 2023.

—Blood transfusion technology company Hemanext raised $18 million. The Lexington, Massachusetts-based company has CE mark certification in Europe for a red blood cell processing and storage system and is working to expand its presence into additional European markets in 2023. Hemanext described the latest financing as the first close of its Series B round. The company says it has raised about $130 million total to date.

—Neuroscience company NRG Therapeutics closed £16 million in financing to continue development of small molecule drugs that penetrate the brain to potentially slow or halt neurodegeneration. The drugs of the Stevenage, England-based company target mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells. The Series A round of financing was led by Omega Funds. NRG plans to use the capital to advance its molecules through the preclinical research needed to support an investigational new drug application.

Picture: Feodora Chiosea, Getty Images

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It’s no secret that the U.S. is facing a massive dearth of primary care providers. But when we talk about how to build this workforce, we usually focus on physicians. Greater Good Health is taking a different approach by leveraging nurse practitioners.

Greater Good Health emerged from stealth last year as a primary care-focused nurse practitioner network. On Tuesday, the Manhattan Beach, California-based startup launched a clinical leadership program for nurse practitioners to learn from one another. The announcement precedes National Nurse Practitioner Week (November 13-19), which honors these healthcare professionals’ major but often overlooked role in primary care delivery.

The program provides a series of educational sessions for nurse practitioners who want to advance their professional growth and development. The curriculum was built by nurse practitioners and is accredited by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, according to Sylvia Hastanan, Greater Good Health’s CEO and founder.

“It’s intended to be a cohort-based learning program so that nurse practitioners can learn from each other and share experiences,” she said in a recent interview.

The program’s sessions will cover a range of themes. Some will be focused on essential healthcare topics, such as how to keep up with new payment models and how to talk with patients about health misinformation. Others will focus on clinical and operational training, such as how to prevent common diseases and how to ensure patients are receiving timely care.

There also will be sessions dedicated to “soft skills,” such as leadership, emotional intelligence and communication. These kinds of skills are essential for nurse practitioners who are looking to lead a team one day, according to Hastanan.

“The intent for these leaders that go through the program is that they’ll come out of it with better skills to help lead and manage another group of 10-15 nurse practitioners,” she said. “It’s for nurse practitioners who are seeing patients, but may need some administrative and clinical coaching, as well as leadership, to feel like they’re part of a community and a team. It can help with development and learning gaps.”

Through the program, nurse practitioners can earn 16 continuing education credits. It encompasses four sessions, which take place over four months.

The program is currently only available by invitation to select nurse practitioners who are part of the Greater Good Health’s network in California, but the company plans to expand the program to additional nurse practitioners in other states “in the near future.”

Hastanan noted that for the vast majority of her career, she had been working for provider organizations “that have been mostly physicians-centric,” including HealthCare Partners. She would develop leadership programs in which physicians could learn from other physicians, but she said nurse practitioners were always excluded from these types of professional development programs.

“What we’re doing here that’s different is we’re thinking about redesigning primary care with nurse practitioners at the center of it,” Hastanan said. “Our business model is centered around what the nurse practitioners bring to the table, and that, in and of itself, sort of flips everything on its head and allows nurse practitioners to lead in ways that they weren’t able to before.”

Photo: Hiraman, Getty Images

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Biotech financings in the past week included startups taking new approaches to autoimmune disease, cancer, and tissue regeneration. It was also a week of follow-on financings. At least three companies expanded their Series A rounds with the addition of new investors. Here’s a look back at recent financing activity.

Human Immunology Biosciences revealed $120 million in financing to support the development of its pipeline of autoimmune disease drugs. The South San Francisco-based biotech’s therapies treat disease by targeting the cells at the root of autoimmune disorders. Its lead program, licensed from MorphoSys, is in development for two immune-mediated kidney disorders.

Neuroscience biotech Lusaris Therapeutics launched with $60 million to advance to the clinic with its lead program, a psychedelic drug for depression. The lead program of Lusaris is a pill designed to be placed under the tongue, where it quickly dissolves and is rapidly absorbed by the body. Venture capital firm RA Capital Management, which incubated Lusaris, also led the startup’s Series A round.

—Microbiome products company Concerto Biosciences raised $23 million. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup says its proprietary technology, called kChip, measures millions of microbial interactions to reveal combinations of microbes that work in concert to bring microbial communities back to health. Lead program ENS-002 is designed to rehabilitate the skin microbiome. Safar Partners led the Series A round, joined by Horizon Ventures and M Ventures, the venture capital arm of Merck KGaA.

—Less than a year after debuting with $64 million in financing, Alterome Therapeutics tacked another $35 million to its Series A financing. San Diego-based Alterome will apply the capital toward its pipeline of three precision oncology programs designed with its computational chemistry platform. Colt Ventures and OrbiMed co-led Alterome’s latest investment, which the company describes as a Series A2 financing.

—Genetic medicines developer hC Bioscience added $16 million to its Series A financing, bringing the round to $40 million total. Cambridge-based hC Bio is developing transfer RNA-based therapies that address protein dysfunction in genetically defined diseases, including cancer. The company aims to restore protein function in diseases caused by nonsense mutations or premature termination codons.

—Tissue regeneration biotech Novadip Biosciences raised €40 million. The cash will go toward two clinical-stage programs: an allogeneic bone union therapeutic called NVD-X3 and NVD-003, an autologous bone engraftment product. The cash breaks down to €24 million in equity financing and €16 million in non-dilutive financing.

—Emalex Biosciences raised $250 million for a Phase 3 clinical trial of its experimental treatment for Tourette syndrome. The Chicago company’s small molecule, ecopipam, addresses a different target than many of the drugs currently available to treat the muscle and vocal tics caused by Tourette. Emalex’s Series D round of funding was led by Bain Capital Life Sciences.

Photo: RomoloTavani, Getty Images

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Medtronic sees plenty of ideas for improving stroke care. Now, after a year of development behind the scenes, the device maker is rolling out a new way of shepherding those ideas to market.

To coincide with World Stroke Day on Oct. 29, Medtronic is launching the Medtronic Neurovascular Co-Lab Platform.

The platform — which the company believes to be the first of its kind for stroke care — is designed to triage the calls Medtronic regularly receives from physicians and entrepreneurs and to pair them with the resources that could help them. Their ideas could be sketched on the back of a napkin, while others are ready for commercialization, said Dan Volz, president of the Medtronic neurovascular business, which is part of the company’s neuroscience portfolio.

The platform is coming online as startups face pressure from rising inflation, constricting supply chains and stiffening regulations, particularly in Europe.

“Those are tough conditions for a startup to survive,” said Volz. “Co-Lab is here to make sure that we have a thriving, innovative ecosystem around stroke care. For us, we’ve got resources and experience to accelerate those ideas.”

The Co-Lab process starts with an online portal where doctors, researchers and entrepreneurs can submit their concepts. If an idea is accepted, it will follow one of four tracks based on where it is on the path to market.

Early-stage ideas will land on the “brainstorm” track, which can help transform concepts into prototypes. The “advance” track will assist in the development of pre-clinical technologies and prepare them for human trials, Volz said.

Clinical-stage technologies will follow a track called “invest” where Medtronic could help them attract venture capital, whether from outside investors or from Medtronic’s in-house funding arm, Medtronic Ventures.

The fourth track – “accelerate” – is for startups nearing commercialization. Medtronic might help those companies reach a wider audience, for example, by sharing its space at global conferences or leveraging its global sales force.

“There are a number of ways that we can provide value to each of those organizations,” Volz said.

Medtronic, which markets a range of products and solutions for stroke care, stands to benefit from the influx of ideas, Volz said, noting it could create a pipeline for future acquisitions. The platform also offers Medtronic employees an opportunity to collaborate with entrepreneurs and startups.

Ultimately, Volz sees the platform as a way to enhance stroke care, a fast-growing field with room for improvement.

People suffer about 15 million strokes per year, Volz said. Only about one in 10 receive treatment. New approaches might deliver care more quickly within the roughly four-hour window for treatment. Other ideas might improve diagnostics so that more stroke victims seek care.

“Fundamentally, because the therapy is so underpenetrated, it really requires a healthy innovation ecosystem,” Volz said. “We have to move the needle beyond the 10% of people who are treated.”

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