Digital Health Investments Hitting All-Time High

This article was originally published on Healthegy.

Digital health investments are on track to hit an all-time record in 2016, according to Katya Hancock, director of strategic partnerships at StartUp Health, who spoke at the Digital Healthcare Innovation Summit.

Year-to-date for 2016, digital health companies have raised over $6.5 billion in investments, already surpassing the $6.1 billion that was invested in the space last year.

The sector set a record in the third quarter when companies raised $2.37 billion, the most raised in a single quarter.

Total investments in digital health since 2010 have amounted to $20 billion. According to Hancock, the general consensus at StartUp Health is that digital health is still only in its early stages, and that we are far from a market bubble.

Currently, StartUp Health has 170 companies, across 26 countries, in its portfolio. The firm has an ambitious mission, “to improve the health and well being of everyone in the world,” and aims to do this by supporting and investing in entrepreneurs who hope to reinvent and transform health care.

StartUp has recently outlined 10 major moonshots that it feels will have the greatest impact on health: improving access to health care, decreasing health care costs, curing diseases, cancer, women’s health, children’s health, nutrition, brain health, mental health, and longevity. In addition, StartUp Health actively tracks 7,500 companies outside its portfolio to gain market insights into the digital health space.

Market Trends

Through its market research, the company has identified a number of interesting trends in the digital health market that are worth noting:

US and Global Growth: As mentioned previously, digital health investments are growing with year-over-year increases. In addition, international investments are increasing rapidly. Some of the largest deals are in fact happening abroad, in particular in China. Two of the largest investments, in fact, have been in China, with a seed-stage investment of $500 million in start-up Ping An Good Doctor and $448 million in Baby Tree, both based in China.

Digital Health’s “First Wave”: Digital health is still in its “first wave,” with early investments in sensors and wearables still in early stages and not yet realizing returns. A second wave is expected that may include more sophisticated sensors, which are likely to offer deeper insights and improved solutions.

An Active Investor Ecosystem: The digital health investor ecosystem is extremely diverse, with over 500 unique investors in the space, with over 140 making multiple deals in 2016.

Unique Collaborations: Stakeholders with specialized expertise are coming together for unique partner collaborations. One example is the large $500 million investment by Google and Sanofi into diabetes start-up Onduo. We can expect more of these unique partnerships going forward, aiming to bring together parties with different skillsets to tackle difficult health care challenges.

The Rise of the Rest: Finally, there is a rise of new innovation centers and hubs away from the prominent East and West Coasts to include other sites in the US and internationally. New ecosystems are attracting investors to locales previously underserved by digital health.

Most Active Subsectors

Patient/consumer experience remains the top category for funding in the digital health market, attracting $2.53 billion in investments. The next largest categories were wellness at $918 million, personalized health and quantified-self at $634 million, big data and analytics at $564 million, and medical devices at $478 million. Other categories with less funding included workflow, clinical decision support, and population health.

Most Active Therapeutic Areas

Not surprisingly, the top three therapeutic areas that receive the greatest digital health investment are cancer, mental health, and chronic disease, including diabetes. Other significant areas of funding include: cardiology, dermatology, autism, pulmonology, ophthalmology, immunology, and rare disease.

While the investments are not in drug development per se, according to Hancock, “The lines are getting blurry between digital health and the life sciences. Some companies that we thought we wouldn’t be working with, we now are.”

Top Deals

The largest investment deals were both in the patient/consumer experience category, with a $500 million investment in Ping An Good Doctor (in China) with an undisclosed investor, and $500 million in Onduo, led by Google Ventures. The next largest deals were $448 million in Baby Tree (in China), led by Matrix Partners, and $400 million in Oscar Health, led by Khosla Ventures. Other notable investments include Human Longevity, Inc., which received $220 million, led by StartUp Health; Flatiron Health, which received $175 million, led by Roche Pharma; and Clover, which received $160 million, led by Green Oaks Capital Management.

Top Investors

The most active investors in the space were Khosla Ventures and StartUp Health, both of which made 10 deals in 2016. They were followed by GE Ventures, which made nine deals, and Safeguard Scientifics, which had six deals.

Digital health has high potential for improving health outcomes, and it is expected that investments will continue to grow in the US and internationally going forward. As it is still a young market, only time will tell if returns are realized on this potential.

Improving Gender Diversity in Health Tech

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Image courtesy Healthegy

This article was originally published on Healthegy.com.

Last month, the seventh annual Rock Health Women’s Summit was held in San Francisco to promote gender diversity and support more women leaders in Digital Health. According to research from Rock Health, women are the predominant players in the health care marketplace. Women represent 78% of the health care workforce, make 80% of health care decisions in families, and represent 75% of all caregivers in the home. Their influence on health care is profound.

It’s strange, then, that women don’t have equal representation in industry, especially in terms of leadership positions. Women run only 6% of the companies in Digital Health. As it so happens, women also represent only 6% of the venture capital industry. (According to angel investor John Landry, who spoke last month at Capital W’s Boston Women’s Venture Summit, this number is even worse in Boston, with only 3% of VCs being women.)

The gender disparity in venture capital creates a barrier to achieving gender balance in the companies they fund, as VC teams with mostly men are more likely to invest in companies with mostly men. It’s been found that VC teams with women are two times more likely to invest in management teams with women and three times more likely to invest in companies with women CEOs.

Besides being equitable, from a business perspective, it’s also profitable to invest in companies with women on the executive team. According to Rock Health, start-up teams with women on the executive team raise more money than all-male teams during first rounds. Also, companies that have women in board-level leadership positions have been found to produce a greater return on investment.

Gender diverse companies also tend to have greater diversity in general, in terms of race, sexual identity, and sexual orientation. This is important to consider because employees these days – Millennials especially (now the largest generation in the workforce) – prioritize diversity at work. Millennials have a “remarkable lack of allegiance,” according to Lynne Sterrett of Deloitte Consulting, adding, “It’s a serious challenge to us as business leaders.” What has been shown to attract and retain Millennials is having shared personal values and a deep sense of purpose. According to Ali Diab, CEO of Collective Health, a company with a health care benefits platform, “There is a certain meaning, a certain sociological tapestry that Millennials want to feel when they come into the workplace. They want to feel like what they do has that social impact broadly speaking.” Diversity has been cited in numerous studies to be integral to creating a more inclusive work culture and has also been found to result in teams that make better decisions, perform better, and are more successful.

Events like the ones sponsored by Rock Health and Capital W last month help to spotlight success stories that can hopefully inspire others. One Massachusetts firm, Zaffre Investments, the investment arm of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and its managing director, Leah O’Donnell, were recognized at the Capital W Summit for being the investment firm with the highest ratio of women-led companies in 2014 and 2015. Six of the firm’s 10 companies are women-led, including Boston-based Ovuline, which has a fertility-tracking app.

Although progress is being made, change has been very slow. Terra Terwilliger from the Clayman Institute, who spoke at the Rock Health meeting, discussed the problem (in both men and women) of unintended bias, sharing an eye-opening study that demonstrated how removing gender from resumes can improve the chances of hiring more women. She challenged the audience to consider before hiring or not hiring an applicant to ask themselves if they, too, may have an unintended bias.

Ali Diab has solved this problem at Collective Health by instituting a 1:1 men to women hiring ratio. He shared that his inspiration for this was his personal experience, having been raised by a mother who worked. “I grew up in a household where my mom was a surgeon but my dad went to grad school, a PhD program, so I got to observe the power of having that sort of a professional female force in the house.” He went on to say, “I also got to observe all of the gender issues she had from her home country, which is in the Middle East … but also here in the US where she dealt with a lot of sexism. So for me it was a very personal thing, I just wanted to make sure we had women well represented because I just feel very passionate about it because of my mom’s experience.” Collective Health has been very successful with this strategy and has even managed to create an engineering team that includes 25% women, which is unheard of – “astronomical” according to Diab – in typical tech companies. Diab also shared that he feels Collective Health has seen the fruits of this hiring policy in the market as well.

Former VC partner Karen Boezi, now an investor with Broadway Angels, urged women to be more confident, speak up, and take more risks. She also encouraged greater investments in women, sharing her thoughts about how successful they can be. “Women, I think, can be very focused on ‘getting it done.’ They have their eye on the ball and they are very good executors, very good managers.” The panel was especially bullish about women with children, calling them “ruthlessly efficient.” In speaking about the positive experience of a small investment firm called Mission Bay Capital, which invested in her biotech company (among others), she said, “They’ve had nine exits so far, all led by women.”

Hopefully, as more people in Digital Health recognize the business advantages of having gender diverse teams in their firms, opportunities for women will continue to increase.

 

It’s Time For ‘Gender Lens Investing’ in Healthcare

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Today I had the opportunity to speak very briefly at a White House-sponsored roundtable called the “Impact of Gender/Sex on Innovation and Novel Technologies (iGIANT)” in Cambridge, MA.  Other partners for this event were the American Medical Women’s Association, Boston Scientific, and Medstro.  This is what I shared.

What I’ve found while working in the digital health space is that there is a significant lack of women in the healthcare investment industry. Though women make 80% of healthcare decisions in families, and despite women making up 78% of the healthcare workforce, we are sorely underrepresented among investment and corporate leadership. In the digital health space, only 6% of CEOs of startups are women. That, I believe, reflects the fact that only 6% of venture capitalists are women. While we don’t like to admit it, money is power. And if women don’t have access to the purse strings that fund innovations, then of course, innovations that concern women and that can impact women’s health are going to be underfunded and underrepresented.

What I’d like to see is more healthcare and academic institutions, in the public and private sectors, committing to what’s called “gender lens investing”, making it a criteria to invest with gender equity in mind. This may mean making an effort to engage with only those investment and venture capital firms that commit to diversity, have adequate female representation, and make a commitment to try to invest in projects that interest and can benefit women.

I believe that more diverse teams will translate to improved health innovations that can benefit more diverse groups of people. Diverse investors lead to diverse founders and companies; diverse companies lead to diverse innovations; diverse innovations are what serve diverse stakeholders.  And that is what will ultimately lead to equity, not just in terms of gender equity, but also racial/ethnic equity.

This cultural change could be facilitated through a policy recommendation, perhaps through a white paper study or policy brief on the matter, and also by all of us here urging individuals and organizations at every level to invest their funds more conscientiously and in a mission-driven manner with gender equity in mind.  Thank you.

Ref:

  1. “The State of Women in Healthcare”, Rock Health, March 2015
  2. “Venture Capital’s Next Venture? Women”, Tech Crunch, June 2015
  3. “Investing for Positive Impact on Women”, Croatan Institute, Nov 2015

 

How Jonathan Bush Plans to Build the Health Care Internet

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Jonathan Bush, the high profile CEO of athenahealth, has a grand vision of the future of health care and it involves building a “health care Internet.” In this world, primary care physicians are power brokers, connecting and referring patients to a cloud-based network of super-specialists that can care for patients regardless of their geographic proximity.

Primary care physicians will be able to find specialists anywhere in the country, even the world, with highly specific skills and knowledge for their most complex patients.

Patients will have the advantage of being cared for by doctors who have treated hundreds of patients just like them, instead of by doctors who may only see patients with their specific disorder a few times in their careers.

It sounds compelling, but in our currently disjointed system, it seems like a distant dream. Bush, in a keynote interview at the Digital Healthcare Summit in Boston, admits, “We’re sort of Star Wars 1 here in health care … So, ok, the market doesn’t work so well in health care, but what we want is a network.”

Moderator Brandon Hull challenged Bush a bit. At the conference, Bush shared a music video parody that ridiculed EMRs. Hull noted the video’s message that, “Doctors hate EMRs … The last I looked, you’re in the business of selling EMRs.” Bush agreed that what we currently have is far from what we want and pointed to the lack of a coordinated vision on the part of the government as a key factor.

He cited the rush to tie physicians and hospitals to electronic health record systems without supporting infrastructure as one of the reasons for the lack of interoperability. To get to his vision of a fully functioning software enterprise system, Bush recommends taking a hard look at our current situation. “With everything in life, the first thing that you want to do if you really want to live fully is to stare vividly and unflinchingly for a very long time at the awkward reality of your current situation and then you can look off to your right and see a beautiful world that you wish you were in.”

Considering the current tech challenges in health care, Bush takes a sympathetic stance on the plight of doctors. During the talk he shared the image of a painting that he takes inspiration from, called “The Doctor” by Sir Luke Fildes. In it, a pensive doctor sits at the bedside of an ill child. “This guy, to me, is on the edge of his humanity…” he shared. “And what I believe is that digital health represents the wicking away of the things … that don’t require this level of presence is the job of the cloud and is the job of technology.”

It’s a beautiful vision, but is it realistic or even attainable?

The brutal truth about health care today is that the pensive doctor now has a large computer screen between her and her ill patient. Bush admits that we’re far from the vision currently and admits that doctors’ documentation work has become “life-sapping.” His long-term vision, however, is to make this work automated and routinized, so that doctors can be more fully present for patients.

Bush notes with irony that currently 12 million faxes are sent between the IT systems of health care providers despite the overwhelming adoption of electronic health records throughout the health care system. Bush attributes the stimulus of the ACA with the wide but ineffective adoption of EMRs. Speaking of the stimulus, in his usual colorful manner, he said, “What did Keynes say? If you pay a 100 guys to dig a hole and another 100 to fill the hole, at least you get the ball rolling.” According to Bush, despite requiring the collection of meaningful use data, the government has built no infrastructure to actually receive and measure it. He went on to discuss how regulations just add additional complexity to the system, which when worked around, create “ridiculous absurdities” and additional bureaucratic drag.

Still, he feels there is plenty of room for innovation, which is reflected in the creation of athenahealth’s innovation arm, called MDP, or More Disruption Please. Through MDP, athenahealth provides investment and support to start-ups and entrepreneurs who share their connected health vision. “We think of health care as a few trillion dollar industry. It’s thousands of a couple of billion dollar markets, all masquerading as one thing … My thought with MDP is that what we need is thousands of companies with no cost of sale, no cost of implementation, that are very results oriented, maybe they almost morph between a vendor and a provider, and they kind of come together and focus on these thousands of industries and get a 10x return because you don’t have to put very much in and the cost of sale, of implementation, is so low because you have this backbone to plug into an app store, if you will, that you can start verticals.”

Besides improving care of individual patients with a powerful network of providers, Bush feels the health care Internet can also create a new opportunity to study diseases. Under our current system, it is difficult to get enough patients with certain diseases in one place in order to conduct a study with high enough power, but that could change with enhanced technology. He also sees an opportunity to better address population health, not just in those with chronic disease – which is a focus currently due to the high costs of care of these patients – but ultimately other groups of patients as well, and the ability to do this at scale.

One regulatory shift that Bush seems to favor is the emphasis on fee-for-value versus fee-for-service. He argues that risk-bearing creates a rich market with a large number of buyers and sellers, competitively innovating cheaper and better solutions. His hope, through MDP, is to help create this rich health care ecosystem. He asserts that it’s not athenahealth’s objective to build or be the storefront for all of these businesses, but rather to simply encourage their development.

This long-view of health care and investment in MDP places athenahealth ahead of the hundreds, if not thousands, of other EMR providers. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if someday the much-sought-after and elusive health care Internet is ultimately hosted on servers built by Jonathan Bush and athenahealth.

 

This article was originally published by Healthegy.

Walgreens: Investing in the Power of the Patient

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Thanks in part to Affordable Care Act reforms and the rise of digital health, patients now have more skin in the game, more health care tools at their disposal, and more information than ever before to take charge of their own health.

Dr. Harry Leider, CMO and Group VP of Walgreens, speaking on a panel at last week’s Digital Healthcare Innovation Summit in Boston, said health care providers must find a way to adapt to the schedules and demands of patients, who have more say over how their health care dollars – and their time – are spent.

“Traditional providers are learning that they [patients] are not willing to take a half-day off from work, figure out what to do with their kids, to get routine care,” he told the panelists. “People are busier, the information technology has made it easier to get solutions without having to spend a half-day somewhere.”

It’s no surprise, then, that pharmacy retailers are placing big bets on consumer-facing health care opportunities.

In the past few years, the pharmacy-services giant CVS Health has made big investments in this area, dropping tobacco sales, expanding its MinuteClinics, and also establishing a drug ad-herence program. Now with Walgreens’ recent announcement of its $9.4 billion acquisition of Rite Aid Pharmacies, it has effectively overtaken CVS to become the leader with 46.5% of the market to CVS’ 30.9% share.

But Walgreens is looking to get bigger on the back end as well. Also, just this week it announced an upgrade to their mobile app which improves its functionality and also expands their telehealth services to 25 states (previously available in only 5 states). Walgreens’ other health care investments hint at its level of commitment, including its partnership with controversial laboratory services company Theranos and a recent announcement that it has partnered with health information tech giant Epic to install that firm’s electronic health record software across all of its health care clinics.

Walgreens is banking on its huge presence to provide easy and convenient access to the next generation of health care consumers. “Everybody knows Walgreens,” Leider said. “We have 8,300 stores, 25,000 pharmacies, and over 1,000 nurse practitioners in our clinics.” He also emphasized that half of Walgreens are located in ethnically diverse areas, with a large number of especially high-risk populations, which gives them a unique opportunity to influence health care outcomes. “Take the average diabetic patient. Diabetes is an epidemic in our country, but especially among diverse populations. First of all, a diabetic, if they’re lucky, sees a primary care doctor two to three times a year. The average diabetic comes to our pharmacy counter 20 times a year. So the opportunity to provide systems that can solve problems is greater because of this.”

Walgreens has started a digitally supported Healthy Choices Program, which rewards consum-ers for walking, weighing themselves, logging blood pressure and blood glucose levels, commit-ting to smoking cessation, and setting other health goals. In addition, it offers digital health coaching, pharmacy checks, and even virtual doctor visits.

Roughly 800,000 people have signed up, Leider said. About 500,000, of those patients are sharing their personal health data with Walgreens. What the company has found thus far from its collection of these data is that engaged users (who are actively tracking their weight) lost an average of 3.3 pounds more than non-engaged users and 1 out of 6 lost more than 10 lbs. In addition, Walgreens found that its engaged users have overall healthier behaviors and better drug adherence.

Still, he’s not a blind advocate of digital health: “I don’t think digital health alone can solve the problems you’re talking about.” Leider insists that Walgreens is not trying to usurp the tradition-al establishment but rather be a resource to providers. “We really see ourselves as supporting traditional providers and adding value to the ecosystem. We’re not gearing ourselves up to do primary care,” he said. “So our strategy really is to provide a low-cost option for care and to partner with health systems and providers.”

Going forward, Dr. Leider would like to see a greater transition to value-based care. “Despite what everybody’s saying, most providers are still trying to keep the beds full and have the most number of visits. So, for all this tech to be funded and sustainable, it’s got to be the right envi-ronment to really reward people for staying well.”

***

This article was originally published at www.digitalhealthcaresummit.com.  

A Peek Inside the Harvard Forum on Health Care Innovation

Prof. John Quelch discussing the Bloodbuy case study.

The Harvard Forum on Health Care Innovation, a joint collaboration between Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School, was recently held in Cambridge, Mass, on April 15-16, 2015. This private, invitation-only event assembled an elite group that included HBS and HMS alumni and faculty, as well as other key opinion leaders in healthcare. Cara Sterling, Director of HBS’s Health Care Initiative, who organized the event, shared that the goal for the event was to provide an opportunity for “people from different sectors to come together and talk freely” in order to “spur innovation in healthcare.”

One key aspect of the event was the introduction of the finalists of the HBS-HMS Health Acceleration Challenge, a contest that was launched to seek innovative, early-stage healthcare ventures that have great potential for transforming healthcare.

Out of a total of 478 applicants, 18 were selected as semi-finalists; from those, four of the brightest were chosen as finalists to share a $150,000 Cox Prize. They’ve also had an HBS case study written about them, and each team presented and received feedback at this year’s Forum. The final winner will be decided in a year’s time, by identifying the startup venture that is most successful in disseminating and scaling their healthcare solution.

Look out for the great work of these four finalists in the coming year:

  • Bloodbuy is a startup that aims to improve the efficiency and price transparency of the blood supply market by matching blood centers and hospitals through an online, cloud-based platform. In a pilot program, this system was found to decrease hospital costs by 23% while also decreasing the risk of blood shortages and the waste of blood products.
  • The I-Pass Patient Handoff Program is a training curriculum developed by six clinicians to improve the exchange of patient information between providers that occurs at the change of a shift. A research study of this intervention, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that use of I-Pass led to an impressive 30% reduction in medical errors.
  • Medalogix is a predictive analytics company that has created a product to that can assist those in the post-acute care sector to better identify hospice-eligible patients. Through working with Medalogix, clients have been able to successfully increase transfers to hospice from home health care and decrease the number of live discharges from hospice.
  • Twine Health is a startup that has created a cloud-based, collaborative care platform of the same name that enables providers to partner with their patients through coaches to provide seamless care and support for the management of chronic disease. In a recent clinical trial, Twine more efficiently helped patients achieve blood pressure control, which resulted in cost-savings (versus the traditional model of care).

***

In addition to the Health Acceleration Challenge finalists, there was also an impressive line-up of healthcare experts that shared their thoughts throughout the two days in keynotes and panel discussions. Below are some of the highlights:

Value in Healthcare

Speaker Peter Orszag, Vice Chairman of Corporate and Investment Banking and Chairman of the Financial Strategy and Solutions Group at Citigroup, discussed three major structural forces that he feels will have a major affect on healthcare quality and spending, including the shift to value based payments, digitization of healthcare, and the increased role of the consumer in healthcare spending. He also discussed three big unknowns and their future impact on the heathcare cost curve, namely: future policy changes, increasing consolidation of the healthcare market, and emerging healthcare innovation.

A Blueprint for the Future

Mark Bertolini, Chairman and CEO of Aetna, gave a keynote speech entitled “A Blueprint for a 21st Century Health Care System” in which he highlighted five key measures that hold promise to improve healthcare:

  • System re-design that enables lower cost, higher quality care with increased access
  • Sophisticated health IT systems
  • Care optimization, especially to coordinate care for the 5 percent for whom most healthcare dollars are spent
  • Aligning economic incentives with healthcare goals
  • Increasing patient engagement.

Employers as Innovators

In an engaging panel discussion, moderator Bryan Roberts, Partner at Venrock, discussed the growing role of “employers as innovators” with expert panel members Ellen Exum, Director of Benefits/Global Design and Strategy at IBM; Adam Jackson, CEO and Cofounder of Doctor on Demand; Brian Marcotte, CEO and President of the National Business Group on Health; and Derek Newell, CEO of Jiff.

There was a robust discussion regarding the use of wearables and other tools as part of wellness programs to increase engagement and compliance, and to hopefully improve outcomes. One example was Adam Jackson’s Doctor on Demand which, for $40 per telehealth visit, has been found to decrease costs, decrease absenteeism, and increase productivity and morale.

Focus on Neurologic Disease

In a discussion with William Sahlman, Professor of Business Administration at HBS, Deborah Dunsire, MD, President and CEO of FORUM Pharmaceuticals shared her company’s mission of tackling neurological disease. Costs to society due to neurologic disease are great, she argued, not just in terms of direct costs, but also indirect costs – and there should be increased focus in developing treatments for these disorders. One significant challenge is the lack of mental health advocacy, which is an obstacle to obtaining funding for research.

The “Retail-ization” of Healthcare

Speaker Helena Foulkes, President of CVS/Pharmacy and Executive VP of CVS Health, shared the key factors that she feels are driving the “retail-ization” of healthcare:

  • Excessive spending on chronic disease
  • Increasing number of baby boomers on Medicare
  • Rising use of the internet to research health information online
  • Growing numbers of employers with high deductible plans.

She also shared the initiatives that CVS has begun to help tackle these problems, which include drug adherence programs, a focus on patients with the greatest needs, and integrating digital tools.

Dr. Watson Will See You Now

Speaker Mark Megerian, Senior Tech Staff Member at IBM Watson Solutions, shared the exciting (and for some, frightening) prospect of using machine learning and predictive analytics to make clinical recommendations via IBM’s Watson program.

Trained at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK), Watson has been shown to be capable of making recommendations similar to MSK oncologists, with 97 percent accuracy, for breast, colon, rectal, and lung cancers. They are now scaling to include other types of cancers and also to involve other organizations.

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Closing remarks were given by Dr. Jeffrey Flier, Dean of HMS, who shared that he feels healthcare delivery innovation has been sorely lacking, and that HMS and HBS are now deeply committed to medicine and entrepreneurship. Harvard hopes to lead healthcare innovation in the future. From the look of this year’s very promising Health Acceleration Challenge finalists, it seems his wish is likely to come true.

This article was originally published on MedTechBoston.com.

What’s Hot in Boston Biotech

Xconomy

Popular business and technology news site Xconomy held its eighth annual life sciences forum on April 8, 2015 at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass. This year’s theme was “What’s Hot in Boston Biotech” and drew a who’s who of industry leaders, scientists, and entrepreneurs. The sold-out event packed the 250-seat auditorium of the Broad Institute and drew a dynamic crowd from all segments of the life sciences industry.

So, the burning question… what is hot in Boston biotech?

New Treatments for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Adam Koppel, Senior VP and Chief Strategy Officer at Biogen, discussed exciting new treatments that are in the pipeline for some of the most challenging neurodegenerative disorders. Highly anticipated medications include aducanumab for Alzheimer’s disease, anti-LINGO for multiple sclerosis, and ISIS-SMN for spinal muscular atrophy. Aducanumab has gotten a lot of attention in the news recently as a result of the positive results of a clinical trial showing a dose and time-dependent reduction in amyloid plaque.

Another company working on therapies for Alzheimer’s (and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and ALS) is Yumanity. Tony Coles, CEO, and Susan Lindquist, Scientific Founder, discussed Yumanity’s use of yeast as a neuronal model that could tackle the protein folding problems at the root of many neurodegenerative diseases.

Exciting Frontiers in Synthetic Biology

James Collins, Professor of Medical Engineering and Science at MIT, and Amir Nashat, Managing Partner at Polaris Partners, discussed new opportunities in synthetic biology. Notable innovations include the development of therapeutics and diagnostics that can be affordably embedded in paper, cloth, or made into pellet form, as well as the synthetic engineering of microbes to fight diseases. The speakers also discussed the importance of ethical considerations and the need for safeguards as this area of science advances.

Immuno-Based Cancer Therapies

Chuck Wilson, CEO and President of Unum Therapeutics, and Ben Auspitz, Partner at Fidelity Biosciences, discussed a bold new avenue for cancer treatment that involves re-engineering a patient’s own T-cells with antibodies that respond specifically to their cancers. Currently, the therapy has been successfully used in the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but it holds great potential in treating other cancers – and also for possibly developing a cancer vaccine.

Harnessing the Microbiome 

Another exciting area of research in biotech is in the development of therapies that aim to modulate the microbiome to treat disease. Bernat Olle, Principal of PureTech Ventures, and Marian Nakada, VP of Venture Investments at JNJ Innovation, spoke about a joint venture – Vedanta Biosciences – focusing on microbiome treatments for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

The Future of Genetic Therapy

In a fantastic panel on the potential and pitfalls of gene therapy, led by moderator Michelle Dipp, Co-founder and CEO of Ovascience, panel members discussed the fact that gene therapy is still in its nascency. Many underestimate the time that it will take to develop effective therapies. Panel members included: Steven Paul, President and CEO of Voyager Therapeutics; Olivier Danos, SVP of Gene Therapy at Biogen; and Peter Kolchinsky, Managing Member and Portfolio Manager at RA Capital Management. Other challenges are in developing better gene vectors and anticipating how the broad adoption of genetic carrier testing in the future may affect the development of gene therapies.

The Potential of Precision Medicine

Samantha Singer, COO of the Broad Institute, moderated an interesting panel on precision medicine, with speakers David Altschuler, Executive VP of Global Research and CSO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and Alexis Borisy, Chairman of Foundation Medicine and Partner at Third Rock Ventures. Altschuler said that the advantage of precision medicine is that it will enable companies to target therapies more specifically and to “fail less often.” Efficiency, pace, and the success of drug development are likely to be enhanced as a result of better knowledge of the genetic basis of disease.

Scalability Challenges

Noubar Afeyan, Managing Partner and CEO of Flagship Venture, gave an entertaining talk about the challenges and opportunities of the biotech industry in Boston and Cambridge. He shared that he felt this was an unprecedented environment for biotech, in large part due to the co-existence and collaboration of large biotechs and pharmas along with smaller, entrepreneurial companies that engaged in more radical innovation.

He went on to discuss that he felt that scalability was the biggest challenge for Boston biotechs, in terms of resources, people, the process, and other externalities (such as space, the regulatory environment, and the development of partnerships). This is where much of the focus should be in the industry in order to encourage further growth.

This story was originally published at MedTechBoston.com.

Key Healthcare Takeaways from HxRefactored

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Health Experience Refactored (HxRefactored), a conference co-hosted by health innovation event planner Health 2.0 and design agency Mad*Pow, recently met at the Westin Boston Waterfront on April 1 and 2, 2015. There was an impressive turnout of professionals from diverse industries, all gathering to discuss how to improve healthcare through better patient-centered design. The two-day event was jam-packed with keynotes from influential speakers, panel discussions, exhibits, and other presentations.

There was much to learn for anyone working at the intersection of technology, design, and medicine. Below are some of the key takeaways for healthcare professionals:

Harnessing “Small Data”

There’s a lot of buzz about collecting “big data” in healthcare right now, but Deborah Estrin, Professor of Computer Science at Cornell Tech, founder of Healthier Life Hub, and co-founder of Open mHealth, spoke about the need to build an ecosystem with small data, too – data that patients generate everyday. Small data includes passively recorded activity from wearables, data from mobile apps, digital traces from purchases and other online activities, and data from sensors. Estrin co-founded Open mHealth with the goal of creating free and open API’s where this small data can be collected, accessed and harnessed to better inform clinical care.

Changing Health IT

Dr. John Halamka, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, outlined the big trends in health IT that we can expect in the coming year. These include work on the Federal Interoperability Roadmap, Meaningful Use Stage 3 Notice of Proposed Rule Making (which aims to simplify and enhance interoperability of the CMS incentive program), adopting a risk-based approach for regulating mobile medical apps, increasing awareness and focus on security and privacy concerns, and a return to private sector innovation, with the Argonaut Project being a prime example of collaboration among private sector EHR companies to create a universal format for data collection to enable more transparent information sharing.

Improving Healthcare with Telehealth

Dr. Geoff Williams from the University of Rochester’s Center for Community Health gave an interesting talk about the Self Determination Theory model of health behavior change. Through his research, he has found that increasing contact time with providers through virtual visits can lead to increased success in achieving desired behavioral changes and health outcomes. Virtual programs were found to be more successful than traditional approaches to treat certain health conditions.

Shifting to Innovative Care Models

During one of the panel sessions, Dr. Joseph Kvedar, Vice President of Connected Health, Partners Healthcare, discussed how the shift to value-based payments is necessitating the rise of innovative models of care that focus more on patient engagement, prevention and wellness promotion.

There were a number of interesting speakers from organizations working in this space who gave great examples of success in improving outcomes and providing cost- savings. The speakers included David Chao, Director, Industry Solutions at MuleSoft; Stanley Crane, Chief Innovation Officer at Allscripts; Andrea Ippolito, Presidential Innovation Fellow at the VA; Dr. John Moore, CEO of Twine Health; and Dr. Yuri Quintana, Global Health Informatics at Harvard Medical School.

Using Physician Databases & Referral Tools

Another interesting panel discussion focused on the struggle to efficiently find eligible physicians, make appropriate referrals and schedule physician appointments. There were a number of excellent companies represented during this panel, most of whom are building physician databases and working to correct this problem for various stakeholders, including patients, providers, and organizations. Most interesting is that in addition to providing these services, some of these companies can also harness their large databases for demographic studies of physicians. Speakers included Lisa Maki, CEO of PokitDok; Nate Gross, Co-Founder of Doximity; Ashish Patel, Co-Founder of Careset and DocGraph; Russell Tevis, Senior Director from the Advisory Board Company; and Julie Yoo, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Kyruus.

Keeping a Patient-Centered Focus

Ted Talk speaker Julian Treasure gave an inspiring final keynote that fittingly reminded the audience to keep the focus on the patient. He gave helpful advice on how healthcare leaders can be more mindful of the patient’s experience, particularly through the use of sound. He also discussed how to be an active listener, and also how to be more mindful when speaking.

This article was originally published on MedTechBoston.

10 Genius Ideas to Improve Healthcare

Photo courtesy Anna Shaynurova
Photo courtesy Anna Shaynurova

10 Genius Ideas to Improve Healthcare from MIT Sloan’s Bioinnovations Conference

The MIT Sloan School of Management held its 11th annual Bioinnovations Conference at the Boston Marriott Cambridge Hotel on September 20th, featuring influential speakers from the healthcare, life sciences, research, and regulatory sectors. This year’s theme was “Value in Healthcare” and brought an impressive turnout of over 350 attendees.

“Our goal for the conference was to bring together industry leaders across business, science and medicine to discuss some of the most pressing issues in healthcare,” said conference organizer Anita Kalathil. “MIT and Sloan are passionate about how to improve healthcare, whether at the molecular or systems level, and we know that any solutions are going to have to be cross functional. Our goal was to make the MIT Sloan Bioinnovations conference the connecting point for these different groups.”

There were many great takeaways from this conference, but here are 10 of the most noteworthy:

1. Delivering true value in healthcare.

Neel Shah, founder and executive of Costs of Care, was the conference’s opening speaker. “There’s a misperception that considering cost is not aligned with patient interests,” he said. Cost consideration is becoming ever more important in healthcare, as policymakers demand greater accountability and patients demand greater transparency in pricing.

2. Refocusing the future of research & development.

Mark Fishman, President of Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research, shared in his opening keynote that aging, cancer, brain disease and genetic therapies hold the greatest promise for future research. He also shared his unique approach for R&D, which is to focus less on cost-benefit and more on areas with the greatest patient needs and solid scientific knowledge.

3. Putting Big Data to good use.

There was a lively discussion during the Big Data, Policy, and Personalized Medicine panel, highlighting the need for better ways of collecting, analyzing and interpreting the huge amounts of data that are being generated from various sources, including medical records, diagnostics, genomics, and sensory data from patient devices. The panel members represented a number of impressive companies (TwoXAR, Privacy Analytics and Genospace) that are attempting to do just that.

4. Researching therapies (and prevention).

In his keynote address, Gary Kelloff, Special Advisor to the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Health, shared that the present approach in cancer research involves discovering and developing targeted therapies to biomarkers of cancer. While acknowledging the importance this research, Dr. Kelloff also urged participants to invest in researching the prevention of disease.

5. Improving health IT.

In his keynote, John Halamka, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess, discussed the ongoing challenges in health information technology that need to be addressed: lack of interoperability, providing transparency while also ensuring privacy, harnessing HIT and Big Data to improve quality of care, and facing the ongoing threat of accelerating security incidents.

6. Considering a team approach.

During a panel about medical device development, Ramesh Raskar, Associate Professor at MIT Media Lab & Head of Camera Culture Research Group, shared that he felt the sciences needed to move away from independent research (which can be slow to produce innovations) and toward a culture that allows individuals to work more collaboratively in teams (which can be faster). He also shared a memorable quote: “The innovator may or may not be an entrepreneur,” which again highlighted the advantage of a diverse team approach.

7. Incorporating patient-centered design.

Kristian Olson, Medical Director at the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technology, recommended that “patients be in the room” when designing medical innovations. And Elizabeth Johansen, Director of Product Design and Implementation at Diagnostics for All, shared her techniques for creating user-friendly devices. Particularly helpful was her advice to observe how patients interact with their devices in their own surroundings.

8. Overhauling healthcare delivery.

According to Mikki Nasch, co-founder of The Activity Exchange, “Your zip code is still a better predictor of your health than your genetic code.” Social and environmental factors are huge determinants of health, and the delivery of healthcare in old models doesn’t address this issue. Healthcare needs urgently to transition away from traditional paradigms and into newer models of care, such as ACOs, that better address these social factors.

9. Finding collaboration between payers and pharma.

There was a lively debate during one of the panels about specialty drug pricing. Panel members suggested that payers and pharma need to come together at a systems level to help advance development of treatments and cures. Dr. Winton from Biogen Idec Market Access suggested new payer-pharma models and shared risk plans.

10. Driving innovation with patients at the wheel.

The final keynote of the day was given by Jamie Heywood, Co-Founder and Chairman of PatientsLikeMe, an online platform that allows patients to share information about their medical conditions and treatments and connect with others with similar conditions. Not only does this novel website help patients, but the open platform also allows healthcare and industry professionals to better understand patients’ experiences and conditions and may help to accelerate the development of new treatments. Conference attendee Dimple Mirchandani was impressed with Heywood’s emphasis on continuous learning to better understand diseases and their treatments, and by his inspiring vision for caregivers and patients to use “data for good.”

This article was originally posted on MedTech Boston.