Friday Five: The week’s top digital health news and views (5 March 2021)

Feb’s fab three VC deals; January advances AI metabolic health tool; Hillrom seeks to uncouple from BardyDx; Verily and Highmark pair up; DTx learnings from Akili.

Yuanxin grabs February’s top VC deal spot

FirstWord recorded over 50 venture financing deals of $1 million-and-over in February, surpassing January’s tally of 45 deals. However, with just five, rather than seven nine-figure transactions, the total venture dollars raised in February was just under $1.8 billion, a couple of hundred million shy of the previous month’s total deal value. The biggest round went to Chinese scale-up Yuanxin Tech, which raised a whopping $465 million with contributions from its big tech backers like Tencent. Beijing-based Yuanxin had started as an online medical information and patient management services through its Miaoshou Doctor platform but has expanded into other verticals including health insurance. Telehealth services proved to be particularly popular with investors in February, with over half of the month’s fundraises done by companies in this digital health segment. For further details, see our full infographic at Spotlight On: February 2021's digital health VC deal flow


January seeks partners for AI metabolic health tool...

One of the companies who made February’s roll call of venture financing deals was January AI, which came out of stealth mode last summer. The firm has developed an AI-driven, app-based solution for diabetes management, which centres on the user’s metabolism and analyses how their blood glucose levels respond to the food they eat. It integrates data from continuous glucose and heart rate monitors with data on foods consumed by the user to gain insights on each individual’s glucose response profile and from this, is also able to predict what foods might cause a glucose spike. January AI has just added another $9 million to its coffers and is looking to expand its operations and seek partnerships with pharma companies, who might benefit from the use of this metabolic health tool to stratify patients in clinical trials, and to health coaches who are already supporting the diabetes population thought virtual chronic care programmes. January believes its solution could be a very powerful AI tool to “supercharge” these health coaches. To find out more, see our profile of the company in One To Watch: No health coaches - all data and AI with January’s diabetes management tool.

...Hillrom seeks to cut loose from Bardy Dx

It hasn’t been a great week for Bardy Diagnostics, which is now likely to see its proposed merger with Hillrom scuppered as the latter tries to get out of the $375 million acquisition deal. The writing was already on the wall when a key Medicare secondary payer, Novitas, proposed significant cuts in reimbursement rates for extended Holter monitoring systems like the one Bardy Dx sells; leader of this market segment, iRhythm Technologies, has said it’s been in dialogue with Novitas to show the payer the clear clinical benefits of extended Holter monitoring versus traditional in a bid to reverse its decision. However, during its earning conference call last week, iRhythm executives were unable to provide assurances on what and when Novitas will finalise the rates. This uncertainty very likely pushed Hillrom to decide to cut its losses early with Bardy Dx [see Wider View: Hillrom retreats from BardyDx amidst continued heart monitoring uncertainty].  

Verily scores multi-year partnership with Highmark

In contrast to the uncoupling of Hillrom and BardyDx, Verily and Highmark Health - a US blended health organisation - are pairing up to develop digital chronic care management solutions that can be offered to Highmark’s health plan members through the latter’s Living Health Dynamic platform. Verily and Highmark have already launched a pilot last summer, where Verily’s Onduo virtual diabetes management platform was offered to Highmark members with the condition. The partners are now stepping up the gears for this diabetes initiative, while embarking on the development of new solutions for people with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders. Verily’s chief clinical officer of Health Platforms and Onduo’s CEO, Vindell Washington, indicated to FirstWord that this partnership enables personalised solutions to be delivered at scale, with an offering focused on whole-person-centred care, and they expect many more conditions will be covered as the partnership grows. [To read more about Onduo’s approach to chronic care, see our previous Spotlight On interview with Washington here]

Time, “intellectual horsepower” are must-haves for your DTx clinical journey  

Not all digital therapeutics go down the regulatory approval route, but if you do, be prepared to commit significant resources, advised Anil Jina, chief medical officer of Akili Interactive Labs. The company, a familiar name in the field of prescription digital therapeutics (PDTs), saw its flagship product EndeavorRx become the first video game-based PDT to be authorised by the FDA for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder last June. But it was a long path, and one where there were a lot of learnings for Akili, being the first mover in that market segment. Speaking at the recent DTx West summit, Jina gave insights into challenges when designing the clinical trial, including what to use as a control for a video game-based intervention and the logistics of delivering the treatment. To read more about how Akili navigated its way through these hurdles, see Spotlight On: From trial to thumbs-up - one DTx’s clinical and regulatory journey.

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