An Alphabet spinout faces the ultimate test

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An Alpha-bet faces the ultimate test

Alphabet life science company Verily is facing a make-or-break moment as it pushes to turn its most promising projects into tools that not only transform medicine, but also drive profit, Erin and Casey report. In recent months, the company has assembled an all-star team of executives to bring its software and data tools to the market, and they will be put to the test as they endeavor to transform Verily into a sustainable business capable of delivering on its core promises. “These are really ambitious programs that we’re starting,” Jess Mega, a Verily founder and its chief medical and scientific officer told us, “but we’re now at this real inflection point.” Read Erin and Casey’s full story.

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The new face of Parkinson’s detection

Early detection of Parkinson’s disease can prove transformative for treatment, but most diagnoses require in-person examination, expensive tools, or both. Researchers from the University of Rochester developed a system for detecting Parkinson’s from videos of people performing different facial expressions, analyzing the stiffness of facial muscle movements that’s a symptom of the disease. Using an online tool, the study collected videos of 604 people performing smiling, disgusted, surprised, and neutral facial expressions. It achieved accuracy “comparable to the existing state-of-the-art video analysis that utilizes limb movements.”

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A mental health startup for the other half

The explosion of investor interest in behavioral health startups has minted an expanding list of unicorns focused on helping people access care through employer benefits or commercial insurance. Concert Health is happy to take people on commercial insurance, but it’s also got its eye on Medicare and Medicaid patients. The startup helps health systems and independent practices implement collaborative care, a method for treating behavioral health alongside primary care. Medicare started covering it in 2018, and many state Medicaid and commercial health plans have followed. Of the 18,000 patients Concert has treated so far, half receive care through government programs. Read Mario’s interview with the cofounders here.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Some high-profile collaborations were announced this week. Let’s start with a partnership between Ohio-based health system Cleveland Clinic and insurer Anthem that takes the form of a joint venture called The Clinic. The service gives users access to second opinions from 3,500 physicians using Amwell’s telehealth platform.

And AI-enabled pharmatech company Exscientia announced a 4-year collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop therapeutics for Covid-19 and to help prepare for future pandemics. While their work will initially focus on Covid and MERS, they plan to expand into developing treatments for influenza and Paramyxoviridae, a class of viruses associated with respiratory diseases including measles and mumps.

Adds & acquisitions

  • Genetic testing company Invitae announced plans to acquire health records startup Ciitizen for $325 million. Invitae will use the purchase to provide patients a centralized hub for their genomic data and other health information.
  • Flo, maker of an ovulation tracking app, raised $50 million in a Series B financing round led by VNV Global andTarget Global, bringing its total capital raised to $65 million and the company’s valuation to $800 million.
  • Organ-on-a-chip developer Emulate Inc. raised $82 million in a Series E round co-led by Perceptive. 
  • Owlstone Medical, a U.K.-based startup working on a breathalyzer for disease, raised $58 million in Series D funding led by Horizons Ventures.
  • Medical device manufacturer Baxter International Inc.announced plans to acquire medical equipment company Hillrom for $156 a share — in cash — for a total enterprise value of roughly $12.4 billion.
  • Neuroglee Therapeutics raised a $10 million Series A round to launch virtual neurology clinics for people with mild cognitive impairment as well as digital therapeutics to treat related conditions. The funding was led by Openspace Ventures with participation from EDBI.

The changing of the health tech guard

  • Primary care startup Cityblock Health hired Emily Kloeblen, the former director of business operations for now-shuttered health venture Haven, as its head of operations excellence.
  • Mo Cowan, the former president of global government affairs and policy at GE, is leaving the post to become chief legal and external affairs director at Medicare Advantage provider Devoted Health.
  • AI-powered drug development company Medable hired MaryAnne Rizk as chief strategy officer. Rizk previously worked as SVP of digital health strategy for health system analytics provider IQVIA.
Source: STAT