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What Califf means for health tech
The Senate this week narrowly confirmed Robert Califf to head up the Food and Drug Administration, his second time overseeing the agency responsible for regulating medical software and devices, real-world data for drug trials, and other critical health tech issues. He’ll also guide FDA’s strategy for artificial intelligence and machine learning in medicine, which, according to a recent action plan, involves working closely with manufacturers to evaluate the software’s performance.
Like other Washington health leaders, Califf spent the last few years at Alphabet subsidiary Verily, which sells health data and analytics services including to providers transitioning out of fee-for-service. It’s not clear when Califf will be sworn in, but we’ll likely see acting FDA chief Janet Woodcock as his principal deputy thereafter.
Specialty telehealth’s big transformation moment?
Digital health companies that help people connect with specialty care and prescription treatments are experiencing a moment of flux. Offerings are becoming more sophisticated and there’s increasing competition, which is great for consumers who’ve never had more options. It’s also prompting businesses to stock their war chests and make other moves to get an edge.
Last week, we told you about the merger of Thirty Madison and Nurx, and this week we’ve got two new items of note. This morning, Folx Health, which provides specialty care services focused on the LGBTQIA+ community, announced that Liana Douillet Guzmán will take over as CEO from founder A.G. Breitenstein, who will serve as executive chair of the board. Douillet Guzmán previously served as chief marketing officer of Skillshare, an online learning community, and as chief operating officer of Blockchain, a crypto wallet and exchange. Folx, which has raised $29 million, has served thousands of members since launching in 2020.
And earlier this week Ro, which pioneered the online distribution of erectile dysfunction pills, raised $150 million at a reported $7 billion valuation. The funding was led by ShawSpring Partners, with participation from an army of investors, including General Catalyst, FirstMark Capital, and SignalFire. The company will use the money to expand its direct-to-consumer efforts including its newly launched dermatology business. Ro also nodded at its B2B aspirations in the release, saying that its offerings are being used by health systems, clinical trial sponsors, and digital health companies.
It’s far too soon to pick any winners and losers, but we’re watching what’s actually happening in this space. Say hi if you have thoughts to share: [email protected]
Getting over ‘algorithmic aversion’
AI companies have been quick to commercialize their tools for health care, but health systems have been slower to embrace them — and that’s likely because they can’t always see the data it’s trained on or the source code, Angela Aristidou, Rajesh Jena, and Eric Topol write in The Lancet.
That “algorithmic aversion” could be assuaged if companies gave clinicians and hospital IT staff more visibility into the AI’s training and decision-making process, or even allowed them to re-train the models using local data, as illustrated in above diagram, from the Scripps Research Translational Institute’s Faith Hark.
New funds, accelerators push for better representation in health tech
A new slate of venture capital funds and startup accelerators are hyper-focused on diversifying the health tech industry as well as the patients they target. CNBC profiled Marcus Whitney’s Jumpstart Nova, a $55 million Black-led venture capital firm that plans to invest exclusively in Black-led health care companies. And UCLA Health’s TechQuity startup accelerator is on the hunt for young health tech companies focused on inclusion in areas such as prevention, diagnosis, treatment and community impact. TechQuity plans to launch officially May 1 and is accepting applications til March 31, with a particular eye for founders from
Equip raises $58 million and other industry news
- Equip, which provides virtual family based treatment for young people with eating disorders, announced a $58 million Series B round led by The Chernin Group, with participation from Tiger Global, General Catalyst, and Katie Couric Media. Equip has expanded to over 40 states and has in-network coverage with 10 commercial health plans since their Series A last year.
- Hurdle Health, a mental health company focused on people of color which has raised $7 million in seed funding, announced it’s expanding its services to California, Texas, and Massachusetts. It delivered nearly 5,000 therapy sessions in 2021 and hopes to expand to more states and clear 20,000 sessions this year.
- Health care giant Anthem will pilot a Covid Concierge Care program with its Medicare Advantage members in New York and Connecticut in partnership with digital health company Sidekick Health. The app-based care will help patients with Covid-19 track and manage symptoms, and allow them to message Anthem case managers. Anthem has similar Sidekick concierge programs for Crohn’s disease and cancer, and the company may expand to more conditions in the future.
- Pear Therapeutics announced that reSET and reSET-O, its prescription digital therapeutics for the treatment of substance use disorder and opiate use disorder, are now available in Spanish. The company also announced that the state of Michigan would fund access toward reSET and reSET-O. The company previously said that MassHealth, the Medicaid program in Massachusetts, would cover the products.
- Carevive, which makes tech for cancer care, appointed Aaron Galaznik as chief scientific officer. He comes from Medidata, where he headed real world evidence research solutions. He also previously worked at Takeda and Pfizer.
- Digital musculoskeletal care company Sword Health, on a hiring and fundraising spree, announced it had appointed Valentina Longo as chief financial officer. She was previously at Cerberus Capital Management and JPMorgan Chase.
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