Vinod Khosla’s bold AI prediction, digital therapeutics trial updates, & funding for AI in pharma

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Vinod Khosla’s AI medicine prediction

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is famous for predictions that have helped usher in the high tech world we live in today — and made him very wealthy in the process. On Wednesday, he made another bold forecast: A fully computerized doctor could be seeing patients before the decade is out.


“Within 5 to 6 years, the FDA will approve a primary care app qualified to practice medicine like your primary care physician,” he said at the STAT Breakthrough Summit.

Khosla’s prediction comes amid brimming hype around the potential of AI to improve health care. Though there has been a flood of recent scientific papers weighing in on the potential of generative AI, Khosla has for years argued that health care will be transformed by technology. Perhaps his most famous speculations on the subject came in a 2016 paper titled “20 Percent Doctor Included,” which predicted 80% of what doctors do could be replaced by tech.


Read more insights from his talk with STAT executive editor Rick Berke.

Why a chatbot might seem more empathetic than a doctor

A recent article in JAMA Internal Medicine compared physician responses to patient questions to those of an AI chatbot and found that the bot was perceived as more empathetic. It prompted a horrified response from many in the field. But as physician Jennifer Lycette writes in a STAT First Opinion, much of the reaction hasn’t focused on what may be at the core of issue: Physicians aren’t given time to write responses.

“We steal little bits of time throughout the day — five minutes between patients here, three minutes between patients there, and during our ‘lunch hour,’” she writes. “In my 17 years in clinical practice, I haven’t eaten a lunch away from my desk (unless it was for a required meeting), clicking and typing between harried bites.” Read more here.

Akili posts adult study data

Akili Interactive is coming for adult treatment now. The company, which in 2020 earned FDA clearance for its video game that treats ADHD in kids, just published top-line data suggesting the game improves attention in adults, too.

The adult trial, called STARS-ADHD-Adult, tested six weeks of use of EndeavorRx in 221 adults, 153 of which completed the final assessments. Strikingly, the company reported that the improvement from baseline on a computer-based test of attention was double what was seen in a recent pivotal study in adolescents, and nearly seven times as large as changes seen in kids.

But more analysis still needs to be done on the data to better understand how factors like engagement and demographics may have driven the large effects observed.

“Is it younger people versus older people? Is it women versus men?“ Akili chief medical officer Scott Kollins told me. “We would like to understand if there are people who respond really well, or people who respond really poorly so that we can just guide health care providers and patients themselves a little bit more effectively.”

Akili’s now evaluating its options to get the adult treatment cleared by the FDA as quickly as possible. Read more here.

New schizophrenia RCT kicks off

Click Therapeutics and Boehringer Ingelheim this week posted a Phase III clinical trial for a schizophrenia digital therapeutic they’re developing. The digital treatment is an adjunct to standard of care medication and is designed to address the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, like withdrawal from others, decreased motivation, and reduced experience of pleasure. The new 432 person trial randomizes patients to one of two schizophrenia digital therapeutics and is designed to be suitable for FDA clearance.

The companies have been testing a candidate called CT-155 for several years, and though they haven’t shared data yet, the new trial would seem to suggest that the progress is on track. Another sign: The companies in December announced they were expanding their partnership in a deal that could be worth $460 million plus royalties to Click depending on meeting milestones.

DEA to delay telehealth restrictions for Adderall and other drugs

The Drug Enforcement Agency announced Wednesday that it will temporarily extend its Covid-19 emergency telehealth policies, so that doctors can continue prescribing some controlled substances including buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid addiction, and Adderall, which is used to treat ADHD.

“We recognize the importance of telemedicine in providing Americans with access to needed medications, and we have decided to extend the current flexibilities while we work to find a way forward to give Americans that access with appropriate safeguards,” Anne Milgram, the DEA administrator, said in a statement. Read more here.

$25 million for pharma sales AI

Canadian analytics company ODAIA raised $25 million in Series B funding as it seeks to expand its platform that helps pharmaceutical companies optimize their sales and marketing efforts. Since I first wrote about ODAIA in 2021, the company said it has partnered with several top 20 pharma companies and grew annual recurring revenue an eye-popping 646% in 2022. The investment was led by ​​Threshold Ventures and Monograph Capital.

ODAIA’s technology uses lab testing data, prescription data, claims, and anonymized patient-level information to help companies target their sales efforts. Though CEO Philip Poulidis touts the company’s ability to help with different kinds of treatments for a range of conditions at different points in a therapeutics’ life-cycle, he notes there’s great potential for identifying doctors who are treating individual patients with specialty needs, like a patient on a daily dose of antipsychotic medication who might benefit from a longer-acting injection. Ultimately, Poulidis hopes that ODAIA can help reduce the billions burned on sales and marketing efforts — which is good for patients, too.

“The holy grail in pharma has always been how do you get the right message to the right health care professional at the right time when they’re treating that patient that has a need for a certain therapeutic,” he said. “Then ultimately, if you do that, then you accelerate the timeline of delivering therapeutics to the patients that need them the most.”

$50 million for smartphone kidney diagnostics — plus layoffs

In other funding news,, which last year received FDA clearance for a home kidney testing kit which uses a smartphone camera to analyze urine samples, raised a $50 million Series D to advance the business. The investment was led by Schusterman Family Investments.

But just as the funding news went live, so did reports of layoffs at the company.

“Since the next phase of our growth will focus on commercialization in the U.S and serving the millions of Americans who are untested for chronic kidney disease, we are readjusting our workforce in Israel and the U.K. to support this strategy,” a company spokesperson said.

Talkspace beats

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Virtual therapy company Talkspace continued a solid run of earnings reports this week by beating analyst expectations for the first quarter. The company has made substantial progress reducing costs and transforming its direct-to-consumer business to one focused on enterprise deals. B2B sales accounted for over 70% of revenue in the quarter, up from 45% a year ago. The overall business grew 10% year over year, and it cut its loss by about two-thirds. All good signs.

Looking ahead, the company updated its revenue guidance for the year to between $130 and $135 million, at the upper end of its previous forecast. Talkspace expects break-even operations by the end of Q1 2024.

FDA dishes on decentralized clinical trials

The Food and Drug Administration this week issued a draft guidance document providing recommendations to sponsors, investigators, and others on how to conduct decentralized clinical trials. The idea of conducting clinical trials away from prominent medical centers gained a fair amount of momentum as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. But pulling off such trials, especially for high-stakes drug candidates, remains an emerging opportunity.

The agency hopes that the guidance will help advance DCTs, which have been promoted as a way to reach more diverse study populations and to save time and money. Among recommendations, the guidance spells out important details about how to conduct trials remotely, including affirming that telehealth visits are suitable when in-person is unnecessary. It also notes that sponsors ought to ensure that digital health technologies are “available and suitable for use by all participants.” So if a trial calls for people to bring their own devices, they should also be made available to those who can’t afford them. The agency will accept comments on the guidance for 90 days.

Source: STAT