The digital drug horizon, details on Verily’s Baseline, & VR for burn pain

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AI drug hunters

As artificial intelligence has matured, a slew of companies have cropped up hoping to use tech to help drug makers speed up development of the next blockbuster treatment. Companies like Exscientia, Insitro, and Valo Health are using new strategies to discover drug targets, design molecules, and predict clinical trial outcomes. It’s a potentially lucrative gamble: Three IPOs in the last year have each raised more than $500 million. Katie has the story.

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The future of pharmacy

Five Blue Cross plans joined together to launch pharmacy startup Evio, which aims to strengthen their partnerships in health tech and use real world data to appropriately match patients with the right medications. Each of the plans backed the company with an equal but undisclosed amount.

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In other digital pharmacy news, LGBT-focused FOLX Health added PrEP to its service lineup, which currently includes hormone replacement therapy and erectile dysfunction medication. The company plans to add STI tests and hair and skin products next.

Verily unveils Baseline

Changes are afoot at Alphabet life science company Verily, which recently pulled back the curtain on one of its high-profile efforts, the clinical trials platform Baseline, which includes a patient-matching site with the option to integrate Verily devices. The reveal comes shortly after the company hired Amy Abernethy, the former principal deputy commissioner and acting CIO of the Food and Drug Administration, to lead its clinical research work.

VR helps pediatric burn victims

Most promising virtual reality applications conceived by futurists remain strictly fantasies. But in a sign of some real good that might be done in the short term, researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital put the technology to work to help children hospitalized with second-degree burns. They tested whether playing a VR game reduced self-reported pain while a patient’s burn dressings were being changed. The trial contained three arms: 30 patients played a VR game, 30 were shown a VR setting but not a game, and 30 received standard of care, which consists of distractions like iPads or conversation. The average age of the patients was 11, 50% were female, and 57% were white.

The results were promising, with patients who participated in the active VR group reported much lower pain scores. Though it’s only a first step, the researchers note it could pave the way for future research on pain treatment.

New deals

  • Cloud-based home care software company AlayaCareclosed a $225 million Series D led by Generation Investment Managementwith participation from Klass Capital and existing investors Inovia Capital and CDPQ, among others.
  • Telehealth company Vault Health, which is also running a string of Covid-19 testing and vaccination sites, acquired FSSolutions, a company that provides employment screening and drug and alcohol testing.

Changing of the virtual care guard

  • Virtual chronic care platform Lark Healthhired Andrew Reeves, former CCO of BioIQ, as its CRO; Melissa Ross, former COO at VisiQuate, as VP of strategic operations; and Sue Singer, former VP of strategic initiatives for Rally Health, as VP of product management and technology operations. The three new leaders will help Lark expand into new chronic illness populations, the company said in a statement.
  • Biofourmis, maker of wearable sensors for remote patient monitoring, named its first CCO — Sheeza Khawar Hussain,who joins the company from med tech company Hillrom, where she served as VP of the connected care solutions division.
  • Health tech company PrecisionLife named Ray Pawlicki, the former CIO of Biogen, its executive chair.

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