June 8, 2023
Health Tech Correspondent
Good morning, health tech readers! I’m in D.C. this week reporting on digital therapeutics (see below). Reach me if you want to say hi or if there’s something I should know: mario.aguilar@statnews.com
Artificial Intelligence

Psychiatric medications leave many people with mental illness behind. Can AI change that? 

“That barrier that we often put in front of ourselves, saying a brain is too complex to make progress, is really patently false. Because right now we're doing nothing, right? So if you just do a little something, and you link it … back to the translational models, forward to commercial models, that actually will have a huge impact. Because our floor is literally the floor, right? To do better than random chance feels like it shouldn't be that hard.”


At a BIO panel moderated by STAT’s Torie Bosch yesterday, Amit Etkin, founder of Alto Neuroscience, argued that it’s time for a paradigm shift  in how we develop drugs for mental illness. Instead of the current approach — in which people are grouped largely by symptoms — he envisions a future in which diagnoses are broken down by biomarkers. Identifying these biomarkers, and then developing drugs to target them, is increasingly possible with machine learning, he said.


When asked if he worried the idea was overhyped, he said right now, we're doing nothing. “A step above nothing, systematizing the measurement of something and building on that, that’s going to derive value. That’s going to derive value for our preclinical colleagues. They now know that that subtype of depression is different from this subtype. … It’s going to derive value for our commercial colleagues, for payers, regulators. It’s an anchor and then we build out from there."

Big data

Google's generative AI is coming to health systems

Casey-Google-MayoAdobe, Hyacinth Empinado / STAT

Google has struck a deal with Mayo Clinic and other health systems to embed its generative AI into their platforms, giving them access to a super-charged search tool designed to mine health records. Mayo Clinic's chief technology officer, Vish Anantraman, said the hope is to get Google’s powerful AI engine to run on Mayo’s data, so that it can more quickly deliver granular details about patients that often get lost in far-flung systems.

“Health care is crying for us to be able to search across multi-modal types of data, whether that’s imaging, genomic, or unstructured data,” he told STAT

Health systems are eager to use the powerful form of AI, and Google and competitors like Microsoft are vying for that business. But it remains to be seen whether the tech will produce enough benefits to justify the costs. 

“Doctors are still waiting for AI to help us,” said Mozziyar Etemadi, a physician who builds AI models for use at Northwestern Medicine. “I’m still sending faxes. I’m still sending pages. I’m still taping stuff onto whiteboards as part of my practice.” Read more here. 


$13 million for workforce management software

Laudio, which produces software that helps managers in health care settings keep tabs on nurses, technicians, and other staff, announced a $13 million Series B round led by Define Ventures.

Laudio’s software, which integrates with common tools like Microsoft Outlook, helps managers automate administrative tasks like employee rounding and checking overtime and analyze what’s happening in the workplace. It can also flag issues — such as a seasoned nurse being on repeated shifts with newer employees —  that managers can use to address common problems like burnout. 

Laudio has 20 health system customers and will use the new funding to build the business and new technology, like integrations into Epic’s EHR. The company also hopes to build out tools to help automate performance appraisals. CEO Russ Richmond said that employees shouldn't fear a tool robotically making decisions about their workplace. Rather, the tool enables better communication with overworked managers.

"What folks want is real human connection, and what these managers need is a place to start,” he said, adding: “I don't see a world where workers want or desire some kind of chatbot managing them. What they want is their managers managing them, and they're very supportive and accepting of those managers using the most contemporary tools and technology available to be better at it.”


DTx leaders plead for CMS support

This week the Digital Therapeutics Alliance, the industry’s leading advocacy group, is holding its first summit in Washington, D.C., which of course, is a very good excuse to schedule a bunch of meetings on Capitol Hill to rally support for legislation that would compel the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to figure out a way to pay for FDA-cleared software-based medical treatments.

The bipartisan legislation is being touted as a way to support equitable access to novel technologies and to support innovative companies who have faced difficulties building businesses without reliable ways of getting paid.

Though CMS benefits categories wouldn’t solve all problems, it could jumpstart adoption by commercial payers and the broader health care industry that takes cues from the government on what to support.

Read more here.

Digital therapeutics

…And a bevy of DTx news

  • Akili Interactive announced it will launch an adult version of its video game treatment for ADHD without a prescription. It’s releasing the software ahead of FDA clearance under lingering pandemic rules that allowed companies to release digital treatments for certain psychiatric conditions without a clearance. The company will test out the over the counter model as well as pricing ahead of an FDA filing later this year. Read more here.
  • BehaVR, which is developing virtual reality based treatments for anxiety, serious mental illness, pain, and more, has fleshed out its executive ranks. Marc Griffin joins as chief commercial officer, Amir Gueron as chief financial officer, and Jillian Ahrens as chief product and design officer. Griffin previously held roles at AVIA and Cerner; Gueron at TytoCare; and Ahrens at Pear Therapeutics.  The new hires come as BehaVR prepares looks to build a business for digital therapeutics even without consistent reimbursement.

“We do think that longer-term, there’s a market for reimbursable PDTs, and we’re still continuing to heavily pursue that,” Griffin told me. “But our largest focus, front of windshield, is inside of value-based care, because we truly believe that the business model for digital therapeutics directly aligns with the incentives of value based care organizations.”

  • At the recent Schizophrenia International Research Society conference, Boehringer Ingelheim and Click Therapeutics quietly gave a first glimpse at data from a 50-participant, single-arm study of their digital therapeutic that helps people with schizophrenia manage the negative symptoms of the condition, like anhedonia. The key finding reported by the companies was solid engagement with the tech, regardless of how severe their negative symptoms at the start of the study. That's important for the ultimate success of the treatment in a tricky patient population. The preliminary study also showed a promising decrease in scores for negative symptoms. Click and BI announced last month they had launched a pivotal trial that could produce data suitable to submit for FDA clearance.
Screen Shot 2023-06-07 at 11.00.58 AM
Boehringer Ingelheim

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What we're reading

  • Senate will hold three bipartisan, senators-only briefings on artificial intelligence, Politico
  • Evaluating artificial intelligence responses to public health questions, JAMA Network Open

Thanks for reading! More on Tuesday - Mario

Mario Aguilar covers how technology is transforming health care. He is based in New York.

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