April 11, 2023
Reporter, STAT Health Tech Writer

Good morning, health tech readers! We have a full slate of stories from STAT’s own health tech team — bad news for Pear Therapeutics, a couple of promising opportunities for AI in health, and some news from the home health company founded by an ex-Uber and -Lyft exec. Tips and thoughts go to mohana.ravindranath@statnews.com

digital therapeutics

Pear Therapeutics files for bankruptcy as it flails for viable business model

Pioneering prescription app company Pear plans to sell off its assets to pay back creditors after filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy, my colleague Mario Aguilar reports. It’ll cut 170 employees — 92% of its workforce — as it continues to seek a buyer. 

Pear may be a bit of a bellwether for challenges facing digital therapeutics companies struggling to find reimbursement models. The company has three FDA-cleared apps to address substance use disorder, opiate use disorder and insomnia, but never had a clear path toward revenue, Mario writes. The company, which went public via a SPAC merger in 2021, used up over $100 million in 2022 and missed a revenue target of $14 million to $16 million. Read more from Mario here

Artificial intelligence

AI tool aims to guide brain surgeons

A brain tumor’s genetic mutation could change how neurosurgeons choose to operate, but it’s all but impossible to get real-time data on a tumor’s makeup without first going under the knife. So a team of researchers are exploring ways artificial intelligence could help expedite that analysis during surgery. 

Their study, published recently in Nature Medicine, describes a tool called DeepGlioma that uses computer vision to guess which mutations a brain tumor has with 93% accuracy. It would be the first tool to give surgeons such information during surgery, my colleague Brittany Trang writes. 

“We really know now that our role as surgeons is different depending on the molecular genetics of these tumors,” Todd Hollon, an assistant professor in neurological surgery at the University of Michigan and the lead investigator on the study, said. 

“The big problem is that we do not have this information. We do not know the molecular genetics of these tumors because we don’t have a way to test for it before surgery. So this is a real-time way to be able to test for the molecular genetics” and guide surgeons on treatment. Read more here

Can AI improve liver drug discovery?

Liver researchers are investigating whether the technology can help them better understand the factors driving NASH, or complex nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. They don’t know enough about the disease to understand which factors influence the disease’s progression the most, making drug development more difficult, my colleague Isa Cueto writes. But something like the language model GPT-4 could churn through large bodies of information to identify patterns that doctors could miss, potentially among factors like gene expression and micros coping observations. Read more from Isa, reporting from the recent American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases conference in Los Angeles. 


What happens when patients declined to share data

When researcher Alex Rosenblat was pregnant, she systematically declined to share her medical data with third parties on each consent form she received at her doctors’ office. But following media reports questioning data mining company Phreesia’s privacy practices, she emailed to confirm that it did not have consent to use her data. What she encountered was Kafka-esque and troubling: Instead of confirming she had never consented, it said it would delete her authorization — which she says she never gave — and later claimed it had no record of the authorization because it had been deleted. Read more on how even declining to share your data might not be enough to stop companies from harvesting it. 


MedArrive’s latest $8 million round

Home health-focused company MedArrive — led by former Uber and Lyft exec Dan Trigub — banked an $8 million funding round led by Cobalt Ventures, a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City. The round brings its total funding to $40.5 million. 

Since raising a $25 million series A in 2021, funding has become much harder to come by, Trigub told STAT. Some investors aren’t sold on the idea that serving Medicaid populations make good business; the ones that are must understand that the financial timelines are different compared to businesses serving commercially insured patients. 

Working with low-income populations requires a lot of careful logistics which can certainly be challenging to scale, but Trigub said he’s confident that MedArrive’s approach — offering its provider and payer customers access to white labeled tech that can dispatch a team of skilled paramedics, EMTs and community health workers into patient’s homes — can seriously cut medical costs. By going into patients’ homes, the staff can also assess social as well as medical needs. 

“There’s companies out there where you download an app, push a button and you have someone to come into your home and help you with a UTI and you never see that person again. That’s not going to work with this population,” he said.


5 startups tackling healthcare’s workforce crisis

Hospitals and nursing homes are desperate for nurses and doctors — and staffing startups including Nomad Health and IntelyCare aim to cash in, my colleague Ambar Castillo writes. They represent a range of models, from using machine learning to help employers whip up more competitive offers to selling an app letting nurses search for per diem shifts. Grapefruit Health takes another unusual approach: Tapping students with some clinical experience to do tasks like patient outreach, delivering negative test results, and helping people use their patient portals. 

“All of these tasks today that health systems need to do and want to do, but can’t, because there aren’t people to do it, or they don’t have the dollars, or they don’t even have the HR teams to onboard a hundred students —we really take care of all of that,” Grapefruit founder and CEO Eric Alvarez told Ambar. Read more here.

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Thanks for reading! More on Thursday - Mohana

Mohana Ravindranath is a Bay Area correspondent covering health tech at STAT and has made it her mission to separate out hype from reality in health care.

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