An infusion of cash from Partners HealthCare is set to spur a promising 2013 for Healthrageous, whose health self-management technology traces its roots to Partners' Center for Connected Health.
Healthrageous received $700,000 in Series B financing from the Partners HealthCare Innovation Fund in late November - close on the heels of a $6.5 million round of financing from other investors in October.
"They originally created us, so we're coming home to our parents after being the prodigal children that went off and went around the world," says Healthrageous CEO Rick Lee of Partners, from whom the startup spun off in 2010.
Lee explains that a big controversy in Boston around that time, exposed in a week-long series in the Boston Globe - Harvard physicians who'd sat on pharmaceutical boards received money to render positive opinions about drugs - had "resulted in a change in the conflict of interest rules" at Partners.
"We had been in discussions about an equity stake in 2010 in Healthrageous, and because of that rule change [Partners] was not permitted to do that at that time," says Lee. "So it took two years or so for the pendulum to swing back to a reasonable location, where the approval was easy to attain."
"So, what they created they can now publicly be proud of, as well as recoup some of the financial benefits through their equity," he adds.
"Our investment in Healthrageous is a prime example of Partners' goal to take medical innovations discovered by our researchers and provide the appropriate support and infrastructure to allow technology development, commercialization and, ultimately, the development of products to benefit patients," said Peter Markell, chief financial officer of Partners HealthCare.
Together with a round of $6.5 million in Series B financing received this past month from several other venture capital firms, Healthrageous is well-positioned to make some strategic technology investments, says Lee.
"We made a major bet on machine learning as a key variable and differentiator in our solution," he says. "That's an ongoing development project. For really good machine learning, you need data. And we're just now getting to the point where the amount of throughput, the amount of data coming through our platform is sufficient to do some rather sophisticated mathematical computations, like neural networking."
The reason for that, of course, is that there are more Healthrageous users. "We've got about a 10x increase in participants on the platform," says Lee. "So we're getting a lot more data."
That's led to some "impressive results in our best biofeedback loop, which is the hypertension loop," says Lee.
The October issue of American Heart Journal spotlights some of that success: reporting on six-month, controlled trial, conducted at Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC Corporation that demonstrated how a Web-based self-management program has helped individuals with prehypertension or hypertension achieve significantly lower blood pressure.
A total of 404 employees with those conditions participated in the study, which enabled individuals to easily collect their blood pressure readings, monitor trends and securely share their personal data with their providers using a home blood pressure cuff and Web portal. It was based on this self-management technology platform, developed by the Center for Connected Health at Partners HealthCare, that Healthrageous was founded, officials say.
The change in diastolic blood pressure was significantly different between the intervention and control groups, although the change in systolic blood pressure was not significant, according to the research. Nearly one quarter of intervention participants experienced a greater than 10mmHg decrease in systolic blood pressure (22 percent), or a greater than 5mmHg decrease in diastolic blood pressure (29 percent) compared to the control group.
Moreover, intervention participants were twice as likely to report starting a new medication and more likely to report improved communication with their doctor. Just a 5mmHg decrease in blood pressure can reduce mortality due to stroke and heart disease by 14 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
Data from individuals participating in Healthrageous' hypertension self-management program over the past 18 months show a sustained engagement rate of 70 percent among those focused on improving their hypertension. Significantly, 30 percent achieve a meaningful clinical improvement as defined by the original study completed in 2009 by the Center for Connected Health, officials say.
These advancements will be "highly refined by the combination of the biofeedback loop and the machine learning," says Lee. "We can constantly come back to you with those real-time data numbers, which are your numbers. Based on you taking your blood pressure. And we can start to correlate your lifestyle behaviors with those elevated scores." As the user's health improves, the Healthrageous platform can provide positive feedback.
"It comes down to the personalization that is achieved with machine learning," says Lee. "If I can deduce from your wireless pedometer that you're a type A personality, because I have a time/date stamp of you running six-minute miles, six of them, this morning at 5:30 a.m. in the pitch dark in Boston, now I have a pretty good understanding of what makes you tick. And then I can embellish that when I start asking questions like, 'Have you ever smoked? Are you in a long-term relationship? Do you watch hours and hours of TV at night?'"
"These are just further informing me so I can come back to you and, in bite-sized bits of information, help you achieve the kind of health you're striving for with pointers and tips and hints and suggestions."
"Our findings indicate that self-management can be an effective way to improve blood pressure control," said Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, founder and director of the Center for Connected Health at Partners HealthCare. "Shifting interventions from the clinic to home and workplace is an innovative and potentially effective approach to achieving increased self management, improving quality of life and clinical outcomes, while reducing healthcare costs."