Healthrageous sees strides


New funding for machine learning, encouraging news on hypertension biofeedback

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.