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Eli Lilly’s $15M investment deepens link to startup developing new class of RNA meds



Eli Lilly is making a small equity investment in a startup that recently became a research partner, deepening its connection to a company that could give the pharmaceutical giant a place in the growing field of RNA therapies.

The $15 million investment announced Tuesday comes two months after Lilly agreed to begin a partnership with London-based MiNA Therapeutics, which is developing small activating RNA therapies (saRNA). SaRNA drugs are a new class of medicines that work by a mechanism called RNA activation, which the London-based biotech likens to hitting the “on” switch for the production of a particular protein. The idea is to boost or restore cellular levels of a target protein.

With the new cash from Lilly, MiNA said it will advance and expand its internal pipeline of saRNA therapies, which is initially focused on immune-oncology and genetic diseases. The alliance with the Indianapolis-based drug giant is researching up to five targets selected by Lilly across various therapeutic areas. The agreement calls for Lilly to handle preclinical and clinical development of drug candidates that emerge from the partnership. MiNA received $25 million up front and could earn $245 million for each disease target, plus royalties from sales of any commercialized drugs from the partnership.

Lead MiNA drug candidate, MTL-CEBPA, is designed to encode a protein that acts as a master regulator of myeloid cells and other cell types. In solid tumors, myeloid cells are frequently dysregulated. By restoring CEBPA expression, MiNA said it aims to alter immune cell populations in the tumor microenvironment, potentially improving the efficacy of other cancer therapies.

A Phase 1/2 study is currently underway evaluating the MiNA drug in liver cancer. The drug is being tested in combination with sorafenib, a cancer drug that is currently the standard of care for liver cancer that can’t be removed by surgery. MTL-CEBPA is also being tested in advanced solid tumors. That Phase 1/2 clinical trial is evaluating the MiNA drug in combination with Merck cancer immunotherapy pembrolizumab (Keytruda).

Lilly isn’t MiNA’s only research partner. In January, the biotech teamed up with Paris-based Servier in a partnership developing saRNA therapies for neurological disorders. MiNA stands to earn €220 million, a sum that includes the upfront payment as well as development and commercial milestones for the first disease target, which was not specified. Similar to the Lilly alliance, Servier will handle preclinical and clinical development of the drugs covered under the alliance.

MiNA emerged last September, unveiling a £23 million (about $30 million) Series A round of funding. The biotech said at the time that the capital would support its clinical development plans. In Tuesday’s announcement, MiNA CEO said Lilly’s brings further validation.

“This investment from Lilly, together with our recently announced multi-target research collaboration, represents an important endorsement of our saRNA platform,” he said.

Photo by Flickr user Paul Sableman via a Creative Commons license

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Startup using VR for surgical training raises $27M Feedzy



Osso VR plans to expand on its virtual surgical training modules after raising $27 million in funding. Photo credit: Osso VR

In a VR demonstration, a surgeon practices an endoscopy. It’s one of several new procedures added by Osso VR, a startup that builds VR modules for surgical training.

The Palo Alto-based startup recently raised $27 million in a funding round led by GSR Ventures. Some of its past investors, including Kaiser Permanente Ventures, also contributed to the round.

The company plans to use the funds to expand its currently library of  training modules.

“After proving the clinical effectiveness of the platform and its unique ability to scale up to the millions of providers around the world, we are ready to accelerate,” Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Justin Barad said in a news release. “With this latest round, we plan to exponentially expand our library and platform so that every patient in the world can have the peace of mind knowing they are getting access to the safest, highest-value procedures.”

Founded in 2016, Osso VR initially started with a focus on orthopedic surgery, as Barad currently practices at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children. The startup currently has more than 120 modules across more than 10 specialties.

It claims it can help students and residents improve surgical performance, though this is based on two very small randomized trials.

So far, more than 20 hospital residency programs are using Osso VR, including Brown University and Johns Hopkins University.

Another income stream for the startup is from orthopedic medical device companies that use it to help train surgeons on their devices.

Osso VR isn’t the only company testing out video games as a means for training doctors. Level Ex, a company that builds phone-based training games, is taking a slightly different approach. It recently rolled out a game to help keep dermatologists up to date.



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Israel-based startup raises $6M to help payers better understand member behavior Feedzy



An Israel-based startup, which aims to give payers key information to enhance communication with their members, has raised $6 million in a Series A funding round led by 10D.

Existing investors iAngels and TAU Ventures also participated in the round, bringing the company’s total funding to $9 million.

The startup, Medorion, provides payers with software tools that orchestrate and measure member engagement, said Asaf Kleinbort, co-founder and CEO of of the company, in an email.

Like an EHR that stores clinical data, Medorion captures individual member behavior to create a database of “electronic behavior records,” he explained. To create the records, Medorion’s platform aggregates data from several sources that payers have access to, including information on gaps in care, eligibility data, claims and social determinants of health data. The platform also generates, tracks and stores digital engagement data.

Medorion’s technology aims to provide both the “who” and “why” of member behavior. For example, the electronic behavior records focus on identifying members who aren’t filling their prescriptions or are avoiding colorectal cancer screenings along with why they are doing so.

“This library of health behaviors enables payers to personalize and automate one-on-one member conversations at scale, facilitating proactive interactions that improve health delivery and financial outcomes,” Kleinbort said.

Currently, Medorion’s platform can only be used for Medicare Advantage members, and over 500,000 are using it, he said. But with the new funds, the company plans to expand the platform’s utilization beyond Medicare Advantage into other government markets.

Medorion also plans to use the new funds to grow its impact on the U.S. market, hire aggressively and boost the adoption of its behavioral intelligence platform among U.S. insurers, Kleinbort said. The company’s software has already been deployed by a handful of U.S. health plans, though Kleinbort did not provide any names.

Further, Medorion will use the funds to accelerate the development of its new risk adjustment and member experience solutions.

“Medorion’s innovative software-driven approach for health behavior intelligence and its ability to show clear value and ROI with leading payers, coupled with the growing market need, has made them a clear choice for investment,” said Itay Rand, partner at 10D, in a news release.

Medorion has joined a relatively small healthcare behavior intelligence market in the U.S. But while companies like WellToK and Icario also use behavioral science insights to improve member communication, Medorion provides a comprehensive self-service software model, “which allows insurers to own this process and do it themselves,” Kleinbort said.

Medorion provides payers with the tools necessary to understand and communicate effectively with their members, thereby building stronger relationships with them, he added.

Photo: Abscent84, Getty Images



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