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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.




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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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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How chatbots can help us beat Covid-19 Feedzy



More than a year after the coronavirus pandemic began, we’re facing a new challenge: vaccination hesitancy, which the World Health Organization now ranks as one of the top 10 threats to global health. From the United States to Africa, troubling numbers of people are refusing to accept the lifesaving shots, despite clear evidence that they are safe and effective.

With regulators now weighing the benefits of vaccination against a few reports of rare side effects, effective public health communication has never been more important. To keep our global vaccination efforts moving forward, and drive the United States and the rest of the world toward herd immunity, we urgently need smart, effective ways to depoliticize the vaccination process, combat false rumors, and give people the reliable information they need. Fortunately, new tools are emerging that promise to achieve just that: chatbots.

It might sound strange to suggest that digital tools could succeed where public health officials and politicians are struggling, but the reality is that conversational AI tools such as chatbots are already playing an increasingly important role in our healthcare system. A growing number of healthcare organizations now use chatbots to help patients schedule appointments, check symptoms, or handle queries about health insurance. And the pandemic has fueled an uptake of AI tools, with some medical chatbot providers seeing usage triple since the start of the COVID-19 crisis as patients have turned to telemedicine and other digital tools to get the round-the-clock support they need.

Chatbots are also being used more and more widely as part of COVID-19 response strategies. Officials in New York are already using Google’s AI chatbot to handle up to a quarter of COVID-19 inquiries, helping residents to self-schedule vaccines and freeing up human agents to handle trickier inquiries. Further afield in Kazakhstan, where only a quarter of people say they’re willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine, aid agencies are using chatbots to dispel myths circulating on social media and help connect people to more accurate information.

Do such interventions work? The jury’s still out, but early signs are promising. One recent preprint study found that after just a few minutes interacting with a chatbot, the number of people with positive views of Covid-19 vaccines rose by 37%, and the number of people saying they’d decline vaccination fell by 20%. And while patients are often initially wary of using chatbots, research shows that 73% of them ultimately said they found these tools to be helpful.

 Of course, chatbots have their limitations. According to one recent survey, 76% of doctors say that chatbots can’t manage the full range of patient needs, and 70% worry that increased reliance on chatbots could leave patients feeling isolated and cut off from their human care team. The reality is that many medical decisions involve value judgements, compassion, and wisdom derived from years of experience rather than the rigid application of rules. Medicine is a science, but it’s also dependent on human insights that can’t be replaced by algorithms.

But within certain domains — potentially including vaccine education — healthcare chatbots are emerging as powerful tools. Already, three out of four physicians say that chatbots are valuable when it comes to helping patients schedule appointments, get medication reminders, or find clinics and healthcare facilities in their area. Many also point to chatbots’ ability to provide medication information and usage directions, or to help with insurance-related queries.

Where chatbots really excel is in rapidly delivering reliable content in response to the recipient’s actual needs, questions, or concerns. That allows AI tools to serve as an efficient bridge between life sciences companies such as vaccine manufacturers, and regulators, public health officials, healthcare providers, and patients. The result: clear information, from reliable sources, delivered on-demand to the people who need it most.

There’s a convenience factor to chatbots that shouldn’t be overlooked, too. Much of the information a chatbot provides can often be found elsewhere — on the CDC website, in user manuals or manufacturers’ educational pamphlets, and so forth. But it’s one thing to go looking for documentation and trawl through it to find the information you need, and quite another to simply ask a question and get an answer.

AI tools can integrate seamlessly into busy healthcare providers’ workflows, putting the accurate, up-to-date information they need at their fingertips in the moment when they need it and empowering them to deliver better patient care. They can also integrate into the patient experience, empowering non-medical people to fact-check things they hear on cable news or read about on Twitter, and to find the accurate information they need on their own terms.

Chatbots can’t handle every inquiry or solve every problem, but they can reduce the strain on human clinicians, receptionists, and call-center workers and free them up to spend more time treating patients or handling complex issues that require human judgment and attention. With everyone currently overworked and overstressed, chatbots help reduce the pressure and enable life sciences and healthcare workers to do their jobs better. That makes it easier for us to reassure people who have concerns about vaccination, to quickly and effectively refute rumors and misinformation, and ultimately to ensure people can make smart, informed decisions about getting vaccinated.

We urgently need clear and effective ways to communicate about Covid-19 in order to beat vaccine hesitancy and speed our journey to herd immunity. We’re already using chatbots across the healthcare system to remind patients to take their meds, to nudge them to stick to diet and exercise plans, to assist with blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar interventions, and  to manage mental health. It’s time to lean into the chatbot revolution to help power our Covid-19 vaccination efforts, too.

Photo: anyaberkut, Getty Images


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