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New South African partnership gets $3M, launches telehealth product

For the early detection and treatment of health conditions, easy access to primary healthcare is crucial. Primary healthcare is best delivered by teams of primary care clinicians coordinating care between them. However, ubiquitous access to such care…

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For the early detection and treatment of health conditions, easy access to primary healthcare is crucial. Primary healthcare is best delivered by teams of primary care clinicians coordinating care between them. However, ubiquitous access to such care is scant across Sub-Saharan Africa.

There is a real opportunity for digital healthcare platforms to scale access to team-based care across the region. They can reduce the cost of quality care while improving health outcomes, reach patients in remote areas and reduce the pressure on the traditional medical support systems.

The pandemic has seen such platforms scale globally, and Africa is not exempt. A new platform (without a name yet) is launching out of South Africa and it wants to provide accessible quality care for Africans with its telehealth service. Today, it has closed a $3 million pre-Series A round to that end.

Yes, you’re wondering why the platform doesn’t have a name (I am too), but what’s interesting is the fact that a VC firm (Webrock Ventures) and two health tech companies (Healthforce.io and Doktor.se) joined forces to launch this new venture

Here’s summarized information on the trio.

Webrock Ventures is a Sweden-based investment company that employs a venture-building model. So essentially, the firm partners with tech companies in Sweden and combines its cash with the company’s business models to create portfolio businesses. It does this while maintaining a sizeable stake in the company.

Healthforce is a South Africa-based health tech company that tries to improve healthcare through multidisciplinary clinical teams. So far, it has set up nurses in over 450 clinics across the country while conducting more than 1 million nurse consultations. Healthforce also has a telemedicine play with over 110,000 consultations since launching the service last year.

As a Sweden-based telehealth company, Doktor.se allows patients to contact healthcare professionals through their smartphones across the whole spectrum of primary care. Most of its customers are in Europe, as well as in Latin America.

So why form a partnership to launch a telehealth product in South Africa with a plan for further roll-out in other African countries down the line?

Globally, telehealth investments have skyrocketed and increased by more than 50% since the start of the pandemic. With many of the fastest-growing economies globally, investors and companies (in this case, Webrock and Doktor.se) are now turning to Africa as a major growth region for such high-demand services.

Saul Kornik (CEO & Co-Founder of Healthforce and CEO of the new venture)

Now, Doktor.se has two models for commercialising its telemedicine application. The first is to use its technology to personally deliver healthcare services. The second model licenses the core technology to third parties in markets in which Doktor.se has no intention of expanding. Doktor.se achieved this with Brazilian health tech startup ViBe Saúde (via Webrock), and last year, the platform had over 1.2 million patient consultations. It plans to do the same by licensing its technology to deliver care through Healthforce across Africa.

By forming a new partnership, a completely new opportunity is set up. Healthforce can leverage its current position to take core tech from Doktor.se to a new direct-to-patient market. In the background is Webrock, a willing investment machine set up to scale the platform.

The new venture will focus on the uninsured, B2C segment through a freemium-type offering. The platform offers on-demand and scheduled consultations with nurses, general practitioners and mental health professionals. It also provides chronic care management and will be integrated with Healthforce’s broader primary care offering.

Saul Kornik, co-founder and CEO at Healthforce, will resume a new role at the newly formed company. According to him, the partnership gives Healthforce an additional product to add to its healthcare product stack. In addition, it gives Doktor.se the ability to generate license fee revenue from a new market, while Webrock has an opportunity to invest in yet another large developing market.

“Webrock and Healthforce partnered to bring funding and strategic/operational capacity to this new pan-African direct-to-patient play, respectively,” he said to TechCrunch. “All existing independent operations will continue. However, under the NewCo, Healthforce as a major shareholder will expand its primary care product stack and Doktor.se will generate revenue off license fees earned.”

Sub-Saharan Africa has a healthcare market of about $90 billion. But health insurance coverage is in single-digit (percentage-wise) across countries in Sub-Saharan Africa except for South Africa with 16% coverage. Kornik says the three parties want to tackle a large portion of this challenge and are aligned about how the healthcare system in Africa could look if it were functioning optimally.

“This is a pure-play provider-of-healthcare venture. Through this pan-African venture, we will deliver high-quality healthcare at low cost to 75 million people through telemedicine, literally putting healthcare in the palm of their hands,” he said.

Partner at Webrock Ventures Joshin Raghubar and co-founder and CEO of Doktor, Martin Lindman, are enthusiastic about the opportunity Africa presents due to its large population and increasing smartphone penetration.

This new venture, which should hopefully have a name soon, is one of the few health tech platforms based in South Africa that have raised seven-figure sums in a fintech-dominated year. In February, hearX Group, a company that specializes in making hearing healthcare technologies, raised $8.3 million Series A to expand into the U.S. April saw Quro Medical close a $1.1 million seed round to scale its service that manages ill patients in the comfort of their homes. Judging by the spacing between each fundraise, we should see more from the country before the year runs out.

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Spread & Containment

AstraZeneca antibody cocktail fails to prevent Covid-19 symptoms in large trial

AstraZeneca said a late-stage trial failed to provide evidence that the company’s Covid-19 antibody therapy protected people who had contact with an infected person from the disease, a small setback in its efforts to find alternatives to vaccines.

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Astra antibody cocktail fails to prevent COVID-19 symptoms in large trial

(Reuters; )

June 15 (Reuters) – AstraZeneca (AZN.L) said on Tuesday a late-stage trial failed to provide evidence that its COVID-19 antibody therapy protected people who had contact with an infected person from the disease, a small setback in its efforts to find alternatives to vaccines.

The study assessed whether the therapy, a cocktail of two types of antibodies, could prevent adults who had been exposed to the virus in the past eight days from developing COVID-19 symptoms.

The therapy, AZD7442, was 33% effective in reducing the risk of people developing symptoms compared with a placebo, but that result was not statistically significant — meaning it might have been due to chance and not the therapy.

The Phase III study, which has not been peer reviewed, included 1,121 participants in the United Kingdom and the United States. The vast majority, though not all, were free of the virus at the start of the trial.

Results for a subset of participants who were not infected to begin with was more encouraging but the primary analysis rested on results from all participants.

FILE PHOTO: A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus linked to the Wuhan outbreak, shared with Reuters on February 18, 2020. NEXU Science Communication/via REUTERS

“While this trial did not meet the primary endpoint against symptomatic illness, we are encouraged by the protection seen in the PCR negative participants following treatment with AZD7442,” AstraZeneca Executive Vice President Mene Pangalos said in a statement.

The company is banking on further studies to revive the product’s fortunes. Five more trials are ongoing, testing the antibody cocktail as treatment or in prevention.

The next one will likely be from a larger trial testing the product in people with a weakened immune system due to cancer or an organ transplant, who may not benefit from a vaccine.

TARGETED ALTERNATIVES

AZD7442 belongs to a class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies which mimic natural antibodies produced by the body to fight off infections.

Similar therapies developed by rivals Regeneron (REGN.O) and Eli Lilly (LLY.N) have been approved by U.S. regulators for treating unhospitalised COVID patients.

European regulators have also authorised Regeneron’s therapy and are reviewing those developed by partners GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) and Vir Biotechnology (VIR.O) as well as by Lilly and Celltrion (068270.KS).

Regeneron is also seeking U.S. authorisation for its therapy as a preventative treatment.

But the AstraZeneca results are a small blow for the drug industry as it tries to find more targeted alternatives to COVID-19 inoculations, particularly for people who may not be able to get vaccinated or those who may have an inadequate response to inoculations.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker, which has faced a rollercoaster of challenges with the rollout of its COVID-19 vaccine, is also developing new treatments and repurposing existing drugs to fight the virus.

AstraZeneca also said on Tuesday it was in talks with the U.S. government on “next steps” regarding a $205 million deal to supply up to 500,000 doses of AZD7442. Swiss manufacturer Lonza (LONN.S) was contracted to produce AZD7442.

Shares in the company were largely unchanged on the London Stock Exchange.

The full results will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal, the company said.

Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

 

Reuters source:

https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/astrazeneca-says-its-antibody-treatment-failed-in-preventing-covid-19-exposed-2021-06-15

 

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Government

Former FDA Head Takes on Exec Role at Flagship’s Preemptive Health Initiative

Stephen Hahn, the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under former President Donald Trump, took on a new role as chief medical officer of a new health security initiative launched by Flagship Pioneering, a life sciences venture firm…

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Former FDA Head Takes on Exec Role at Flagship’s Preemptive Health Initiative

 

Stephen Hahn, the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under former President Donald Trump, has taken on a new role as chief medical officer of a new health security initiative launched by Flagship Pioneering, a life sciences venture firm that incubates and curates biopharma companies.

First announced Monday, Flagship’s Preemptive Medicine and Health Security initiative aimed at developing products that can help people before they get sick. This division will focus on infectious disease threats and pursue bold treatments for existing diseases, including cancer, obesity, and neurodegeneration. 

In a brief statement, Hahn, who served as commissioner from December 2019 until January 2021, said the importance of investing in innovation and preemptive medications has never been more apparent. 

“In my career I have been a doctor and a researcher foremost and it is an honor to join Flagship Pioneering in its efforts to prioritize innovation, particularly in its Preemptive Medicine and Health Security Initiative. The more we can embrace a “what if …” approach the better we can support and protect the health and well-being of people here in the U.S. and around the world,” Hahn said in a statement. 

During his time at the FDA, Hahn was at the forefront of the government’s effort to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. His office oversaw the regulatory authorization of antivirals, antibody therapeutics and vaccines, as well as diagnostics and other tools to battle the novel coronavirus. 

Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

Hahn bore the brunt of verbal barbs aimed at the FDA by the former president for not rushing to authorize a vaccine for COVID-19 ahead of the November 2020 election. The second vaccine authorized by the FDA for COVID-19 was developed by Moderna, a Flagship company. 

Prior to his confirmation as FDA Commissioner, Hahn, a well-respected oncologist, served as chief medical executive of the vaunted The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Hahn was named deputy president and chief operating officer in 2017. In that role, he was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the cancer center, which includes managing more than 21,000 employees and a $5.2 billion operating budget. He was promoted to that position two years after joining MD Anderson as division head, department chair and professor of Radiation Oncology. Prior to MD Anderson, Hahn served as head of the radiation oncology department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Flagship Founder and Chief Executive Officer Noubar Afeyan said the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down economies and caused the deaths of more than 3.8 million people across the world was an important reminder that health security is a top global priority. In addition, the ongoing pandemic brings into “stark focus” the importance of preemptive medications. 

Hahn, who helmed the FDA for three years and before that served as chief medical executive at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, has extensive experience overseeing clinical and administrative programs. Afeyan said the new division would benefit from Hahn’s experience as FDA Commissioner and help steer the Preemptive Medicine and Health Security initiative as it explores Flagship’s “growing number of explorations and companies in this emerging field.”

It is not unusual for former FDA heads to take prominent roles with companies. For example, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s first FDA Commissioner, took a position on the Pfizer Board of Directors weeks after departing his government role. He has also taken positions on other boards since then, including Aetion, FasterCures and Illumina.

 

BioSpace source:

https://www.biospace.com/article/former-fda-head-stephen-hahn-takes-cmo-role-at-flagship-pioneering-preemptive-health-initiative-

 

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Government

Five U.S. states had coronavirus infections even before first reported cases – study

At least seven people in five U.S. states were infected with the novel coronavirus weeks before those states reported their first cases, a new government study showed.

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Five U.S. states had coronavirus infections even before first reported cases – study

(Reuters) – At least seven people in five U.S. states were infected with the novel coronavirus weeks before those states reported their first cases, a new government study showed.

Participants who reported antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 were likely exposed to the virus at least several weeks before their sample was taken, as the antibodies do not appear until about two weeks after a person has been infected, the researchers said.

The latest results build on findings from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that suggested the novel coronavirus may have been circulating in the United States last December, well before the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed on Jan. 19, 2020.

A protective face mask lays, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, beside leaves at the lakefront in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., December 6, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon/File Photo

The positive samples came from Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and were part of a study of more than 24,000 blood samples taken for a National Institutes of Health research program between Jan. 2 and March 18, 2020.

Samples from participants in Illinois were collected on Jan. 7 and Massachusetts on Jan. 8, suggesting that the virus was present in those states as early as late December.

“This study allows us to uncover more information about the beginning of the U.S. epidemic,” said Josh Denny, one of the study authors.

The findings were published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

 

Reuters source:

https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/five-us-states-had-coronavirus-infections-even-before-first-reported-cases-study-2021-06-15

 

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