Brainstorm Health: Digital Diabetes Prevention, Cannabis-Based Drug, UnitedHealth Earnings

April 17, 2018, 9:25 PM UTC

Hello there, readers! This is Sy.

Omada Health pulled off something that was, especially at the time, highly unusual in the ever-burgeoning yet still-fledgling digital health space: In 2016, the company scored federal government reimbursements for its diabetes prevention program. It’s continued to grow since then and shared results from nine different peer-reviewed studies noting significant results for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity patients—a case study in how at least one company in the sphere is using data to try and fuel real world patient outcomes.

“It’s not about the data itself, it’s how you use it,” Omada co-founder and CEO Sean Duffy told Fortune in an interview earlier this year, echoing many of the chief executives and industry observers we spoke with for our recent feature on big data and AI in medicine. “The types of data that are going to be most useful going forward is the ‘in between’ data—what happens between actual health care visits,” he adds.

That mindset appears to inform the heart Omada’s approach to diabetes and cardiovascular disease prevention. Users get tools such as a digitally-connected scale and access to health coaches who provide them personalized advice and check in on health biometrics like weight, diet, and exercise regimens, at times simply sending friendly reminders of goals and motivations. Day-to-day behavior is a critical part of making such a program effective, Omada says, making the aforementioned “in between” data collection particularly important. For instance, even seemingly basic information like whether or not a user has checked in on their weight can be significant, according to Omada senior vice president of product, Mike Tadlock.

“Stepping on the scale is actually very important to the health outcome, as we learned,” Tadlock tells Fortune. Over the long term, Omada’s data indicated that people who more regularly checked the scales were actually more likely to lose weight or improve other outcomes compared with less frequent users—a little bit of a surprise since some might think that a more casual and relaxed approach would be more likely to gently nudge users.

Omada’s business model is in large part tailored toward employer health programs. But the firm is also willing to put its money where its mouth is: It’s an early adopter of the “outcomes-based” pricing movement in digital health, with revenues based on the extent of results. And that’s yet another reason that its focus on data plays such a central role in the company. “It’s hard to bill on outcomes without the actual data,” says Duffy.

Read on for the day’s news.


GE's "virus factories." Just how big has the gene therapy, gene editing, and otherwise gene-involved medical tech field gotten? Giants like GE are creating dedicated manufacturing facilities that could one day carry out mass-scale production of virus-based gene and cell therapies, as well cancer immune treatments and vaccines. The boom in these highly specialized (and difficult to mass produce) biological medicines has significantly upped the demand for sites that can carry out the work on a large scale. (Reuters)


This is probably going to be the first cannabis-based drug approved by the FDA. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel gave largely positive marks and staff backing to GW Pharma's cannabis-based treatment for rare forms of epilepsy, making it increasingly likely that the U.K.-based biotech's therapy will become the first-ever prescription therapy derived from marijuana approved by U.S. regulators. GW shares spiked more than 11% in Tuesday trading. (Fortune)


Optum helps UnitedHealth keep the momentum going. UnitedHealth continued its roll in the first quarter of 2018, beating Wall Street profit expectations and raising 2018 earnings guidance thanks in strong part to the performance of its multi-purpose Optum unit. UnitedHealth has been slowly but surely amassing a juggernaut in that arm, which does everything from pharmacy benefits management to overseeing doctors and data analytics services. Its operating profit spiked nearly 30% year-over-year—and could gird UnitedHealth against all its various cross-sector consolidating rivals in the coming years. (Fortune)


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