Nordic digital therapeutics company Sidekick Health has completed a Series A valuation of $ 20 million led by pan-European VC Wellington Partners and VC Asabys Partners with a focus on healthcare. Existing investors, Novator and Frumtak Ventures, also took part in the oversubscribed round.
Founded in 2014, the startup has built a gamified digital care platform that targets the management of chronic and lifestyle diseases through digital nudges from a helmet-wearing cartoon helper and urges patients to access relevant information to support cheaper lifestyle choices (e.g. regular Exercise or cutting) via smoking) as well as help with treatment management for patients, e.g. For example, digital reminders for taking medication and remote patient monitoring for doctors.
Sidekick Health's platform covers several therapeutic areas and offers so-called evidence-based, customized digital therapy packages for diseases such as diabetes, ulcerative colitis and smoking cessation.
This year, assistance was also offered to patients with COVID-19 – an acute (rather than chronic) condition, but one that has posed major and urgent challenges for healthcare providers.
The pandemic, of course, is generally driving demand for digital care and remote patient monitoring as healthcare providers seek tools to manage patients off-site – another tailwind for Sidekick Health's business.
And while his approach to gamification seems to be immediately more appropriate for younger, app-savvy users, it is said that since the platform was launched, he's worked with patients who are teenagers to people over 80 – and now he believes That there are few limits to who can fall back on their digital grooming, provided they can use nail design for easy access. The software is designed to be accessible (and integrated with) a number of connected devices.
"Our market, digital health in general, and our part of it, which you can call either digital care or digital therapeutics, has grown rapidly over the past few years," says CEO and co-founder Dr. Tryggvi Thorgeirsson. “Obviously, with the pandemic, the entire trend has just accelerated. This means accelerated acceptance by more or less all market participants. And maybe especially from payers and providers.
“If you look at providers such as hospitals and clinicians, the pandemic has of course made them use more digital health tools. So the market was growing very quickly, but with the pandemic it really accelerated. As a result, our customer base has grown quite a bit over the past six to twelve months. "
Sidekick Health does not split customer numbers, but says it currently works with "several" of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies. While the platform reaches around 30,000 patients in various therapeutic areas via its B2B customers, Europe is the largest market to date.
According to Thorgeirsson, the new financing is aimed at “further growth” – “both in terms of expanding the product and accelerating our growth in Europe and the US market”. "We are investing resources in growth rather than profitability here," he adds.
New conditions he says It is also expected to include heart failure in the next few months. Oncology (supporting patients with different types of cancer); and a range of metabolic conditions.
Within two years He wants over 20 different types of chronic diseases to be treated (plus "some acute ones like COVID-19").
Thorgeirsson also notes that people dealing with chronic illnesses often have multiple illnesses. Therefore, it was a strong concern for the startup founded by the clinician to be flexible enough to treat patients with comorbidity.
“Most of our work takes place in chronic, lifestyle-related conditions … but when COVID-19 hit we found that all of the features that we thought we had developed for chronic illnesses also worked for COVID-19 were suitable, ”he says. Explain that the platform was used to provide training videos to coronavirus patients on symptoms and "how to deal with fears of home isolation" and to provide clinical staff with a report on remote monitoring of COVID-19 patients. "
“We were of the opinion that all of these (characteristics) are also relevant for this acute condition. That is why we have offered help here in our home country Iceland and have been picked up by national authorities to support a nationwide program of remote patient monitoring and support for COVID-19. So it can definitely be used under certain acute conditions, ”he adds.
In addition to expanding the range of conditions to which the platform can relate, the Series A funding will do more clinical research to validate its approach.
Recent research that has been published includes a randomized control study comparing full standard care for type 2 diabetes to the same full standard care and platform on top. (In this study, Thorgeirsson According to the addition of the digital tool to the treatment pathway, this resulted in "a very significant decrease in the average blood sugar level" which "results in an approximately 16% lower risk of death and an approximately 30% lower risk of serious complications such as amputation and blindness".
"One of the things we're going to be using these funds for is to increase our medical and scientific activities tremendously. As a result, multiple studies are being started in multiple therapeutic areas," he told theinformationsuperhighway. “Each condition has different aspects that we focus on. In the case of heart and metabolic disorders, for example, the aim is to improve weight control, blood sugar and cardiovascular risk factors. In other countries, the focus may be more on quality of life, fatigue, anxiety, or depression.
“This summer we carried out feasibility tests on patients with heart failure. And we saw really exciting early signs that we had significantly improved one of the main symptoms (shortness of breath). We saw a very significant improvement in these symptoms … We even had a case where remote patient monitoring of the heart allowed clinicians to detect a silent "heart attack" – and prompted a patient to be hospitalized.
"In general, I'm looking forward to seeing the breadth of applicability. We started in the cardiovascular field, but have grown rapidly into a number of new diseases over the past two years."
The startup operates a b2b2c model in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies and health care providers, who then offer the software to patients – contracts were recently signed with the US pharmaceutical giant pfizer and the German giant Bayer, of which more are touted.
A line on the website indicates the added value the platform can offer its business customers. Asked what that means in practice Thorgeirsson argues that digital therapeutics offer "multiple value levers" to pharmaceutical partners.
An important point to note here is that dMedical care / therapy instruments continue to face regulatory barriers to direct reimbursement by health payers in many markets. In order to Such companies usually need to find alternative routes to market.
Working with Big Pharma is an option. Although some digital health startups, conversely, aim to disrupt the pharmaceutical industry more directly – i.e. H. By offering an alternative to taking medication (e.g. in areas such as insomnia). however Sidekick Health sees its platform as a treatment complement that can complement traditional drug therapies for a variety of conditions. (While on the other hand it says it believes its chosen b2bc route is the best way to make your digital therapeutics available to as many patients as possible.)
"Improving patient outcomes has a direct financial benefit for our pharmaceutical customers," he says Thorgeirsson on the value proposition Sidekick Health offers its B2B partners. “When you have a drug that may have cost between $ 1 billion and $ 3 billion (to get it to market) and then we can help make the treatment more effective for patients receiving this therapy improve by adding our digital companion to the drug that has a direct financial benefit in terms of the competitiveness of our pharmaceutical partners.
“Even when our pharmaceutical partners talk to payers about reimbursing their drug, improved patient outcomes are of course crucial – so it's improved patient outcomes, improved medication compliance (we know this is a big problem; around 300,000 people die every year due to lack of compliance with any medication we help); And then of course very interesting findings from real data that we can also collect. "
The potential for data generated by digital therapeutics to extend the lifespan of existing drug patents is, according to Thorgeirsson, "discussed" here too – when we ask whether part of its "added value" is the potential to expand the profitable shelf – Lifetime of existing drugs by injecting new life into pharmaceutical patents by screwing on a novel digital companion.
“This is one of the things that is extremely exciting in our field – we are working much more closely with pharmaceutical companies to develop combinations of molecules and digital,” he confirms. “In some cases this can potentially add exclusivity or patents. That's absolutely an interesting part of what we're seeing in the market.
"That combination, where the molecule can affect certain areas of the disease and we can affect others – and the combination is stronger than either alone."
Drug development and / or finding new uses for existing drugs is another area that Sidekick Health believes the data derived from its platform can support pharma outcomes.
"Our view is that any new drug that is developed in the not too distant future will most likely have a digital companion when it hits the market," says CMO Gulli Arnason. "(It's about) getting in early and starting something with a pharmaceutical company that is complemented by a digital companion – as well as a more defensive game about margins and patents. Therefore, these two areas are extremely important for pharmaceutical companies."
As for the healthcare payers market, this is maturing in its response to digital therapeutics such as: Thorgeirsson says so. (Again the coronavirus pandemic occurs Doors as societies are rushing to scale digital tools to meet the growing demand for remote care.)
"What we think is important is that the current value levers are not dependent on direct reimbursements by the payer, because we know that the payer market is still maturing – really interesting things that happen there, but are still developing," adds he added.
In the competitive landscape, Thorgeirsson argues that Sidekick's platform game is relatively rare – and sets the company apart from digital therapeutics startups with a stronger niche focus. (One platform competitor he is checking for his name is Voluntis in France. This company has been working on embedding connectivity into therapeutics for a considerably longer period of time, but with less emphasis on gamification.)
“There are companies that focus more closely on certain elements – for example, only on drug compliance or only on one or two specific conditions. However, we have a different approach where we feel that a platform approach is absolutely important. And that's really both, if you look at the patient page: patients may have two or more conditions, they may have obesity, type 2 diabetes, and smoke, and you don't want a per-disease solution. You want a platform that addresses all issues, ”he suggests, adding,“ Generally we don't see strong competition when you combine the gamification, the results we show, and the platform approach. "
Sidekick Health aligns the platform approach to the needs of its target business partners, he says. “Our business partners have the same priorities (priorities),” argues Thorgeirsson. “They have a portfolio of therapy areas that appeal to them, and they really don't want a provider per therapy area, they want a platform that can cover the whole spectrum. And when it comes to platform width, we don't really see a large number of competitors with that platform size. "
Dr. Regina Hodits, managing partner of VC company Wellington, commented on Serie A in a statement as follows: “Wellington is about improving health care for all stakeholders, patients, practitioners and payers alike. DudeThe team has done a remarkable job in creating a product platform that will help achieve this goal on a global scale. We are very excited to support the company in its plans for significant growth. "
"We are impressed with the way this team has been able to put together a technology platform that delivers evidence-based therapy programs that are effective, adaptable, but also valuable to their business partners," added Josep LI. Sanfeliu, managing partner and co-founder of Asabys, in another supportive statement.