Assessing the health of pharmaceutical R&D by unearthing hidden patterns in procurement data is a task made simpler by AI. At least, that’s the pitch given by David Qixiang Chen, Elvis Wianda, Liran Belenzon, and Tom Leung, who cofounded BenchSci in 2015. The Toronto, Canada-based biotech company taps AI to run experiments that accelerate drug discovery with the aim of increasing the speed and quality of medical research. This week, in a sign of confidence from new and existing backers, BenchSci raised $22 million in series B funding, bringing its total raised to $45 million.
Coinciding with the infusion of capital, BenchSci announced the launch of its new AI-assisted reagent selection product and expanded a contract with Novartis in a market it estimates is worth more than $10.2 billion per year. CEO Belenzon says the funds will be used to further develop BenchSci’s product suite and expedite drug testing.
“The pharmaceutical industry is facing a productivity crisis. R&D costs per drug keep rising while revenue is stagnant. Without major change, this crisis will affect everyone. Low or negative returns will reduce investment in new drugs,” said Belenzon. “Artificial intelligence promises to reverse the trend. But most AI in drug discovery is unproven. BenchSci’s products, on the other hand, have immediate, quantifiable impact.”
BenchSci’s marquee offering — an antibody selection service — employs machine learning to select antibodies in as little as 30 seconds (versus the 12 weeks antibody selection typically takes). The company claims it reduces consumable costs by up to $3 million per year by cutting down on inappropriate antibodies, with features that support search by protein targets and filtering by technique and 16 other experimental variables (including organism, tissue, cell type, and disease).
Above: BenchSci search
Belenzon says it’s often difficult for vendors to predict how an antibody will behave in experiments; up to 50% of selected antibodies don’t work, and data on antibody use is buried in biomedical papers, vendor catalogs, and independent validation databases. According to a study published in Nature, researchers can often spend $50,000 on unnecessary antibodies that take up to three to six months to develop, and it then takes days to select the antibodies and weeks to test and validate them.
BenchSci’s image recognition technology extracts antibody specifications from published experiments using AI — not just vendor names, product names, or SKUs. The system applies bioinformatics and ontologies to link antibodies to use cases while providing access to catalog data of more than 7.7 million products from 231 vendors, as well as literature-wide trends on antibody usage across technique, species, and more.
BenchSci draws on real-world experiment data from 10 million scientific publications, including closed-access papers. The results, the company says, are independently validated by organizations like the Human Protein Atlas, Encode, and EuroMAbNet, as well as scientific publishers such as Springer Nature and Wiley.
According to Belenzon, BenchSci now powers reagent selection for more than 31,000 researchers at over 3,600 academic institutions and 15 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies. He says Novartis will be among the first customers to deploy the aforementioned AI-assisted reagent selection tool, which covers antibodies and recombinant proteins.
F-Prime Capital led this latest funding round, with participation from Northleaf Capital Partners and existing investors, including Gradient Ventures, Inovia Capital, Golden Ventures, and Real Ventures. F-Prime senior vice president Shervin Ghaemmaghami will join BenchSci’s board of directors.
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Wearable health monitors, ubiquitous sensors, and the ability to collect and store huge amounts of data are creating challenges for researchers hoping to use artificial intelligence to identify diseases. While the gathered data can hold important clinical answers, finding those answers means that the data must be categorized and labeled.
Now, researchers at MIT have developed a system that can autonomously identify signs of a disease from data gathered from a relatively small group of people and without any initial training.
The research, recently presented at the Machine Learning for Healthcare conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, focused on learning the audio biomarkers of vocal cord disorders. Using data gathered over a week from an accelerometer attached to the necks of 100 people, the system automatically identified which sound characteristics were important for identifying whether a patient has vocal cord nodules.
“It’s becoming increasing easy to collect long time-series datasets. But you have physicians that need to apply their knowledge to labeling the dataset,” said lead author Jose Javier Gonzalez Ortiz, a PhD student at MIT. “We want to remove that manual part for the experts and offload all feature engineering to a machine-learning model.”
While the system was utilized for a specific sound-related task, it can be trained to analyze data from other diseases. The current study may help to create tools that prevent vocal nodules and help to study the onset of this condition.
There’s never been a more exciting time to be in the digital healthcare space than right now.
With the explosion of content capabilities, endless social opportunities and underpriced attention in so many platforms – there’s a huge amount to be excited about.
Health technologies encompass all the devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures and systems designed to streamline healthcare operations, lower costs and enhance quality of care. Artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, voice search, chatbots and virtual reality (VR) are among the most promising health technologies in 2019.
For the longest time, healthcare executives have been dissatisfied with the lack of technology stacks and solutions for true marketing personalization. Indeed, technology was still the number 1 concern for healthcare marketing professionals in 2018 according to the American Medical Association.
That said, we question whether the lack of technology is something that is preventing the healthcare executives from adopting digital transformation within their organizations.
In fact, we think this should not be the case at all.
We would even go so far as to argue that technology and healthcare represent a marriage made in heaven. As a result, we’ve put together a list of 9 health technologies that every healthcare executive should be excited about in 2019.
1. Artificial intelligence
There’s nothing quite as exciting as artificial intelligence right now and with a rapid growth and exciting opportunities surrounding – it’s the best time to utilize its potential for healthcare marketing.
The use of artificial intelligence within the healthcare industry is expected to grow rapidly at an annual rate of 40% through 2021 – to $6.6 Billion, from approximately $600 Million in 2014.
AI engines can reduce and mitigate risk of preventable medical scenarios in three critical ways:
Automate reminders – Great for helping patients take medication within a specific timeframe.
Identify people at high risk – Discovering those in need of medical intervention and trigger medical staff alerts to create custom care plans. IBM Watson currently testing this with opioid addiction issues.
Deliver personalized dosage recommendations – Based on each patient’s unique body chemistry and associated environmental factors.
That’s three different ways to be able to carve a niche and market AI.
So how do these existing scenarios apply to marketing? For example, a focus on high risk identification or personalized dosages could be a key factor in a marketing campaign. People love to talk about AI. Showcasing your company’s AI solutions will give you free press and position your company as a true innovator and market leader.
The bottomline is simple: keep AI on the radar and utilize the concept as one of the main health technologies for marketing in 2019. There’s no signs of slowing down.
Blockchain in healthcare isn’t just useful for the hype it’s ramped up with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Instead, what’s exciting about blockchain is the digital record-keeping that creates the ledger of transactions that isn’t only transparent, but impossible to tamper with.
Blockchain is here to stay with a variety of experts, some of whom are skeptical of bitcoin, claiming that the technology could fundamentally change the way that huge sectors operate – including digital healthcare marketing.
We’re expecting blockchain to affect the digital marketing sphere with three main key points:
Changing data collections
When you use blockchain to collect data, the information you input and all of your personal data remains with you instead of being stored on servers owned by an application (think the recent Facebook controversy).
Living in a world where all of the data that we’ve previously been able to access vanishes is a scary prospect for marketers. It’s going to be exciting to see how it plays out and what techniques could be created to overcome.
Fixing digital display advertising
There are some serious flaws when it comes to online display ads and they can be pretty expensive to the advertiser. In addition, with Facebook and Google having ownership on the control of the majority of the available ad inventory, you’ll also be seeing a lack of availability and increased prices.
The Brave blockchain browser is an attempt to address this situation with the Basic Attention Token (BAT) which changes the way in which users interact with ads.
Advertisers buy ads using BAT and then users opt in to viewing ads and are compensated with BAT. On the other hand, publishers are compensated by both consumers and advertisers. It’s a new way to try and level the playing field and restore the value of attention back to its owner. Very similar model to ebates.com on the retail side.
Ownership and security of digital assets
Finally, according to Elinext, “blockchain could reform the way we stream and own digital assets with the rework of the flawed Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music platforms”.
Instead of artists being underpaid for their content, a market shift is occurring where people could offer their work to a massive audience without paying an intermediary like YouTube or iTunes for exposure and security.
Blockchain-based entertainment could allow for direct marketing to their audiences without the need of a media platform. That’s a big shift towards P2P communities which fans may fall in love with, with the potential to earn special privileges and more engagement with artists they love.
The bottomline for blockchain is simple. It has the power to restructure the entire digital marketing system with the changing of data collections, fixing of digital display advertising and the ownership and security of digital assets.
Voice search has become incredibly popular around the world and with 1 in 6 Americans now owning a smart speaker and 40% of adults using voice search once a day – it’s very much a time to focus on deploying voice-enabled solutions for your marketing campaigns.
Voice is a huge healthcare marketing technique that’s been on the rise since smartphone and smart speaker were first released (with Amazon’s Echo first hitting the market back in 2014.) And, more importantly, it can be an effective tool in the industry.
So how does voice search apply to marketing?
Healthcare access is predominantly local.
In other words, most Americans look for healthcare options within the proximity of their place of employment or their residence. Because of this reality, healthcare marketers must optimize their digital platforms for local searches.
Since 20% of Google searches are voice searches in 2018, voice has become one of the main health technologies healthcare marketers must invest in come 2019.
If 1 in 5 are using voice to find out about healthcare options, it’s imperative that you’re not missing out on the potential customers.
Bottomline: optimize your marketing campaigns & landing pages for voice. With the rise in popularity of smart speakers and native voice search as a whole (Siri, Google Now, Cortana etc), voice presents some of the most amazing opportunities for marketing healthcare executives in 2019 and beyond.
4. Chatbots in healthcare
Chatbots in healthcare offer a wide variety of benefits that we’re very excited about. With the potential for improvement in organization of patient pathways, medication management, help in emergency situations or with first aid, there’s plenty that can be done for healthcare marketing in 2019.
Offering a personal experience when it comes to healthcare is vital and a chatbot adds another touchpoint that people really love. With the number of chatbots multiplying at incredible pace, it’s becoming more and more expected, rather than the gimmick it used to be.
Options are endless for chatbots, from customer service to potential diagnosis of mild conditions – there’s plenty to be excited about within the technology.
5. Virtual reality in healthcare
Virtual reality is expected to become a 4 billion dollar business by 2020 and there’s no reason why healthcare can’t jump in on the action. Whether it’s leveraging VR to provide an immersive experience for patients to virtually tour a health facility or using VR to help patients cope with pain, there’s plenty to be interested in.
Few technologies generate as much engagement as virtual reality and being smart with this technology can be incredibly beneficial to any healthcare organization. Think outside the box and go for original content and usage – if it’s something that people haven’t seen before, you’ll likely make a much bigger splash.
Healthcare is an industry in which “customers” are often anxious (think white coat syndrome) so having a virtual tour or example procedure could be hugely beneficial to calm the nerves of future patients and improve the patient experience. The possibilities with this technology are endless.
VR is a great tool with unrivaled engagement. With such a promising technology, be bold and come out with original content that may calm, excite or educate your customers for maximum impact.
6. Advanced social media
Social media is king in healthcare marketing, that’s no secret, but companies should be straying away from posting blind and hoping for the best – especially when there’s a huge amount of data available to you.
Using real metrics, analytics and user engagement data can all be used to drive adjustments to the social strategy to each network that your company uses.
Tools such as Sprout Social are great for social media management with a data first approach are key to form and deepen real connections with the people that will build your brand.
Although the pricing of social media management may be a little out of the league for many smaller companies, the concept remains the same. Look for patterns and capitalize where possible.
7. Personalized mobile apps
Mobile apps are great for engagement with a huge number of possibilities surrounding the creation of an app. The user is in control, but you’re in charge of the options and that’s got huge power.
There are so many patient scenarios which can be served by a powerful native mobile application in 2019.
From requesting physician appointments, checking in, uploading a patient’s medical history to getting test results via a mobile app – health organizations can create useful digital tools that are perfect for the modern day patient.
Mobile apps also relieve some of the pressure on the medical staff, waiting times and receptionist duties, resulting in a significant reduction in operational costs. Other exciting features health organizations are experimenting with in 2018 include notifications, alerts around key seasonal allergies (e.g. the flu season) and personalized marketing offers.
Mobile apps are a great way to communicate and stay in touch with your patients, long after they left your health facilities. There’s so much potential in health mobile apps, yet so many marketers are missing the opportunity giving credence to the criticisms that the healthcare industry is still not innovating.
8. Partnerships with other popular mobile apps
Mobile apps can prove to be expensive and if a specific health organization is not interested in investing in mobile, there is another shortcut healthcare marketers should look at in 2019. Healthcare marketers should consider the idea of partnering with popular app owners within a specific geography.
Don’t just limit this to other areas in healthcare marketing, but rather consider joining forces with a variety of other businesses that can generate attention through their apps. Whether it’s a local restaurant, delivery service or taxi/car share app – there’s uncapitalized attention everywhere we look.
Getting in front of local customers will generate attention and raise awareness and depending on the incentives that you can provide, there’s the potential for commission based rewards/payment for the businesses that you partner with at the local level.
9. Video marketing
It is estimated that in 2019, 8% of all mobile traffic will be video and avoiding the medium is a surefire way to miss out on a great marketing technique.
Video is fantastic for humanizing the health brand you’re promoting. We get a lot more from video than we otherwise would get from an image and that human experience is great for establishing trust and relatability.
TikTok, for example, is a short video peer to peer platform in which users shoot 10-20 second videos, sharing them with the world. With over 500 million users globally and the number 1 downloaded app on the App Store in the US – there’s huge potential with the app and video in general.
Using video social media platforms like TikTok could be a huge differentiator for healthcare marketing and creating a fun atmosphere for the industry may be a huge step in the right direction. Don’t forget – as healthcare marketers, you should always consider experimenting with new techniques and ideas.
Bottomline: Use video marketing to capitalize on user’s engagement and attention and don’t shy away from apps and platforms such as YouTube, Facebook video, Instagram and the newly founded TikTok for huge potential promotion.
There’s so much to be excited about when it comes to technology and healthcare marketing in 2019. In this article, we discussed the following health technologies that marketers can leverage today to improve the overall return on investment for their marketing spend:
Artificial Intelligence: Keep AI on the radar and utilize the concept as one of the main health technologies for marketing in 2019.
Blockchain: This technology has the power to restructure the entire digital marketing system by changing data collections, fixing digital display advertising and making our digital transactions more secure. It’s not something to sleep on.
Voice search: Consider leveraging voice technologies in 2019. There’s a huge opportunity for healthcare marketers to stand out, especially when it comes to ranking for local search terms.
Chatbots: Options are endless for chatbots use cases in the healthcare space, from customer service to potential diagnosis of mild conditions – there’s plenty to be excited about within the technology.
Virtual reality: VR is a great tool with unrivalled engagement. With such a new technology, be bold and come out with original content that may calm, excite or educate your customers for maximum impact.
Advanced social media: Although the pricing of social media management may be a little out of the league of many smaller companies, healthcare providers can leverage social media analytics solutions that will turn data into actionable insights.
Personalized mobile apps: Mobile apps are a great way to leverage user-centric relevant notifications to provide relevant and personalized user experiences to patients all over the world.
Partnerships with other popular mobile apps: You don’t always need to build a new mobile app to reach a new audience. Sometimes it’s best to form strategic partnerships with other popular mobile apps.
Video marketing: Use video to capitalize on user’s engagement and attention and don’t shy away from apps and platforms such as YouTube, Facebook video, Instagram and the newly founded TikTok for huge potential promotion.
At Samsung Developer Conference 2019 today, Medtronic and Samsung showed off a Galaxy smartphone app, Patient Programmer, that allows patients to manage their own therapy for Parkinson’s disease. Nearly a million people in the U.S. live with the disease, which affects the brain and produces worsening tremors, reduced movement, body stiffness, and cognitive changes.
To treat it, Medtronic partnered with clinicians 20 years ago to help develop deep brain stimulation (DBS) technology to alleviate symptoms. The Medtronic DBS therapy system involves implanting a neurostimulator device in the patient’s chest. Thin wires, called leads, extend from the neurostimulator to the brain to deliver electrical signals. Those electrical signals stimulate a part of the brain, helping to reduce tremors. And as you can see from the video embedded in this post, it can make a big difference for patients.
Medtronic worked with Samsung to create the Clinician Programmer in 2018. To help clinicians and patients better optimize the therapy, Medtronic sought user-friendly mobile devices to adjust the programming of DBS implants and to put more control into the patient’s hands.
Above: Samsung’s app for adjusting deep brain stimulation therapy for Parkinson’s disease.
Image Credit: Samsung
The app was for physicians and it was built around a custom-configured Galaxy tablet, which connects to the DBS communicator via Bluetooth. The data was encrypted to protect patient data privacy. The tablet had a preloaded Activa application that allowed physicians to review patient programming history and usage, visualize neuronal activation, and optimize treatment through a more streamlined workflow.
Since the Clinician Programmer project was a success, the partners moved forward with the development of Patient Programmer, unveiled today at the Samsung Developer Conference in San Jose, California.
Above: John Curtis of Samsung (left) and Earl Slee of Medtronic at SDC.
Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
The Patient Programmer app uses a Samsung smartphone to enable the patient to adjust their physician-prescribed DBS therapy between clinic consultations.
One patient, Susan Mollohan, a former high school administrator in Derry, New Hampshire, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008. Prior to receiving surgery for DBS, she described Parkinson’s as a “living death.”
She said, “You are still living but you’re watching things die off. I had to give up my job — that’s something that died off. My hand would be rigid up against my abdomen and my fingers were like a claw.”
After she received the DBS therapy, Mollohan found her Parkinson’s tremors were greatly reduced and her movements freer.
“I have taken up the hobby of photography painting and drawing,” said Mollohan, who was in the audience at SDC. “Deep brain stimulation surgery has given me my life back.”
The DBS therapy improves quality of life for patients with Parkinson’s disease. However, Medtronic sought to help physicians by making the implant programming process easier and help patients by putting more control over the physician-prescribed therapy into their hands. The company wanted user-friendly devices for both physicians and patients. And, for patients, they also hoped to find a device that allowed treatment to be more discreet. That’s where the smartphone app came in.
“It begins and ends with patients,” said Earl Slee, vice president of technology at Medtronic, onstage at SDC. “We can place an electrical wire in the brain where we modulate the abnormal electrical energy and improve the patient’s movement symptoms. We are not stopping there. In the near future, we will launch DBS devices with brain sensing capability. The Clinician and Patient Programmers, are the first of several building blocks in our innovative product portfolio.”
In the future, he said, Medtronic can collect thousands of patient-years of data and help optimize the treatment for specific individuals based on that data.
Taher Behbehani, Samsung’s head of mobile B2B, said that readmission rates for cardiac patients is 15%, and that costs $41.8 billion in the U.S. But using Samsung Galaxy watches to monitor heart rates, physicians can review patient data via a dashboard and counsel patients from afar.
Kaiser Permanente tested this on 2,300 cardiac patients, and they found that 87% of patients using the watches stuck with their exercise routines, compared to 50% for those who didn’t use them. The readmission rates dropped to 2%, and now Kaiser is rolling the program out nationally.
Circulating tumor cells can point to the existence of cancer and provide information about its progression. Capturing these cells remains a tricky process. Dozens of devices have been developed that do their best to grab onto only the cancer cells being looked for, but they all suffer from problems such as poor efficiency, damage to the captured cells, and manufacturing complexity.
Researchers at Georgia Tech have now 3D printed a device that works in a novel way to filter out red and white blood cells, leaving only tumor cells that are unharmed and ready for genetic analysis.
The device requires very little prep work, uses a reasonably small amount of blood, and doesn’t require much technical knowledge to operate.
Since the technology is not designed to seek out specific cancer cells, it can capture most cells that are cancerous. This is because the “negative enrichment” process, as the researchers call it, focuses on getting rid of the vast majority of the blood’s normal components.
The new device required very long and winding channels that work to capture blood cells. These channels would normally get clogged by the printing wax, but the researchers were able to heat and spin them in a centrifuge. This cleaned out the channels so that sample blood can pass through.
An antigen deposited within the channels is designed to capture white blood cells, while a commercial filter separates red cells from the remaining few white blood cells and circulating tumor cells.
Infusion pumps have been known to be a vector for a variety of medical mistakes, primarily adverse drug events. This has become such an issue that a few years ago the FDA began its Infusion Pump Improvement Initiative. One of the results of this program was the establishment of new requirements, aimed at reducing errors, for the manufacture of infusion pumps. Ivenix, a company based outside of Boston, just received FDA clearance for its Ivenix Infusion System that was envisioned, designed, and manufactured with the new requirements in mind.
The product is a large-volume infusion pump that features proprietary adaptive flow control technology that measures the fluid moving through the pump and adjusts its action in real time. This helps to eliminate the chance of free flow and nearly guarantees that the proper amount of fluids is administered throughout treatment.
Operating the pump was designed to be reminiscent of how one uses a smartphone, which helps to make things intuitive, reduces setup time, and minimizes errors and alarms. Ivenix believes that the benefits the pump delivers should lead to savings associated with reduced error rates.
Additional features of the Ivenix Infusion System include a wide range of administration sets and a management suite that lets clinicians remotely monitor infusions and be notified of any problems.
“For years, I’ve studied smart infusion pump safety and efficiency,” said Karen Giuliano, PhD, RN, FAAN, Associate Professor and Executive Director of Healthcare Innovation at Northeastern University Bouvé College of Health Sciences, in a press release. “My research has focused on revealing the serious usability challenges, which exist in the most commonly used IV smart pumps. Data suggest that the Ivenix Infusion System can enable clinicians to more quickly administer IV medications with significantly fewer errors compared with today’s leading pumps. Nurses, and the healthcare industry as a whole, have been waiting for an innovative solution like this.”