Cultivation Capital’s Rick Ryan on Trends in Life Science Innovation

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Cultivation Capital’s Life Sciences team monitors trends in the categories of therapeutics, medical devices, research tools and diagnostics, medical devices and health care IT to inform their decisions on investments in early-stage life sciences companies. Most trends are consistent with trends in healthcare: lowering cost, improving quality and performance, and increasing efficiencies in a variety of ways. Others are more unique.

Rick Ryan, General Partner at Cultivation Capital, Doctor of Chemistry, and entrepreneur in his own right, has been on the Life Sciences team at Cultivation Capital since its inception–about five years. EQ sat down with Ryan to chat about trends in investing in the field.

Cultivation Capital EQ Life Science
Rick Ryan, general partner of Cultivation Capital Life Science Fund

Outcomes-based care

“Outcomes-based care means that when treating a patient, whether it be with a drug or a medical device, you’re looking at the overall cost of treatment and care to the lifecycle of a patient from the start to finish of that care, and monitoring how they do after that hospital visit, or how that drug treatment was done, including the follo- up care. It’s a much more integrated view of patient care. The point is to make sure that the overall cost and quality of the system is being improved, and that you get better outcomes for the patients,” says Ryan.

Epharmix is one local startup working toward the value-based (rather than fee-for-service) model inherent in outcomes-based care. With the tagline, “evidence-based” digital health, Epharmix does this by using technology to keep typically underserved patients in touch with healthcare providers.

Patient-centered care

“Patient-centered care has been a trend for a while, and will continue to grow. It considers treatment from the perspective of the patient. As a patient, you are analyzed much more deeply than you might have been in the past. There are numerous aspects of your treatment that can be tracked: what happened, what your stay in the hospital was like, how fast you recovered, how fast you got out of the hospital, how you performed after you left the hospital. It’s all about tailoring treatments for patients so that you can prescribe the right drug at the right time, for the right patient. To do that, you need to have information about that patient. In the tools space, we look for better tests to do genetic testing; more accurate and more sensitive biomarker tests. They typically start out as university studies, move into pharmaceutical applications, and ultimately, if they’re successful, they move into the diagnostic realm,” Ryan says.

NarrativeDx, one of the companies in Cultivation Capital’s Life Sciences portfolio, is an example of a patient-centered care startup. Using artificial intelligence, NarrativeDx collects and aggregates patient feedback from a wide variety of sources. Its customers are health care providers with an interest in having an automated, accurate and evidence-based data coming from their patients.

Healthcare IT, Data and Collaboration

“Data is a trend in its own right. To monitor a patient after a hospital stay, [the patient has to] give [his or her] permission. Healthcare IT solutions enable the creation of systems to allow data to be captured and analyzed, making sure that it’s secure and accessible to more people. With the software programs now in development, hospitals can gain, patients can gain, drug companies can gain, and follow-on providers can gain. All that drives another trend, which is increased collaboration amongst entities that will ultimately care for and treat patients and have a vested interest in how they respond. These data management systems, which will allow them to do a better job, will lower costs and improve performance and outcomes for a patient,” Ryan says.

Immuno-oncology

“Immuno-oncology has emerged over the last five years in a very strong way in therapeutics. These are treatments that enable patients to boost their own immune systems to fight a cancer or a disease in a way that they otherwise might not be able to do. There is a variety of new drugs that serves this market called checkpoint inhibitors. They block tumors’ ability to mask themselves to the patient’s immune system and enable the drug to be more effective in fighting cancer,” Ryan says.

“The analysis of patient populations that have been treated, and the correlation of biomarker tests and patient outcomes, as well as the drugs that are being used to treat patients, have all enabled more effective identification of people that have responded to these checkpoint inhibitors. Within different cancers there is a growing knowledge base that says some people are more easily treated than others, so this has been a trend in immune-oncology area that’s been extraordinarily hot in the last several years.”

“I think immuno-oncology as a trend that will serve as a foundation, and that there will be other diseases that are as complex and in some ways even more complex than cancer, that will benefit from it. For example, the indication of inflammation syndrome of type 2 diabetes plagues populations world-wide. The amount of people who are affected by it are many more than cancer patients. In order for immune-oncology findings to apply, however, these sorts of complex diseases require more data and better understanding of how to treat individual patients.”

Prevention

“Prevention is a trend that is gaining more and more traction because there is a better and growing understanding of how lifestyle diseases like diabetes get started,” Ryan explains. “If you can make this information available to people through more novel platforms–the application on your phone, or more communication from a healthcare provider–there’s a huge role for prevention to play. A lot of people believe prevention is going to be a wave of the future that will hopefully delay, prevent the onset of, or reduce the severity of these diseases.”

Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine

“Stem cells are a relatively new category that has yet to see any FDA-approved products other autologous treatment—receiving treatment exclusively using their own stem cells,” Ryan says.

“There are many companies that have stem cell clinical trials underway, however, that would involve isolating stem cells, growing them, and storing them so they could be used to treat different populations of people. This is a category that will be very important as you look downstream. We all have the capability to regenerate tissues like cartilage, even organ tissue. It’s probably five to ten years away for some of these to take hold, but they could literally transform how we think about treatment.”

Cultivation Capital’s Life Sciences team  invests in early-stage life sciences companies, primarily in the therapeutics, diagnostics, research tools and reagents, medical devices, and healthcare information technology verticals. They define their “sweet spot” as providing post-seed/pre-Series A stage companies the capital they need to rapidly scale their businesses. Their portfolio includes more than a dozen life science firms.

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