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Out-of-the-box thinking propels healthcare solutions

April 15th, 2016
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The quest to eradicate the world’s most deadly diseases recently received big boosts from two billionaire tech industry giants. On Thursday, April 13th, Sean Parker, Napster’s co-founder and the first president of Facebook, announced a $250 million bequest to accelerate cancer research. Last month, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen gave $100 million.

Parker and Allen want to disrupt the medical research community’s way of searching for cures to major diseases. Entrepreneurs are by nature impatient. They break away from the status quo to create something new that can change the world.

Allen said his initiative targets “research areas that may be too early, too radical or too high risk to make it though the government’s often conservative grant-making process” (Washington Post, March 24, 2016).

Parker has brought together some of the best cancer researchers from major universities and labs to collaborate on finding cures for cancer through immunotherapy research in his newly formed Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. His inspiration was the promising cancer research taking place, but at different organizations. He recognized the need for connecting “the patchwork of discovery happening across the top cancer centers” to allow for more information sharing and collaboration (Fortune, April 13, 2016).

The urgency behind Allen and Parker’s initiatives is not unfounded. Last year’s devastating Ebola outbreak and the growing threat from the Zika virus has underscored the urgency of accelerating the process of research and testing to produce effective medicines to stop the human tragedy from these major diseases.

The same out-of-the box approaches are being used by other entrepreneurs to develop health technologies to prevent injuries, lower healthcare costs and promote healthier work practices and lifestyles.

The day after Paul Allen’s announcement, I watched the inaugural cohort of startups working out of Relevant Health, a Rockville, MD-based health technology accelerator, present their out-of-box solutions to health care problems to an audience of healthcare investors and officials.

Here are brief descriptions of the startups:

ErgonometriX has developed a wearable device with algorithms to monitor a worker’s risk for lower back injuries caused by lifting and repetitive movements. Employers and workers would use the data to modify work behaviors and lead to better work performance, fewer injuries and lower costs for workers’ compensation.

Lazy Corporation has developed a state-of-the-art IT platform for healthcare providers to process and report federally mandated quality measures, and to reduce the heavy administrative burden of meeting the requirements for data reporting.

CheeksUp has developed an interactive, computerized guided system to support child speech therapy and rehabilitation from facial motor disorders. The product uses the latest 3D camera technology in combination with proprietary algorithms to accurately map and monitor facial movements. It uses gaming features to engage the child and make the therapist’s exercise plan a fun experience.

Werbie has developed a mobile digital therapeutic system for women with gestational diabetes help them manage their daily glucose levels and carbohydrate intakes in order to have healthier pregnancies and deliveries.

Neopenda has developed a vital signs monitoring system for newborns in developing countries that can be affixed to a stocking cap and provide immediate alerts to changes in the baby’s condition to the hospital staff via a mobile tablet device, and at a significantly lower cost than similar monitoring devices used in developed countries.

Gastro Girl is a personalized digital health platform to help people with gastrointestinal problems to stay in compliance with their treatment plans. To achieve this, it uses coaching, nutritional counseling and an online community with insights and expertise. Each user keeps an online journal in order to better understand the connection between symptoms and their diet, stress levels, emotions and exercise program. NB: I was assured by the founder/CEO that Gastro Girl is also available to men. In fact, the first two customers were men.

Agewell Biometrics has developed a cloud-based analytics platform that provides data for older adults and their caregivers on undetected risk factors such as impaired balance that could result in falls causing severe injuries that could jeopardize an older persons ability to live independently.

I left the Demo Day with a feeling of hope. These innovative products could help people lead healthier, productive and happier lives. The Zika virus, cancer and other life threatening diseases are still deadly, but now a step closer to being cured.

If you would like more information about any of these startups and Relevant Health’s accelerator program, please visit Relevant Health’s website at www.relevanthealth.md.

For a fuller picture of what Montgomery County, Maryland is doing to promote health technology, I suggest visiting the websites of RH’s principal supporters, BioHealth Innovation at www.bilhealthinnovation.org and Montgomery County Economic Development at www.choosemontgomerymd.com.

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