If the two-year old healthcare startup Verana Health has its way it could become the Google for physician generated healthcare data.
The company has raised $100 million from GV (one of the corporate investment arms of Alphabet, the parent company of Google), Bain Capital Ventures, Casdin Capital and Define Ventures and counts the famous life sciences investor, Brook Byers, as the chairman of the company's board.
The company offers products like Verana Practice Insights, which provides aggregated views on practice trends across the U.S, and it also has a service called "Trial Connect" which gives physicians the ability to find patients among their practices who may be suitable for clinical trials.
Verana has also built up the Axon Registry, which tracks the impact of treatments over time for conditions like multiple sclerosis, migraines, and epilepsy. The company points to the registry as an example of how the data collected can provide value for the entire healthcare ecosystem.
Verana has inked data collection deals with the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Neurology to create large pools of de-identified patient data that can be used for drug discovery, population health analysis and medical research. But the company's story actually begins nearly twenty years ago, when specialty medical associations started building clinical data sets to share information among medical practitioners and standardize reporting required by the federal government.
More recently, as Verana explains, medical associations realized that there was a lot of quality data locked away in those records. And since the medical communities lacked the wherewithal and technical expertise to digitize and analyze those records themselves, they decided to outsource those services to Verana two years ago, according to a blogpost from the company.
"Our society partners have entrusted us with their data to partner with them to advance the quality of patient care and to accelerate the adoption of evidence into practice," the company states. "Through these partnerships, Verana supports the full operating costs for these registries, which enable physicians to track performance against federal quality measures and submit information for quality reporting at no expense to the physician practices and medical specialty organizations."
It seems that Verana has made the same pitch to physicians that Google has made to consumers: give us all of your information, and we'll organize it and manage it for you (as well as collect it to monetize in other ways that physicians have no control over).
"While we can’t speak for other companies, Verana is governed by physicians, which make up nearly half of our board," the company wrote in an emailed statement. "Additionally, we have agreements in place with each of our Academy partners — the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Neurology — specifying that data from these registries may only be used for research purposes and in a manner consistent with each Academy’s mission to patients and its membership."
Image via Getty Images / Ja_inter
Alongside its new financing, the San Francisco-based company also announced the acquisition of Knoxville, Ten.-based PYA Analytics, a company which has designed data analytics software and services for Medicare and Medicaid.
“Verana Health is building the team and technology to unlock deep clinical insights that support the development of new treatments while increasing our understanding of how these treatments can benefit patients more broadly,” said Dr. Krishna Yeshwant, General Partner at GV. “Under the leadership of its strong management team, Verana continues to redefine how we approach medical research.”
While Verana is currently focused on ophthalmic and neurologic diseases, the company intends to expand into additional therapeutic categories over the next year while integrating imaging, genomic, and claims data sources into its data pools.
"Verana is assembling the most comprehensive datasets in medicine across multiple disease types with the goal of accelerating medical research for patients with ophthalmic and neurologic conditions,” said Miki Kapoor, the chief executive officer of Verana Health, in a statement. "The financing and the addition of PYAA enable us to enrich these large clinical databases, creating a longitudinal view of the complete patient journey to inform research and patient care.”
However, the company's approach seems to disregard the role of the patient in the healthcare process. The emphasis on de-identification is one that new technology companies consistently rely on; however, evidence tells us that these practices aren't as secure as consumers would want when it comes to sensitive information around health.
In June 2019, the University of Chicago Medical Center and Google were sued for allegedly violating HIPAA regulations by sharing patient records that weren't de-identified properly. Google used the research for predictive data analysis based on massive population data. Google and the medical center have both filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit.
But even the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned that there's a risk that de-identified data could be linked back to the corresponding patient. Indeed, new machine learning capabilities developed by companies like Google have already been used to re-identify anonymized patient data, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.