Proteins, algorithms and apps — oh my! Health innovators across the Pacific Northwest continue to embrace technologies that go well beyond traditional drugs. The finalists for the Health Innovation of the Year category at the GeekWire Awards have developed breakthroughs that promise to improve lives and our healthcare system.
This year, we’re mixing things up by splitting our “Innovation of the Year” award into two categories: AI and health. The new categories highlight two areas of technology where the Pacific Northwest is leading the charge.
The five Health Innovation of the Year finalists — 98point6, Cyrus Biotechnology, KenSci, Kineta and Athira Pharma (formerly M3 Biotechnology) — aim to attack inefficiencies in the healthcare system from all sides and save lives with cutting-edge therapies.
Show your enthusiasm for these Seattle-based companies by casting your vote for Health Innovation of the Year, and for companies in 10 other GeekWire Award categories. We’ve included a handy voter’s guide below for the health nominees, and there are guides for the other categories as well.
Cast your vote before the April 19 voting deadline. Community votes will be factored in with feedback from more than 30 judges. All the winners will be revealed on May 2 during the GeekWire Awards presented by Wave Business at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. The party will almost certainly sell out, so get your tickets here today.
How it innovates: 98point6 pairs technology with board-certified physicians, aiming to help improve the overall health of patients and reduce the cost of care.
Where it’s coming from: The company was started by CEO Robbie Cape, the founder of family scheduling app Cozi and a 12-year Microsoft veteran. Last year, it broke into the spotlight after launching a virtual clinic app that now reaches more than 100,000 customers through their employers. That news was followed with a $50 million funding round led by Goldman Sachs, which brought its total funding to $86.3 million in just over three years.
98point6 CEO Robbie Cape on the company’s vision: “By eliminating the economic, logistical and personal pain points traditionally associated with getting care, 98point6 aims to make primary care more accessible and affordable for everyone — inspiring early and frequent use and leading to better overall health and cost of care savings.
“Today, our on-demand primary care service is available nationwide through employers and direct-to-consumer. In the near-term, we endeavor to partner with an even wider range of groups that serve the healthcare needs of individuals, including health plans and health systems. In terms of the product itself, our goal is to keep relentlessly improving and increasing the capabilities of the service, whether it’s through technological developments that benefit patients and partners or advancements to our virtual clinic that boost efficiency and quality standards.”
How it innovates: Athira Pharma, previously known as M3 Biotechnology, is working on new drugs that could halt or reverse the nerve damage that causes Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses, including Parkinson’s and ALS. It uses regenerative technology that rebuilds connections between neurons and increases the mass of the brain and brain health.
Where it’s coming from: Athira was built on technology that CEO Leen Kawas developed while earning her doctorate in molecular pharmacology at Washington State University. Two years ago, the company launched its first clinical trial aimed at halting or reversing the nerve damage that causes Alzheimer’s. The company has raised more than $27 million.
Athira CEO Leen Kawas weighs in on the company’s future: “Athira’s mission is to restore lives by advancing bold therapies, thoughtfully and urgently. Athira is currently advancing its lead therapeutic candidate, NDX-1017, a novel small molecule therapy. A Phase 1 clinical trial is currently underway in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or mild cognitive impairment. Athria will be presenting preliminary results from its Phase 1 trial at a scientific conference in the summer of 2019. The company plans to start a Phase 2 study to evaluate the effects of NDX-1017 for long-term safety and exploratory endpoints.”
How it innovates: Cyrus is the creator of a cloud-based protein modeling and design toolkit that facilitates faster, less expensive drug development, now in use by some of largest pharmaceutical, biotechnology, chemical and consumer product companies.
Where it’s coming from: Cyrus Biotech’s primary product, Cyrus Bench, is a software package based on Rosetta, a protein-modeling platform that was created at the University of Washington. The company landed an $8 million Series A financing round led by Trinity Ventures in 2017 to grow Cyrus Bench. Cyrus was founded by Lucas Nivon, who decided to commercialize Rosetta while working as a researcher under Professor David Baker at the Institute for Protein Design at the UW.
CEO Lucas Nivon on the mission and the future of Cyrus: “Cyrus’ mission is to deliver software tools and services that directly improve human lives by enabling the discovery of a broad variety of diseases — in nearly any therapeutic area currently including multiple oncology applications, autoimmune applications, novel vaccines, among others — or developing sustainable industrial processes.
“We are launching a variety of new marketing campaigns aiming at small molecule drug firms, antibody drug firms, chemical firms, synthetic biology firms, and, for the first time, to academic and non-profit users,” Nivon said. “We anticipate starting a variety of new partnerships with BioPharma firms in biologics deimmunization (safer biologic drugs), vaccine early-stage discovery, and small molecule discovery aimed at difficult drug targets.”
How it innovates: KenSci has developed machine learning and AI-powered technology that helps health systems predict when patients will get sick and lower healthcare costs.
Where it’s coming from: KenSci was founded in 2015 by two childhood friends, Samir Manjure, a longtime former Microsoft exec, and University of Washington-Tacoma professor Ankur Teredesai. KenSci raised $22 million earlier this year in a round led by Polaris Partners, bringing its total funding to $30 million. The company’s software aggregates patient data from a number of existing sources.
CEO Samir Manjure on what’s ahead for KenSci: “In the three and a half years of existence, KenSci has seen significant growth and traction, having impacted millions of patients across the globe.
“The road ahead is focused on scaling our presence in North America and helping customers gain greater value from the platform and its solutions. Additionally, we are focused on taking the predictive capability of KenSci across the globe, expanding beyond the four countries that we already have a strong foothold in, and working with international health systems to develop and demonstrate success in newer use cases. The next 18 months will see KenSci developing strong stories of success in healthcare AI.”
How it innovates: Kineta’s treatment uses the body’s natural defenses to attack tumors by convincing tumor cells that they are infected with a virus. The startup is also developing a non-opioid pain medication that was inspired by snail venom, as well as a treatment for Lassa fever.
Where it’s coming from: In order to take on these difficult challenges, Kineta last year partnered with Pfizer and Genentech in a pair of deals that could be worth more than $850 million if the technologies hit commercialization milestones. The company plans to go public in 2020.
CEO Shawn Iadonato on the path forward: “As we move into 2019-2020, we will stay laser-focused on our mission of developing novel immunotherapies that transform patient lives. First, Kineta will continue to expand our immuno-oncology pipeline by advancing an internal discovery program and in-licensing another asset. Next, we will continue to advance our novel drug programs in immuno-oncology and neuroscience that are partnered with Pfizer and Genentech as well as our biodefense program. Kineta is currently engaging investment banks and plans a crossover institutional investment round later in 2019. Executing on these objectives will position Kineta to move towards a public market offering in 2020.”