One of my favorite and first digital health companies I came to know is Proteus Digital Health. When I discovered what they were working on some time ago, I was quickly both seduced and awestruck. “No way…a smart pill?…this has to be made up” was probably my first thought – like the fake Pied Piper landing page for the HBO series Silicon Valley – but unbelievably, the company was real, with FDA plus European Commission approval and all. And my mind was blown.
I’ve spent the bulk of my career in healthcare (including healthcare services and medical devices) and love it for many reasons. But discovering Proteus was an aHA! that really got me thinking deeper about the power and possibility of health + technology and helped inspire me to expand my focus to startups in the digital health space. To this day, when someone asks me “what is digital health?”, I generally describe it by way of an example and frequently mention Proteus as that example. It normally is received with both ooouus and ahhhhs. Anyway, given my *arms-length crush, I was happy when Proteus recently gained mass “darling status” after completing the last piece of a $172M fundraising round at the end of July. This makes them one of the most well-funded private digital health companies out there at the moment and adds them to the speculative short-list of “who will be next to IPO in digital health?” No doubt very exciting for them…but I’m sure they’d be the first to say their work has just begun as they help to move digital medicine to the mainstream. *Note: I have no affiliation with the company
Ok, ok, so what makes Proteus Digital Health so cool? What do they actually do?
To first categorize, they are a digital medical device and remote care management company – with overlap in the internet of things sector – and they produce a ‘digital [medicine] feedback system’. This is comprised of a tiny organic ingestible sensor that people swallow with (or in) their medication. This sensor contains trace amounts of copper and magnesium that react and send a wireless signal to a disposable battery powered patch (which they also produce) which sticks to one’s abdomen. This patch reports data wirelessly to the cloud and provides information on if/when medications have been taken and also aggregates rest and activity patterns. Pretty cool, eh? It’s the stuff out of science fiction – understanding your body from the inside out! There is a video on their website which summarizes this process nicely as well if you are more of a visual person.
Overall, Proteus empowers caregivers to ensure patients are both taking medication and taking it properly. Medication non-adherence can lead to readmissions and chronic illness which both are key drivers of increased healthcare costs. Proteus’ simple value proposition is that their products reduce the incidence of non-adherence, which ultimately saves healthcare providers and insurers LOTS OF MONEY. Cha-ching! Oh, and let’s not forget it helps patients live healthier, happier lives too.
The whole concept is quite brilliant in my opinion – anything that can promote quality outcomes and help to reduce costs in the soaring cost environment that is healthcare is a relatively frictionless sell (Note: Proteus is currently in private beta with a handful of US health systems and working with some prominent pharmaceuticals as well). A large volume of other digital health startups are attacking the US high cost / low quality healthcare epidemic from different angles. A few examples being: improving communication and clinical workflow, adopting teleHealth technologies and leveraging electronic health records.
Thanks Proteus for the personal inspiration – onward and upward!
PS – For all the deep clinical information you can handle on their ingestible sensor, check out this paper.