Attracting investment

Geisinger Ventures was created more than a decade ago to prove the organization could commercialize technologies, start new companies, build them and sell them. In recent years, that endeavor has given way to the Office of Strategic Industry Partnerships, which has a bigger vision and a different approach.

“The natural evolution was to focus on solving some of health care’s biggest challenges — patient engagement, adherence, patient activation, those types of things — in ways that, frankly, we didn’t think we could do alone,” Peters says.

In fact, Geisinger has no venture fund at this point. Its strategy is to work with industry partners to design and co-develop solutions that can have a broad impact on health care globally.

“We’re not looking to make direct investments as a financial investor,” Peters says. “Over the past four years, given that we’ve proven Geisinger has a track record for innovation, we have been able to attract capital coming in from our partners. By working with Geisinger, they can accelerate and deliver that product or service in a way that’s better, faster and cheaper.”

One example: a five-year collaboration, launched in 2014, with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to conduct one of the largest genomic studies to date. Geisinger is collecting blood samples and comprehensive medical information from more than 250,000 consented patients, and Regeneron is sequencing and genotyping the genetic material. The patient data will be used to identify and validate associations between genes and human disease.

Although the data will be de-identified for research purposes, patients who are participating in the study have agreed to receive clinically actionable genetic test results. “The goal isn’t to just create peer-reviewed manuscripts as much as it is to actually inform clinical decision-making,” Peters says.

Geisinger also is partnering with Merck to develop tools that increase adherence with treatment regimens. The focus on improving the value of health care is casting attention on the fact that, even if they have the best intentions, many patients do not follow their treatment plans. “Intervening there is, perhaps, the lowest-hanging fruit for us as providers to actually impact health care value by improving patient outcomes and also decreasing costs,” he says.

The two organizations are working on interventions that support shared decision-making and improve patient engagement to increase the likelihood that patients adhere to their treatment plans.

“The path to commercialization starts by designing it right within the context of traditional physician workflow and patient behavior,” Peters says. “Once you develop it and test it within the real world — in our case, clinics and hospitals within Geisinger — and work the kinks out, then we roll it out to non-Geisinger and then move to full commercialization.

The first tool, being tested at Geisinger, is an interactive Web application that helps primary care clinicians to engage patients at risk for cardiometabolic syndrome, the cluster of risk factors that often precede type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Two other products are in development.

Peters declines to discuss the financial implications of Geisinger’s partnership with industrial partners other than to say the investments run into “the many tens of millions of dollars.” “We’re looking to solve problems that aren’t simple problems and that don’t just apply to Geisinger’s patients,” he says. Lola Butcher is a contributing writer to H&HN. 

Executive Corner

Where are the best opportunities for innovation in health care? That’s impossible to know, but venture capital investor and health care industry consultant Lisa Suennen frequently gets asked a variation of that question: “If you had money to invest right now in health care, where would you put it?” In a recent blog post, Suennen listed five big trends that she believes “offer the most opportunity for those smart enough (and lucky enough) to play them the right way.”

TREND 1 | The migration of care from hospital to ambulatory settings, including the home. 

TREND 2 | Providers becoming payers, or at least financial and clinical risk managers.  “ … it is irrefutable that the provider community and big health systems in particular are getting a crash course in the world of insurance and coming to school without the tools to succeed,” she says.

TREND 3 | Patients becoming consumers and looking for a true retail experience. “When you go to Amazon, you can identify what you want from a full array of options, compare it, get reviews, purchase it and get it conveniently delivered with a few clicks and a personalized, low-hassle experience,” Suennen wrote. “Anything that can help health care follow that same model will surely prosper.”

TREND 4 | Pharmaceutical and medical device companies seeking technologies and services that make traditional devices and drugs more meaningful, data-driven and personalized.

TREND 5 | The aging population. “There is no opportunity larger than ensuring that (baby boomers’) health care demands don’t tank the economies of most of the leading nations around the world,” she says. “And the challenge is particularly interesting since this group has far less experience and comfort with the technologies that might make their lives better."