uBiome is jumping into therapeutics with a healthy $83 million in Series C financing

23andMe, IBM and now uBiome is the next tech company to jump into the lucrative multi-billion dollar drug discovery market.

The company started out with a consumer gut health test to check whether your intestines carry the right kind of bacteria for healthy digestion but has since expanded to include over 250,000 samples for everything from the microbes on your skin to vaginal health — the largest data set in the world for these types of samples, according to the company.

Founder Jessica Richman now says there’s a wider opportunity to use this data to create value in therapeutics.

To support its new drug discovery efforts, the San Francisco-based startup will be moving its therapeutics unit into new Cambridge, Massachusetts headquarters and appointing former Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez to the board of directors as well.

The company has a healthy pile of cash to help build out that new HQ, too, with a fresh $83 million Series C, lead by OS Fund and in participation with 8VC, Y Combinator, Dentsu Ventures and others.

The drug discovery market is slated to be worth nearly $86 billion by 2022, according to BCC Research numbers. New technologies — those that solve logistics issues and shorten the time between research and getting a drug to market in particular — are driving the growth and that’s where uBiome thinks it can get into the game.

“This financing allows us to expand our product portfolio, increase our focus on patent assets and further raise our clinical profile, especially as we begin to focus on commercialization of drug discovery and development of our patent assets,” Richman said.

Though its unclear at this time which drug maker the company might partner up with, Richman did say there would be plenty to announce later on that front.

So far, the company has published over 30 peer-reviewed papers on microbiome research, has entered into research partnerships with the likes of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and leading research institutions such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford and has previously raised $22 million in funding. The additional VC cash puts the total amount raised to $105 million to date.

Kegel trainer startup Elvie is launching a smaller, smarter, hands-free breast pump

Elvie, a Berlin-based startup known best for its connected Kegel trainer is jumping into the breast pump business with a new $480 hands-free system you can slip into your bra.

Even with all the innovation in baby gear, breast pumps have mostly sucked (pun intended) for new moms for the past half a century. My first experience with a pump required me to stay near a wall socket and hunch over for a good twenty to thirty minutes for fear the milk collected might spill all over the place (which it did anyway, frequently). It was awful!

Next I tried the Willow Pump, an egg-shaped, connected pump meant to liberate women everywhere with its small and mobile design. It received glowing reviews, though my experience with it was less than stellar.

The proprietary bags were hard to fit in the device, filled up with air, cost 50 cents each (on top of the $500 pump that insurance did not cover), wasted many a golden drop of precious milk in the transfer and I had to reconfigure placement several times before it would start working. So I’ve been tentatively excited about the announcement of Elvie’s new cordless (and silent??) double breast pump.

Displayed: a single Elive pump with accompanying app.

Elvie tells TechCrunch its aim all along has been to make health tech for women and that it has been working on this pump for the past three years.

The Elvie Pump is a cordless, hands-free, closed system, rechargeable electric pump designed by former Dyson engineers. It can hold up to 5 oz from each breast in a single use.

It’s most obvious and direct competition is the Willow pump, another “wearable” pump moms can put right in their bra and walk around in, hands free. However, unlike the Willow, Elvie’s pump does not need proprietary bags. You just pump right into the device and the pump’s smartphone app will tell you when each side is full.

It’s also half the size and weight of a Willow and saves every precious drop it can by pumping right into the attached bottle so you just pump and feed (no more donut-shaped bags you have to cut open and awkwardly pour into a bottle).

On top of that, Elvie claims this pump is silent. No more loud suction noise off and on while trying to pump in a quiet room in the office or elsewhere. It’s small, easy to carry around and you can wear it under your clothes without it making a peep! While the Willow pump claims to be quiet — and it is, compared to other systems –you can still very much hear it while you are pumping.

Elvie’s connected breast pump app

All of these features sound fantastic to this new (and currently pumping) mom. I remember in the early days of my baby’s life wanting to go places but feeling stuck. I was chained to not just all the baby gear, hormonal shifts and worries about my newborn but to the pump and feed schedule itself, which made it next to impossible to leave the house for the first few months.

My baby was one of those “gourmet eaters” who just nursed and nursed all day. There were days I couldn’t leave the bed! Having a silent, no mess, hands-free device that fit right in my bra would have made a world of difference.

However, I mentioned the word “tentatively” above as I have not had a chance to do a hands-on review of Elvie’s pump. The Willow pump also seemed to hold a lot of promise early on, yet left me disappointed.

To be fair, the company’s customer service team was top-notch and did try to address my concerns. I even went through two “coaching” sessions but in the end it seemed the blame was put on me for not getting their device to work correctly. That’s a bad user experience if you are blaming others for your design flaws, especially new and struggling moms.

Both companies are founded by women and make products for women — and it’s about time. But it seems as if Elvie has taken note of the good and bad in their competitors and had time to improve upon it — and that’s what has me excited.

As my fellow TechCrunch writer Natasha put it in her initial review of Elvie as a company, “It’s not hyperbole to say Elvie is a new breed of connected device. It’s indicative of the lack of smart technology specifically — and intelligently — addressing women.”

So why the pump? “We recognized the opportunity [in the market] was smarter tech for women,” Boler told TechCrunch on her company’s move into the breast pump space. “Our aim is to transform the way women think and feel about themselves by providing the tools to address the issues that matter most to them, and Elvie Pump does just that.”

The Elvie Pump comes in three sizes and shapes to fit the majority of breasts and, in case you want to check your latch or pump volume, also has transparent nipple shields with markings to help guide the nipple to the right spot.

The app connects to each device via Bluetooth and tracks your production, detects let down, will pause when full and is equipped to pump in seven different modes.

The pump retails for $480 and is currently available in the U.K. However, those in the U.S. will have to wait till closer to the end of the year to get their hands on one. According to the company, It will be available on Elvie.com and Amazon.com, as well in select physical retail stores nationally later this year, pending FDA approval.

Apple’s Watch isn’t the first with an EKG reader but it will matter to more consumers

Apple’s COO Jeff Williams exuberantly proclaimed Apple’s Watch was the first to get FDA clearance as an over-the-counter electrocardiogram (EKG) reader during the special event at Apple headquarters on Wednesday. While Apple loves to be first to things, that statement is false.

AliveCor has held the title of first since late last year for its KardiaMobile device, a $100 stick-like metal unit you attach to the back of a smartphone. Ironically, it also received FDA clearance for the Kardiaband, an ECG reader designed to integrate with the Apple Watch and sold at Apple stores and just this week, the FDA gave the go ahead for AliveCor’s technology to screen for blood diseases, sans blood test.

However, the Apple Watch could be the first to matter to a wider range of consumers. For one, Apple holds a firm 17 percent of the world’s wearables market, with an estimated shipment volume of 28 million units in just 2018. While we don’t know how many AliveCor Kardiaband and KardiaMobile units were sold, it’s very unlikely to be anywhere near those numbers.

For another thing, a lot of people, even those who suspect they have a heart condition, might have some hesitations around getting a separate device just to check. Automatic integration makes it easy for those curious to start monitoring without needing to purchase any extra equipment. Also, while heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. and affects a good majority of the global population, most of us probably aren’t thinking about our heart rhythm on a daily basis. Integrating an EKG reader straight into the Watch makes monitoring seamless and could take away the fear some may have about finding out how their heart is doing.

Then there’s the Apple brand, itself. Many hospitals are now partnering with Apple to use iPads and it’s reasonable to think there could be some collaboration with the Watch.

“Doctors, hospital systems, health insurers, and self-insured employers don’t want to manage separate partnerships with each of Apple, Xiaomi, Fitbit, Huawei, Garmin, Polar, Samsung, Fossil, and every other wearable manufacturers. They need a cross-platform product that works for all of their patients,” Cardiogram founder and EKG researcher Brandon Ballinger told TechCrunch. “So if Apple becomes the Apple of healthcare, then a company like Cardiogram or AliveCor can become the Microsofts of this space.”

How does this announcement from Apple affect AliveCor? CEO Vic Gundotra shrugs it off. He tells TechCrunch the vast majority of AliveCor’s business is from KardiaMobile, not it’s Apple-integrated ECG reader. “Apple has long alluded they were building something like this into the device,” Gundotra said, “so we’ve been anticipating it.”

The Amazonization of Whole Foods, one year in

Amazon promised to breathe new tech into the relationship with Whole Foods after putting a $13.7 billion ring on it one year ago. So how did that promise shake out?

At the time, Amazon said the goal was to make “high-quality, natural and organic food affordable for everyone.” Bananas, avocados and even tilapia was going to be cheaper than before. Prime members would receive increased benefits with discount rewards and Amazon drones would be delivering packages right to your door.

Okay, that last bit was not promised — though we’re not the first to speculate on that possibility in the future.

A bunch of other Amazon offerings involving delivery options were also mentioned, including the getting of Whole Food groceries through a then new Amazon Fresh grocery delivery program and Whole Foods private label products would be made available through Prime Now and Prime Pantry. Further, Amazon lockers would be showing up at select stores to make pick ups and returns easier for Amazon customers. And, of course, new jobs would be created to handle all the new infusion of technology.

Soon customers started to see Amazon Echo devices popping up in stores, urging people to install them in their home for easier grocery ordering through voice command. Echo dots lined the walls and could be found surrounded by produce. Amazon promised to deliver more devices to try in-store ahead of purchase as time went on.

Since the launch, “customers have already saved hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to Whole Foods co-founder and CEO John Mackey. “So whether it’s better prices on your weekly shop, saving time through delivery from Prime Now or taking advantage of incredible weekly deals for Prime members, the overall customer experience is richer and more seamless than it’s ever been,” he continued.

I’m not sure the average customer would see the experience as “richer and more seamless” but the changes are noticeable. Walking into my local Whole Foods, the Amazon branding is everywhere from the deep orange lockers off to the side, the large, green Amazon Fresh coolers greeting me at the entrance to the parking lot and rows of bags ready for pickup and delivery via Amazon workers.

A large “Prime Member Deal” sign hangs down from the ceiling, greeting me at the front of the store. Beyond, there’s the produce, once fresh and free of rot with all organic labeling. Now? It’s unclear. I used to argue the “whole paycheck” prices were worth it for the better quality produce. Lately, I’ve had to throw a bunch of stuff out because it just doesn’t last as long or look as good. Not everything is organic.

Other shoppers have noticed the same dip in quality across the U.S., along with missing products or a lot of out of stock items they’d been buying for years at their grocery store.

It’s been called the “conventionalization” of Whole Foods by Wall Street investment bank Barclays, which also noted there had been some comments from Mackey about cultural “clashes” during his appearance at the American Production and Inventory Control society’s annual conference.

On the flip, Amazon has managed to add some nifty integrations for Prime members including club member style sales prices and five percent cash back for those purchasing groceries with their Prime Visa card. You want to do one better, just download the Amazon app to your smartphone, use the code given and then purchase with Apple pay using your Amazon Prime credit card for maximum benefits. Of course, that’s only for those all in with the system.

Adding to that, there’s the super fast two-hour delivery option (in 20 cities for now, with more to come this year, according to Amazon) and grocery pickup so you don’t even have to wander through the store to get everything you need (although, I am one of those who likes picking out my own produce and wandering through the store sometimes),

I’ve also enjoyed using the integrated partnership to order Whole Foods items straight from my Amazon Fresh account (a lifesaver in those early days of postpartum when it was impossible to get out of the house). Before the integration I could use Instacart but had to order from each store separately in different orders. With Amazon, I can order from various stores, including Whole Foods through my Amazon Fresh account all in one order and then choose a time for delivery.

There’s still some bumps with that process — you can’t order every item available in Whole Foods, just what Fresh offers that week through the Amazon platform. The bags are also large and often don’t fill up to their full potential, leaving a lot of waste. But that’s like complaining you can’t get good WiFi on an airplane. It’s frustrating but you are flying through the sky and messaging people on the ground. Similar, you are ordering food through the air waves and it shows up at your door step. In the grand scheme, it’s amazing!

Anyway, yes, there are more conveniences for Amazon Prime members and further integrations with technology to make the shopping experience easier. It does also seem Amazon has hired more workers to fulfill the needs this technology creates. At my own market it seems tough to tell who is an Amazon worker rummaging through the aisles for listed items and who’s just shopping for themselves these days.

Is the marriage working? Tough to tell at this point. Those promised changes may seem exciting for both parties but between disappointed shoppers and a “clash” in culture it may not have been what Whole Foods faithful wanted. Still, at least some vendors have said they’ve seen an increase in sales and volume of products sold since the acquisition, despite the drop in prices. And Mackey, comparing his love for his wife with the relationship said in a recent interview “I don’t love absolutely everything about my wife, either, but on balance I love, like, 98%. That’s a pretty good ratio, based on my previous relationships.”

It might not even matter what loyal Whole Foods customers think. The acquisition gives Amazon an opportunity to introduce its 100 million Prime members to the grocery store it envisions — one that could drop organic, fossil fuel free groceries via drone at their doorstep in the future.

While it’s hard to know how the partnership has impacted Amazon’s bottom line overall, we do know sales going up and to the right is a good thing. We still need to see how this relationship performs over time but one year in looks promising.

Twitter hints at new threaded conversations and who’s online features

Twitter head Jack Dorsey sent out a tweet this afternoon hinting the social platform might get a couple of interesting updates to tell us who else is currently online and to help us more easily follow Twitter conversation threads.

“Playing with some new Twitter features: presence (who else is on Twitter right now?) and threading (easier to read convos),” Dorsey tweeted, along with samples.

The “presence” feature would make it easier to engage with those you follow who are online at the moment and the “threading” feature would allow Twitter users to follow a conversation easier than the current embed and click-through method.

However, several responders seemed concerned about followers seeing them online.

Twitter’s head of product Sara Haider responded to one such tweeted concern at the announcement saying she “would definitely want you to have full control over sharing your presence.”

So it seems there would be some sort of way to hide that you are online if you don’t want people to know you are there.

There were also a few design concerns involved in threading conversations together. TC OG reporter turned VC M.G. Siegler wasn’t a fan of the UI’s flat tops. Another user wanted to see something more like iMessage.

I personally like the nesting idea as it cleans the conversation up and makes it easier to follow along. However, I really don’t care as much how it’s designed beyond that (flat tops, round tops) as long as I don’t have to click through a bunch of tweets like I do with the @reply, which is annoying and makes it hard to follow the thread.

I also don’t think I’d want others knowing if I’m online and it’s not a feature I need for those I tweet at, either. Conversations often happen at a ripping pace on the platform. You are either there for it or you can read about it later. I get the thinking on letting users know who’s live but it’s not necessary and seems to be something a lot of people don’t want.

Its unclear when either of these features would roll out to the general public, though it seems they’re available to those in a select test group. We’ve asked Twitter and are waiting to hear back for more information. Of course, plenty of users are still wondering when we’re getting that edit button.

George Church’s genetics on the blockchain startup just raised $4.3 million from Khosla

Nebula Genomics, the startup that wants to put your whole genome on the blockchain, has announced the raise of $4.3 million in Series A from Khosla Ventures and other leading tech VC’s such as Arch Venture Partners, Fenbushi Capital, Mayfield, F-Prime Capital Partners, Great Point Ventures, Windham Venture Partners, Hemi Ventures, Mirae Asset, Hikma Ventures and Heartbeat Labs.

Nebula has also has forged a partnership with genome sequencing company Veritas Genetics.

Veritas was one of the first companies to sequence the entire human genome for less than $1,000 in 2015, later adding all that info to the touch of a button on your smartphone. Both Nebula and Veritas were cofounded by MIT professor and “godfather” of the Human Genome Project, George Church.

The partnership between the two companies will allow the Nebula marketplace, or the place where those consenting to share their genetic data can earn Nebula’s cryptocurrency called “Nebula tokens” to build upon Veritas open-source software platform Arvados, which can process and share large amounts of genetic information and other big data. According to the company, this crossover offers privacy and security for the physical storage and management of various data sets according to local rules and regulations.

“As our own database grows to many petabytes, together with the Nebula team we are taking the lead in our industry to protect the privacy of consumers while enabling them to participate in research and benefit from the blockchain-based marketplace Nebula is building,” Veritas CEO Mirza Cifric said in a statement.

The partnership will work with various academic institutions and industry researchers to provide genomic data from individual consumers looking to cash in by sharing their own data, rather than by freely giving it as they might through another genomics company like 23andMe .

“Compared to centralized databases, Nebula’s decentralized and federated architecture will help address privacy concerns and incentivize data sharing,” added Nebula Genomics co-founder Dennis Grishin. “Our goal is to create a data flow that will accelerate medical research and catalyze a transformation of health care.”

HP is ‘printing’ drugs for the CDC to speed up antibiotic testing

At least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with so-called “super bugs” and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Now, HP’s Biohacker technology is working with the CDC on a pilot program to “print” and test antibiotics in an effort to catch these antimicrobial resistant strains from spreading faster.

The HP D300e Digital Dispenser BioPrinter technology works by using the same set up as a regular ink printer but instead dispenses any combination of drugs in volumes from picoliters to microliters to be used for research purposes.

Part of the reason these bugs spread so rapidly often comes down to mis-use of antibiotics, leading the bacteria to develop a resistance to the drugs available. The CDC hopes to give hospital providers access to the technology nationwide to cut down on the problem.

“Once a drug is approved for use, the countdown begins until resistance emerges,” Jean Patel, PH.D. D (ABMM), Science Team Lead, Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit at CDC said in a statement. “To save lives and protect people, it is vital to make technology accessible to hospital labs nationwide. We hope this pilot will help ensure our newest drugs last longer and put gold-standard lab results in healthcare providers’ hands faster.”

The 3D bioprinting sector has been experiencing rapid growth over the last few years and will continue on pace through the next decade, mainly due to R&D, according to market researchers. Innovation in the space includes printing of organs, human tissue and drug research and development.

Further, this potentially valuable antibiotic resistance research could help patient care teams stem a grim future where we experience a regression in health and life spans due to no longer having the ability to treat currently curable diseases.

The HP BioPrinter is currently used by labs and pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead, which tests for drugs used against the Ebola virus. It is also being used in various CRISPR applications. The CDC will use these printers in four regional areas spread throughout the U.S. within the Antibiotic Resistance (AR) Lab Network to develop antimicrobial susceptibility test methods for new drugs, according to HP.

One Medical raises $350 million from Carlyle Group to help double up offices and offerings

One Medical has confirmed to TechCrunch it has closed on funding from the Carlyle Group for a new cash infusion worth $350 million. This announcement follows an earlier report this week One Medical was seeking to close a $200 million deal, on top of a possible $100 million in stock for the financing firm.

However, we have since learned the deal is a tad higher, including $220 toward the primary equity investment and another $130 million in a secondary investment.

CEO Amir Rubin tells TechCrunch the new funds will go toward a serious expansion for the company, including doubling it’s 72 offices throughout the seven states One Medical is currently serving and expanding into new markets. Rubin was coy about where those new markets might be for now but said we’d know soon enough.

One Medical is a members-only technology platform offering an array of concierge medical services, including same-day scheduling, virtual doctor visits and reminders for important checkups. It started out as a direct-to-consumer model but has expanded in the last few years to offer medical care for employees at companies like Uber and Adobe.

The funding will also help One Medical take on both dinosaur incumbents in the medical field as well as newer startups with a similar technology offering like Forward, an AI-based “medical office of the future.”

To beat both, Rubin would like to use part of the new cash to beef up his company’s tech backend. One Medical’s platform is built on algorithms and machine learning to pull together new information and help patients have a better experience at the doctor’s office. Right now, getting all of your medical history in one place is a hard problem to solve in the U.S. healthcare system — only complicated by the many coded hurdles in dealing with insurance. Rubin would like his platform to quickly surf through the data and find procedures done elsewhere to ensure patients are better served by their medical team.

Lastly, the new funding provides an opportunity for One Medical to scale up its human medical team. One Medical tells TechCrunch it will also invest tremendously in its clinical team, doubling its provider numbers, which are in the “several hundreds” right now.

Prior to this round, One Medical had raised just over $180 million and was last valued around $1 billion. The new funding puts the total raised at $530 million.

One Medical may be in talks to raise more than $200 million

One Medical, the company hoping to disrupt the doctor’s office with concierge services, virtual visits and same-day appointments, is rumored to be in late-stage talks with the Carlyle Group for $200 million in funding, according to CNBC.

The firm is also looking to buy an additional $100 million worth of shares from existing investors, according to the report.

We’ve reached out to the Carlyle Group and One Medical for more information.

One Medical has so far raised over $180 million, including from Alphabet’s venture arm GV and Benchmark Capital, to bring its idea of accessible healthcare to areas covering San Francisco, NYC, Seattle and several other cities across the country. The latest calculation put the company at just over $1 billion in valuation. This new cash infusion would more than double its coffers, bringing the total raised to more than $380 million.

Google plans to roll out digital wellness features in Pie but Apple’s already got ’em

Google hopes to add a few digital wellness features to its latest desserted update, Pie (out today) but Apple is already on this health track with its latest update for iOS 12.

Digital wellness allows users to keep track of time spent on and unplug from your digital device when needed. Google announced the new wellness features coming to Android at I/O in May, including a dashboard for digital wellness, or the ability to track just how much time you spend on your device, an app timer that lets you set time limits on apps, a new Do Not Disturb feature which silences pop-up notifications and Wind Down, a feature to help you switch on Night Light and Do Not Disturb when it’s time to hit the hay.

Apple is also making digital wellness a focus. New features in this space were announced during its WWDC conference earlier this summer and the company has included an updated ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature in the iOS 12 update, also out today.

Several studies have suggested the importance of unplugging and breaking our addictions to our smartphones for our sanity’s sake and it seems Google would like to help us do just that with these new features. However, the new digital wellness features aren’t quite available in the latest Pie update, out today. We’ve asked Google why not and will update you when and if we hear back on that.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to roll ahead, adding its own controls to help iPhone owners curb their app and screen time usage. Similar to Android’s future offerings, iOS 12 includes a dash with a weekly report on how you spend time on your device. A feature called Downtime helps you schedule time away from your screen (versus just leaving your phone somewhere, seeing a notification and being tempted to pick it up), a feature to set time limits on apps and a way to block inappropriate content from reaching your screen as well.

Apple beats Android in this department for now but those features will supposedly be made available to everyone with a Google phone eventually. For those wanting to check out the new digital wellness features for Android, you can still do that today but only if you happen to have a Google Pixel — and only if you’ve signed up for the beta version.