Innovaccer nabs $11 million from Microsoft’s VC arm to give doctors a better window into patient heatlh

Cracking the silos of digital health records promises to bring better care to patients by better informing doctors, according to Abhinav Shashank, the chief executive officer of San Francisco-based startup Innovaccer .

Shashank’s company is just wrapping up a $35 million round of financing with a new $11 million commitment from Microsoft’s investment arm M12 (formerly known as Microsoft Ventures).

The corporate investor joins Westbridge, and Lightspeed Partners, who previously committed to the Series B round last year.

Founded in 2014, Innovaccer has been working to roll up data from a number of different healthcare providers including Hartford Healthcare, University of California, Mercy ACO Iowa, UniNet Healthcare Network of Nebraska, Inmediata Health Integrated Solutions of Puerto Rico, and StratiFi Health Network.

Innovaccer estimates that it has saved its customers $400 million in expenses and the company said it will use the funds to build out its software services that connect to lab systems, electronic health records, claims management software and health information exchanges.

“Innovaccer’s approach to data aggregation and analytics fundamentally helps healthcare organizations implement value-based care models and improve care delivery,” said Rashmi Gopinath, partner at M12, in a statement. “We look to invest in startups addressing huge markets with best-in-class deep technology. We are excited to support Innovaccer as they continue to scale and grow in the global healthcare market.”

In addition to providing a unified view into all of the different records that a care provider touches, the company is also looking to layer in prompts to encourage treatment options for future care, according to Shashank.

According to the company’s chief executive, care providers are already incorporating suggestions from the company’s algorithmically based predictive tools in their treatment plans to ensure that patients are getting the best possible outcomes.

“It is rare to see this type of growth in the healthcare industry. Normally, this is only seen in the fastest of enterprise SaaS companies. We think there is tremendous potential to bring the speed and innovation normally associated with enterprise software to the world of healthcare IT,” says Sumir Chadha, Managing Director at Westbridge Capital.

Apple reportedly looking to subsidize Watch with Medicare plans

If nothing else, the addition of ECG/EKG reinforced Apple’s commitment to evolving the Watch into a serious medical device. The company has long looked to bring its best selling wearable to various health insurance platforms, and according to a new report, it’s reaching out to multiple private Medicare plans in hopes of subsidizing the product.

If Medicare companies bite, the move would make the $279+ tracker much more successful for older users. Along with electrocardiograph functionality, last year’s Series 4 also features fall detection, an addition that could make it even more appealing to the elderly and health care providers.

The new report cites at least three providers who have been in discussions with the company. We’ve reached out to Apple for comment, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on hearing back until the ink is dry on those deals. For Apple, however, such a a partnership would help increase the target audience for a product that’s been a rare bright spot in the wearable category.

Apple’s not alone in the serious health push, of course. Fitbit has also been aggressively pursuing the space. Today the company announced its inclusion in the National Institutes of Health’s new All of Us health initiative.

Why Google engineers worked full-time to combat sex trafficking

When the government seized classified-ads site Backpage, forcing it to shut down in April, it became a lot harder to find and locate potential victims of sex trafficking. While it was symbolically good that the site, whose CEO later pled guilty to charges of sex trafficking, shut down, it created a significant technical challenge for law enforcement and the organizations trying to help prevent sex-trafficking, Google Senior Software Engineer Sam Ainsley told TechCrunch.

“Once Backpage was gone, you were looking at an ecosystem in which all of those previously more centralized advertisements [for those being sex trafficked] are being redistributed on much more websites,” Ainsley said.

Ainsley got involved with this work through Google.org’s new fellowship program, which embeds Google engineers inside non-profit organizations on a full-time basis for six months. She did this work at Thorn, a non-profit organization founded by Ashton Kutcher that seeks to protect children from sexual abuse and trafficking. Thorn was the first non-profit to host Google Fellows.

When Backpage was up-and-running, Thorn had been indexing the advertisements and then providing them to law enforcement in order to facilitate the recovery of victims. That task became harder once Backpage shut down. While working at Thorn, Ainsley and four other Google engineers set out to help make this information more easily available to law enforcement.

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 15: Ashton Kutcher, Actor and Co-Founder of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, speaks at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Ending Modern Slavery: Building on Success at Dirksen Senate Office Building on February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)

“The goal of this project was to create actual profiles of victims so that this information could be as accessible as possible,” Ainsley said. “That you could actually understand that victim’s history and where they might be at any given period of time; what are the cities they’ve been in over time; What are the various phone numbers they’ve used over time? How that has their appearance changed? This is all incredibly important because, in this space, that is the strategy. It’s to change things as quickly as possible to evade being found. So it’s really about taking a holistic approach and a personal approach.”

Google machine learning engineers were able to take the massive number of ads and try to understand which advertisements belonged to one individual, and then formulate that one person’s history, Ainsley said. As a data visualization expert, Ainsley’s part was to visualize all of that information in a way that is accessible to law enforcement.

“At this point in time we have built a prototype that we’re really excited about,” Ainsley said. “So we’re really optimistic about where this can go.”

Although her fellowship is over, Ainsley said she’s going to stay on working with the Thorn team one day a week because she wants to see the work taken all the way into the field.

“That’s the dream and I want to be available as much as I possibly can to assist in that effort,” Ainsley said.

(L) Doug Grundman, Google.org Fellow and Software Engineer, Google; (R) Julie Cordua, CEO, Thorn. Photo via Google

Thorn CEO Julie Cordua told TechCrunch it was a successful product, noting it “was an exploration we’ve been wanting to do for quite a while.”

In addition to working with law enforcement around sex trafficking, Thorn tackles child pornography, livestream abuse and grooming. The organization also works to activate companies in the private sector to identify and remove child porn.

Thorn recently launched Safer, a tool for small to medium-sized businesses to identify child pornography on their platforms. Currently, Imgur, Roblox and Flickr are participating in the beta program.

“Larger companies have good systems in place but when you don’t have the capacity to build out risks teams, then this type of bad content starts to flourish,” Cordua said. “That’s what we’re trying to solve for.”

(L) Samantha Ainsley, Google.org Fellow and Software Engineer, Google; (R) Doug Grundman, Google.org Fellow and Software Engineer, Google. Photo via Google.

Thorn was the first partner for the Google.org fellowship, but there are two active fellowships at the Family Independence Initiative and Goodwill, which started in November. Before selecting an organization to work with, Google.org examines the potential for impact and ability of the organization to continue the work once the Google engineer leaves.

“And we want to look for an area where there’s a really complex challenge where technology is the solution, or at least is a solution that can really help move the needle,” Google.org Product Manager and Head of Technical Team Jen Carter told TechCrunch.

And for Google, it’s a good retention strategy. Ainsley, for example, said the opportunity came at the right time because she had actually been considering leaving the company.

“I had been at this crossroads in my career as an engineer, where I was feeling pretty siloed in terms of the impact that my work was having,” Ainsley said. “I loved the work I was doing from a technical aspect — I always have — but I was considering potentially even exploring different career options because it was unclear to me how, through programming, I could have a direct impact on people’s lives. And that was something that I really wanted. And when this program was posted, it was right around that time.”

Cordua agrees, noting that it could be a good retention strategy for companies. It’s also a model that she thinks should be replicated by other tech companies.

“Our goal is to get more companies to think about this for their engineering teams,” Cordua said. “It’s an opportunity to build engineering teams that have empathy and understanding of tech’s social impact on both negative and positive things. Tech can do amazing things. Let’s channel it toward these social issues.”

Sophia Genetics bags $77M Series E, with 850+ hospitals signed up to its “data-driven medicine”

Another sizeable cash injection for big data biotech: Sophia Genetics has announced a $77M Series E funding round, bringing its total raised to $140M since the business was founded back in 2011.

The company, which applies AI to DNA sequencing to enable what it dubs “data-driven medicine”, last closed a $30M Series D in fall 2017.

The Series E was led by Generation Investment Management . Also investing: European private equity firm, Idinvest Partners. Existing investors, including Balderton Capital and Alychlo, also participated in the round.

When we last spoke to Sophia Genetics it had around 350 hospitals linked via its SaaS platform, and was then adding around 10 new hospitals per month.

Now it says its Sophia AI platform is being used by more than 850 hospitals across 77 countries, and it claims to have supported the diagnosis of more than 300,000 patients.

The basic idea is to improve diagnoses by enabling closer collaboration and knowledge sharing between hospitals via the Sophia AI platform, with an initial focus on oncology, hereditary cancer, metabolic disorders, pediatrics and cardiology. 

Expert (human) insights across the network of hospital users are used to collectively enhance genomic diagnostics, and push towards predictive analysis, by feeding and training AI algorithms intended to enhance the reading and analysis of DNA sequencing data.

Sophia Genetics describes its approach as the “democratization” of DNA sequencing expertise.

Commenting on the Series E in a statement, Lilly Wollman, co-head of Generation’s growth equity team said: “We believe that leveraging genetic sequencing and advanced digital analysis will enable a more sustainable healthcare system. Sophia Genetics is a leader in the preventive and personalized medicine revolution, enabling the development of targeted therapeutics, thereby vastly improving health outcomes. We admire Sophia Genetics not just for its differentiated analytics capability across genomic and radiomic data, but also for its exceptional team and culture”.

The new funding will be put towards further expanding the number of hospitals using Sophia Genetics’ technology, and also on growing its headcount with a plan to ramp up hiring in the US especially.

The Swiss-founded firm is now co-based in Lausanne and Boston, US.

In another recent development the company added radiomics capabilities to its platform last year, allowing for what it describes as “a prediction of the evolution of a tumour”, which it suggests can help inform a physician’s choice of treatment for the patient.