/Genentech is partnering with Clover Health, other digital health firms

Genentech is partnering with Clover Health, other digital health firms

  • Health insurer Clover Health is partnering with Genentech to develop treatments for diseases through the startup’s therapeutics arm. 
  • Over the years, Genentech’s been striking new partnerships to get access to data pharmaceutical companies traditionally don’t get. 
  • Gregg Talbert, the global head of digital and personalized health care partnering at Roche told Business Insider that it’s happening at a time when a company like Genentech can actually start to use the information.
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When it comes to data, Genentech has its eyes out for all types. 

Genentech, a unit of Swiss pharma giant Roche, in July inked a deal with health insurance startup Clover Health, in which the companies will pool their data to better study eye diseases.

Coming up with new treatments for eye diseases is a key focus for Genentech, particularly for conditions like age-related macular degeneration, and Clover likely has useful data because it manages the health of seniors as an insurer.

The partnership, of which the first phase is slated to last two years, will be with Clover’s research subsidiary Clover Therapeutics. The companies haven’t disclosed the terms of their venture.

Through Clover Therapeutics, the company can recruit members who might be good to study, then analyze their clinical history as captured via insurance data and combine that with genetic information. That information could clue Clover in to potential treatments for diseases, or help pinpoint patients who might do better with a treatment than others. 

Genentech has partnered with companies and governments

“To develop better medicines, we need to better understand human disease biology,” Cheng Zhang, head of Clover Therapeutics, wrote in a blog post in July. “This is possible only when we work hand-in-hand with patients and healthy individuals as long-term research partners.” 

Genentech has struck partnerships with more than half a dozen companies and government organizations for their data, much of which is information pharmaceutical companies don’t normally have their hands on outside of clinical trials. The data can include medical record information, imaging and lab results, and pharmacy data. 

Gregg Talbert, the global head of digital and personalized health care partnering at Roche, told Business Insider that it’s happening at a time when a company like Genentech can actually start to use the information to inform decisions about how future drugs get developed.

“We’re at an inflection point where if we partner well and use this information in the right way it can have a profound impact, not just in how we can do the work, but how that can impact patients,” Talbert said. 

Gregg Talbert

Genentech global head of digital and personalized health care partnering Gregg Talbert
Courtesy Genentech

How Genentech uses alternative forms of data

Prior to his current role,  Talbert worked in Roche’s business development department, striking up standard licensing deals and acquisitions that the company could use to beef up its drug portfolio.

Talbert was brought on to work with Flatiron, the cancer technology company that Roche acquired in 2018. It was through that work that he realized the potential of incorporating other forms of data into the development of new treatments. 

Read more: A CEO who sold his company for $1.9 billion in 2018 shares his advice for other founders who want to stay on after an acquisition

In recent years, Genentech’s partnerships have included a deal with startup PicnicHealth to study the progression of disease in patients with multiple sclerosis, and an agreement with the Croatian government.

“What we’re trying to develop is an overall picture of the patient,” Talbert said. “What that patient has experienced and what the result of that has been.”

Talbert said there are three pillars he looks for when thinking through a partnership.

First, it has to provide meaningful data at scale.

“It has to tell us something,” Talbert said. “What we seek to do is have data that is high quality or can be made higher quality in some fashion.”

That means it has to be multidimensional, with variables Genentech can use to suss out insights from; it has to be over a long enough period of time; and there has to be enough of it to for Genentech to draw insights out of. 

Next, the analytics and artificial intelligence have to be in place, as well as digital tools. Those fall into place so long as the first component is fulfilled. “It all starts with the meaningful data at scale,” Talbert said. That is, can you get useful information that you can then turn into tools as well as analyze and apply AI to.

The end result is exactly the promise of precision medicine: Can you figure out which people will respond to which treatments, so that everyone gets the optimal treatment for them? 

To be sure, Roche isn’t alone in turning to external data sources to influence how the company discovers and develops drugs. For years, drugmakers have been turning to genomic and clinical data sources, especially through companies like Flatiron. But as other sources of data not collected in a whole genome sequence or electronic medical record get collected, it remains to be seen how helpful that information is in informing the next wave of treatments. 

Moving from health insurance to developing drugs

Clover manages the health of about 41,000 Medicare Advantage members as of the end of the first half of 2019

It’s been an eventful year for Clover. In March, the company said it was laying off 25% of its workforce, or about 140 employees, as part of a restructuring. That came on the heels of Clover raising $500 million in January, bring the total funds the company has raised to $925 million.

Clover got its start selling Medicare Advantage plans in New Jersey, which remains the company’s main market. The company also operates in Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arizona.

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