In Boston, our innovators span every sector, but life sciences is kind of our thing. With a slew of top-tier research universities and world-renowned hospitals within a short radius of each other, our city provides the perfect intellectual storm needed to drive biotech, medtech and digital health forward. Just look at the campuses of said universities and you’ll see a crop of new startups working on technologies that could revolutionize health care and medicine.
As a state, Massachusetts has recently made a commitment to drive innovation in the health care IT, medtech and biotech spaces through its digital health initiative. But Jodi Goldstein, managing director of the Harvard Innovation Lab, believes entrepreneurial interest in digital health space isn’t necessarily dictated by public policies. Not at Harvard, at least.
She told us, “We don’t steer entrepreneurs one way or another. Students identify their areas of interest, and we support them. However, from what we’ve seen, digital health has always been popular.”
According to Goldstein, about 15 percent of iLab startups have a digital health focus. And since the iLab’s inception five years ago, she’s noticed a slight shift in how the school’s startups are solving problems in this field.
“Earlier, there was a push for standalone apps and wearables that track and measure different aspects of health,” Goldstein explained. “Now, they’re moving more toward solutions that integrate with current health care systems and electronic medical records… It’s not an issue of not having enough data; it’s a data overload. People are now trying to solve how we make sense of the information available and how we make that data more meaningful.”
From what we’ve seen from local ventures in the digital health realm, a focus on data, as well as diagnostics, does appear to be popular. We compiled a list of up and coming ventures with ties to local academic institutions – predominantly MIT and Harvard – and a focus on medtech. While some of them aim to improve patients’ and doctors’ day-to-day experiences, others have the potential to save lives.
This startup has developed the L-Card, which can detect lung cancer on a person’s breath. The technology could be a promising alternative to the CT scans currently used to spot lung cancer – sometimes when it’s too late. The L-Card would make screenings more inexpensive, readily available and accurate, so cancer can be caught and treated earlier. The venture is already making waves, having won the MIT $100K Competition and the Harvard Business School New Venture Competition (Student Business Track) this year.
It’s generally accepted that people’s environments can impact their wellbeing. Biosay is an app that clues people into how their surroundings influence their health. It gives users real-time biometric feedback, through a “bioji”, which rates their physiological conditions at any given moment. This is meant to tip people off about certain environmental factors that negatively and positively impact their bodies, in the hopes that they can take preventative measures while managing their wellbeing.
BrainSpec has developed a technology that lets physicians perform non-invasive, virtual brain biopsies. The venture’s software uses magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which measures the chemical concentrations throughout a patient’s brain, to help with the diagnosis of different neurological disorders, like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.
The process of diagnosing bacterial infections has been the same since the days of Louis Pasteur. Instead of having doctors take cultures, the results from which can take days, Day Zero Diagnostics is using whole genome sequencing and machine learning to let physicians pinpoint the offending bacteria and start patients on appropriate treatments in a matter of hours. This past academic year, Day Zero took home first place at the HBS New Venture Competition (Alumni Business Track).
Ear infections, which are most prevalent among children, are challenging to diagnose given the ear’s anatomy. EarID is taking the guesswork out of diagnosing them, giving a more accurate reading on infections and preventing patients from taking over-prescribed antibiotics before it’s necessary to do so.
EMRs can be overwhelming for doctors, inundating them with information that’s not always the most pertinent to a patient’s condition. Herald is making these records more useful by letting physicians pick which information they’d like to monitor and sending them push notifications when there’s a change or update for one of these markers. It provides ready access to real-time information that matters most to treating different patients, saving doctors time and helping them identify life-threatening conditions faster.
Many people might not know it, but HPV vaccines currently available don’t protect from all of the virus’ cancer-causing strains. PathoVax is working on RGVax, a vaccine that would prevent patients from contracting the remaining strains of HPV linked to cancer.
Symbiosis (formerly EVA)
Symbiosis is the crossroads of artificial intelligence and biotechnology. It’s a mobile app that integrates with existing electronic medical records and uses natural language processing, as well as machine learning, to automate certain functions for physicians. For example it can enter lab orders and fetch patient data for physicians, so they can focus on being doctors.
This article has been updated.