CHICAGO (GenomeWeb) – After more than a decade of making a name for itself in the world of health analytics and raising gobs of money, Health Catalyst is making its first push into life sciences.
This month, Health Catalyst became a "unicorn," a privately held startup company worth at least $1 billion. The Salt Lake City-based analytics firm announced Feb. 7 that it had secured as much as $100 million in a Series F round of equity and debt financing, bringing Health Catalyst's total value above the $1 billion mark. Investment firm OrbiMed led the round, with participation from previous investors Sequoia Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, Sands Capital Ventures, UPMC Enterprises, and Kaiser Permanente Ventures.
If the Health Catalyst name does not sound familiar, it is because the company has until recently exclusively concentrated on clinical and financial outcomes improvement in healthcare delivery, not life sciences.
"We're unknown in that space," admitted Elia Stupka, whom Health Catalyst hired in September to serve as senior vice president and chief analytics officer of the firm's fledgling life sciences business.
Stupka joined the company after serving as senior director of data science and bioinformatics at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and previously headed computational biology and genomics at drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim. Nearly two decades ago, he was a scientific programmer on the European Bioinformatics Institute team that developed the Ensembl genome browser.
Since being spun out of Intermountain Healthcare in 2008, Health Catalyst has built relationships with hundreds of hospitals and thousands of clinics in an effort to drive financial and clinical outcomes for populations, according to Stupka.
Notably, Allina Health in 2015 signed a 10-year, $108 million risk-based contract for Health Catalyst to take over the Minnesota health system's data warehousing, analytics, performance improvement technology and clinical knowledge operations — and all of those related employees. About 20 percent of the contract value is dependent on Allina showing better patient outcomes and lower costs.
Health Catalyst also has helped the Regenstrief Institute — an Indiana University-affiliated health IT research organization — commercialize its natural language processing technology.
Though Health Catalyst has not announced any clients yet for its new division, the company has previously built a biorepository for Intermountain and has done similar work supporting precision medicine at Dana-Farber.
As the company has grown, leadership surmised that Health Catalyst's data, analytics expertise, and client roster was "probably quite valuable to the life science industry," Stupka said. "There was a realization that the life sciences industry is also moving towards a much more outcome-based, outcome-driven approach to thinking about therapies," he explained.
"We want to leverage the provider network that trusts the data, the analytics to start working with the life science industry, and develop projects that can benefit patients that are related to the drugs that are in the pipeline for biotech and pharma," he explained.
Genomics and precision medicine are key components of this, though Health Catalyst has wider ambitions, since its database contains clinical and molecular information on more than 100 million patients.
"We certainly can stand up to similar companies that have decided to focus very narrowly on cancer precision medicine, but for us, it's just one part of the larger play," Stupka said. "Because of our broad span across the country, even for rare diseases, we usually have thousands of patients who are affected, and we can work with both life science companies and providers to see how to improve their lives and how to improve their diagnostic journey."
Health Catalyst has hired about a dozen new people to assist in life sciences technology development, but that is a drop in the bucket for an 800-person company. "I don't really need to reinvent the wheel," Stupka said. "We're certainly integrating heavily with the mothership."
One of the new hires is a product specialist with background in genomic and molecular medicine, according to Stupka. This person, Stupka said, will help the company add features to existing products that address molecular characterization and precision medicine.
Stupka discussed the importance of pharmacogenomics in precision medicine, from the perspectives of both drug companies and care providers.
"As drug development is becoming more and more sophisticated with gene therapy, cell therapies, and all sorts of interesting new approaches, there is a much more stark distinction between a patient that benefits and a patient that has a deep side effect," he noted. "We're able to use a lot of data to understand that there could be a subset of patients that can really benefit and there are patients that should avoid taking the drug."
Health Catalyst will be able to lean heavily on its flagship Data Operating System, or DOS, which is meant to pull together the most desirable features of data warehouses, clinical data repositories, and health information exchanges. Stupka said that Health Catalyst currently draws from nearly 300 unique data sources.
The company builds services and applications on top of the DOS, including one, Population Builder, that Stupka said is being adapted for the life sciences.
Population Builder allows users to dive into stores of deidentified data to search for populations with specific characteristics. "You start from a total patient population and say, 'I want to focus on the ones that have this clinical characteristic, this lab result, this molecular result,' and you see how your population changes," Stupka said.
In precision medicine, Stupka also wants to leverage Health Catalyst's Patient Safety Monitor, a suite of products launched in 2018 to pair predictive analytics with clinician review in an effort to identify potential adverse events before harm occurs. This suite of apps also runs on top of the DOS.
As with its healthcare technology, Health Catalyst wants to serve as a data hub for clients in life sciences.
"We really want our data and our technology to be an ecosystem where others can bring their innovation," Stupka said. He said that he is talking to "dozens" of startups that might be able to plug into the Health Catalyst DOS.
"We will certainly keep an eye on whether we need to build full-fledged, entire products, but at the moment I'm much more focused on partnering rather than building new things," Stupka said. However, the company has not yet announced any such partnerships in life sciences.
One area that Health Catalyst will be paying particularly close attention to is "real-world" data and evidence, which Stupka said is the buzzword for 2019 in health analytics.
"I like to think about how you go from the data and the insights into actionable change that you can implement, monitor, measure, and scale up across hundreds of hospitals rather than just leave it as kind of like a fun, interesting insight, but then do nothing about it," Stupka said.
Indeed, the pharma companies Health Catalyst will encounter in the life sciences are looking for more than just academic exercises.
"We can help drug development and drug deployment in a way that is more outcome-driven and more intelligent," Stupka said. "It requires the clinical data, the more biological data like genomics and imaging, but it really requires someone to bring it together into one place so that you can start driving insights."
In addition to helping pharma and biotech companies home in on their targets, Health Catalyst hopes to help in development of new medical and diagnostic devices, as well as digital therapeutics, according to Stupka, though he declined to offer specifics on how the firm would do this.
"We want to connect the needs of the life science industry with data and tech-enabled consulting services with the providers that have all of the knowledge and expertise. It's kind of being that in-between that can help both sides improve outcomes for patients," Stupka said.