CHICAGO – With two recent partnerships, Seqster PDM is trying to broaden its reach by offering what CEO Ardy Arianpour billed as "the operating system for digital health."
This month, the San Diego-based company announced a deal with biopharmaceutical services and contract research firm United BioSource to support patient engagement in decentralized clinical trials. That follows last month's announcement that the firm had joined with the National Pancreas Foundation to create a registry of patients with pancreatic disease.
Seqster collects individuals' health data from wearables, consumer genetic tests, electronic health records, and social determinants of health to create regularly updated longitudinal health records. With the two latest announcements, the firm now has three distinct use cases for its platform, namely pharma, CROs, and registries, though it has broader ambitions.
Payors and providers represent additional use cases for the Seqster platform. In October, the company announced that it would make its technology available through the online marketplace of artificial intelligence-based healthcare automation startup Olive, which works with both health systems and insurance companies. Seqster did not offer any data on uptake of its technology via Olive, though.
The National Pancreas Foundation said that the Seqster platform will make it easier for researchers to analyze, visualize, and query data from patients with pancreatic conditions. Patient registries have grown in popularity in recent years, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Arianpour said that the NPF deal illustrates how Seqster is adaptable for registries.
The UBC partnership represents another outgrowth of the pandemic, which pushed research organizations to run more decentralized studies. That format, according to Arianpour, can only be efficient with an operating system like Seqster to connect people and data.
Blue Bell, Pennsylvania-based UBC conducts late-stage research, particularly observational studies. Aaron Berger, the firm's executive director for real-world evidence, said that UBC chose Seqster to help acquire patient medical and genomic records for studies his company conducts on behalf of pharma and biotech clients.
Berger said that when putting together studies and registries, UBC wants to build longitudinal patient health records from multiple care providers, laboratories, pharmacies, and other sources. The process has historically required a lot of manual labor.
Seqster automates that process, also incorporating wearable devices and patient-entered data to create what UBC calls a patient-mediated or patient-facilitated medical record. "That really kind of revolutionizes the way we can design studies because we don't always have to rely upon a patient's healthcare provider to enter the data," Berger said.
The longitudinal nature of the records is particularly helpful for postmarket research and safety surveillance, he said.
"We're trying to find the best way to efficiently collect those patients' medical records, and Seqster helps us do that," Berger said. "Bringing that data into one harmonized, curated longitudinal record, that's what's really important to us."
UBC expects its first study under the Seqster partnership to launch in the next two months, though Berger said that one will not involve any genomic data. "But for other studies where we want to go … [the goal] is absolutely to leverage the ability to see genetic data and find hard-to-find populations for both observational or interventional research for trials," he noted.
Patients will always have control over who gets to see their data, Berger said. Indeed, the PDM in Seqster's name stands for "Patient Data Management."
Arianpour said that the Seqster platform enables both patient engagement and interoperability. "Collaboration is the key," he said, noting that the company's motto is "Seek Health Data."
Seqster is both the company name and the name of the platform, though the firm usually offers its technology as a white label that customers can add their branding to. For example, the National Pancreas Foundation's registry carries the NPF name and a note that it is "powered by Seqster."
Arianpour, a former senior executive at Ambry Genetics before Konica Minolta bought Ambry for $1 billion and then chief strategy officer at Pathway Genomics, started Seqster in 2016 with $1 million of his own money. The company emerged from stealth mode in 2018 by announcing that it would help aggregate data for a Boston University study on traumatic brain injury.
The company also had an early focus on pharma, as Takeda Pharmaceutical was one if its first major clients.
Seqster later raised $4 million in seed funding and landed an undisclosed investment from Takeda in 2020 before closing a $12 million Series A round less than a year ago. OmniHealth Holdings led the Series A, with participation from Takeda Digital Ventures and Anne Wojcicki, founder and CEO of 23andMe.
Through a series of mergers, OmniHealth has come under the UnitedHealth Group umbrella, giving Seqster an investor group with ties to a payor, consumer genomics, and pharmaceuticals. "Investors from our Series A are a clear example of the trajectory of the company," Arianpour said.
Arianpour said that a Series B round "is definitely in the cards if we need it" but did not elaborate. He also would not comment on whether privately held Seqster is profitable or on track to become profitable soon.
Arianpour said Wojcicki, who knew him from his time at Ambry, approached Seqster because she was interested in merging genomic and phenotypic data to build longitudinal health records. While 23andMe itself is not an investor in Seqster, that consumer genetic testing heavyweight has expressed a desire to get more involved in primary care, as evidenced by its $400 million acquisition of telehealth and pharmacy firm Lemonaid Health late last year.
Arianpour called the Lemonaid Health purchase a "great move" for 23andMe, in no small part because it fits with Seqster's vision of data and technology aggregation.
"Genomics itself has no value, but genomics has power if you combine it with telemedicine and the medical record and social determinants of health," he said. "I truly believe health data is medicine and it saves lives," Arianpour said.
Seqster set on its current business track in 2018 when Bill Gates invited Arianpour to present the company's technology at a private meeting. According to Arianpour, Gates was interested in how Seqster might help Alzheimer's disease patients because his father, William Gates Sr., was suffering from that condition; the elder Gates died in 2020. Two of Arianpour's grandparents also died after struggles with Alzheimer's.
Gates, who was still on the board of Microsoft at the time but had no full-time role there, told Arianpour that Seqster's technology was superior to Microsoft's HealthVault, a widely hyped, consumer-centric personal health record that never caught on with the public. Gates recommended that Seqster focus on enterprise markets rather than consumers since so many DTC health data technologies have failed.
"He gets all the credit for telling me," Arianpour said. "To this day, he gave me the best business advice" by steering Seqster away from the direct-to-consumer market.
Arianpour said that others like Microsoft and Google, which introduced an ill-fated consumer health platform in 2008, failed in this arena partly because the timing between the idea and user demand was wrong. He said that the timing between Seqster's development and market interest is "impeccable" now.
In the near future, Arianpour believes Seqster will be taking on new use cases in pharma research, such as by being the "digital binder" for patients with rare diseases.
"If we take a step back and look at healthcare in general, imagine how much money we can save the healthcare ecosystem with our platform and technology for not just enterprises, but people and that patient experience," Arianpour said. "We're spending a lot of time working with thousands of patients to tell us how we should build the platform."
By positioning its software as an operating system-type of platform, Seqster expects that incremental improvements for one customer will improve the technology for all users. The diversity of the company's user base means that Seqster is getting feedback from researchers and patients alike.