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Health Influencers

Haas alumni accelerate healthcare’s future

For 200 years, the stethoscope has been the workhorse of physical exams. But a stethoscope is only as good as the human ear listening to it. How could it be adapted for the digital age? wondered Jason Bellet, BS 14, and two Berkeley friends: Connor Landgraf, BS 13, MEng 14 (bioengineering), and Tyler Crouch, BS 14 (mechanical engineering).

In 2013, the trio co-founded Eko Devices and, with support from Berkeley’s SkyDeck Accelerator Program, developed a $349 stethoscope that can amplify heart and lung sounds 40 times better than its analog cousin. Connected software generates sound waveforms and electrocardiograms that allow some 80,000 clinicians to “see what they hear” and share recordings as needed. Last fall, the Oakland-based company, with 115 employees, closed on $65 million in Series C funding and partnered with AstraZeneca to develop new screening tools.

Jason Bellet, BS 14, Co-Founder, Eko Devices

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer worldwide, and there are millions of people with undiagnosed cardiac problems that can now be detected with greater accuracy in 45 seconds during a routine checkup,” says Bellet (shown right). Early last year, the FDA cleared Eko’s algorithm for detecting heart murmurs and atrial fibrillation; a separate algorithm received an FDA emergency use authorization to help clinicians detect a weak heart pump in COVID-19 patients, an especially high-risk group.

Today, Eko is more than a device maker. It’s a software and data-science company aiming to develop artificial intelligence-powered screening tools that can detect a range of health conditions in 60 seconds during a routine checkup, says Bellet. His team is also building a virtual primary care platform.

Haas community healthcare innovations like Eko are booming. From startups to Fortune 500 companies, venture capital firms to nonprofits, alumni are leading monumental shifts in healthcare—often backed by huge sums of money. Some entrepreneurs, like Bellet, are focused on improving preventative care and disease diagnosis or helping to develop new drugs and treatments. Others are working to streamline features of healthcare that often hinder innovation: payment models, organizational structures, and regulations. In interviews, Haas alumni reveal a shared mission: to make medical care—a $3.8 trillion business in the U.S. in 2019, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services—more affordable, accessible, and scalable.

Using ‘real-world’ data

In Ohio’s Montgomery County, death rates from opioid overdoses have been among the nation’s highest and are surging anew amid the pandemic. It’s also the test site for an ambitious effort by Alphabet-owned Verily Life Sciences to reinvent addiction treatment and recovery. Called OneFifteen—named for the country’s average daily opioid death rate of 115 people in 2017—it features state-of-the-art medical and residential facilities on a 4.5-acre campus in Dayton.

Rebecca Messing Haigler, MBA-MPH 09, Health Economics Lead, Verily
Rebecca Messing Haigler, MBA-MPH 09

Treating substance abuse, with its sky-high relapse rates, is difficult for many reasons, says Rebecca Messing Haigler, MBA/MPH 09, Verily’s health economics lead and recently announced chief development officer of portfolio company Onduo. Doctors lack high-quality information about how different patients respond to various treatments, and little or no coordination exists among clinicians, communities, and families. Payment models are also broken, she says. Patients don’t receive the comprehensive care they need in part because insurers typically pay for services up front—not based on outcomes.

OneFifteen’s model, which Messing Haigler helped design, relies on a comprehensive care continuum powered by a technology infrastructure that enables better data collection throughout the treatment and recovery process, from data sources including state and county programs, mobile apps, family surveys, employer updates, and the criminal justice system, among others.

“When patients fall off the radar, we can find out what happened from families or the community or if they showed up for work from employers,” says Messing Haigler. This could lead to improvements in treatment and at a faster rate.

Messing Haigler is describing a relatively new phenomenon in healthcare known as “real-world” data. The term essentially refers to the multitude of health-related information generated outside of a doctor’s office. Think voluntary user health surveys, fitness trackers—even insurance claims. Verily’s mission is to combine this data (with member consent and rigorous privacy policies) with machine learning to better prevent, detect, and manage diseases. For Messing Haigler, it also means developing new economic models, including payment structures based on successful patient outcomes.

When patients fall off the radar, we can find out what happened from families or the community or if they showed up for work from employers.

Real-world data is a byproduct of the booming digital health market. Seed fund Rock Health estimates that venture capitalists poured a record $14 billion last year into U.S. digital health companies, a 72% jump from the previous peak in 2018. McKinsey & Company valued the global digital health market at $350 billion in 2019—before the pandemic.

Terrell Baptiste, MBA 20, Senior Manager, Gilead SciencesTerrell Baptiste, MBA 20 (shown right), thinks about real-world data and its promise in another context: clinical drug trials. Last year, he joined Gilead Sciences as a senior manager to identify ways the pharmaceutical company can use information from nontraditional sources to speed the development and approval of new cancer drugs. A 2016 federal law mandated that the FDA incorporate data from outside traditional clinical trials into its approval process for pre-market pharmaceuticals. It’s early days for the FDA-developed framework for using real-world data, but the impact will be revolutionary: Trials can take eight years or more to conduct and are limited in scope because they depend on volunteers—who are often white, educated, and retired.

With the combination of real-world data and digital health technologies, such as smartphones, clinical-trial volunteers could participate from home, allowing for more frequent monitoring of a possible treatment and thus faster discoveries. FDA regulators could also monitor a drug’s effects over a longer period of time.

For Baptiste, using real-world data in clinical trials has another crucial advantage. Marginalized paitients—often an afterthought in healthcare generally, and drug development specifically—can participate in studies and benefit from new ways of working that have arisen from the pandemic.

“Clinical trials measure effectiveness at a specific point in time and for a patient population who may not be the only ones actually benefiting from it,” says Baptiste, whose work includes volunteer research on behalf of sickle cell disease patients, the majority of whom are African American. “Real-world evidence attempts to fill the large gaps in knowledge about who could benefit from a new treatment. I’m hopeful this will help usher in more effective, realistic, and diverse ways to conduct clinical trial research.”

Closing gaps in care

Lauren Dugard Thomas, MBA-MPH 17, Senior Manager, Enterprise Innovation, Blue Shield of CaliforniaLauren Dugard Thomas, MBA/MPH 17 (shown left), works to address health inequities by improving the innovation process itself. At Blue Shield of California, where she’s a senior manager in enterprise innovation, she empowers all employees to generate entrepreneurial solutions, like with internal design challenges à la Shark Tank. She also ensures that underserved populations are factored into every business decision, big or small.

Dugard Thomas says that for companies committed to reducing inequities, “the first step is educating internal decision makers about disparities and making it clear that maintaining the status quo will only widen the gaps.”

Since the increase in national awareness of racial injustice last summer, she’s seen a spike in LinkedIn job listings for experts in social determinants of health. Even so, Dugard Thomas says real change goes beyond budgets and head counts.

“It’s about the mindset, expectations, and practices of leaders at all levels of the organization,” she says. “Do you want to include more Black and brown individuals in program design? Great. How are you incentivizing that from a leadership standpoint?”

Supercharging blood tests

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., yet one-third of adults age 50 to 75 don’t get screened, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Newer tests using stool samples collected at home haven’t changed this.

Atul Sharan, MBA 91, Owner, CellMax Life
Atul Sharan, MBA 91

Atul Sharan, MBA 91, has a solution. His company, CellMax Life, has developed what he says is the first blood test for preventive screening for colon cancer—one that, according to a recent study conducted at Stanford’s Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, successfully detects pre-cancerous polyps. It works by searching for extremely rare abnormal dysplastic epithelial cells and tiny traces of DNA that tumors shed. Other tests based on the company’s technology are already sold in Asia. CellMax plans to seek FDA approval before introducing the screening to the U.S. next year.

I’m hopeful [real-world evidence methods] will help usher in more effective, realistic, and diverse ways to conduct clinical trial research.

“The only real cure for cancer is early detection,” says Sharan, who started CellMax Life nearly a decade ago after his mother was diagnosed with late-stage, untreatable cancer and his wife with a malignant breast tumor shortly after being cleared by a negative mammogram. His company, which has raised more than $50 million, is part of a growing market for non-invasive “liquid biopsies” that use advanced genomic sequencing and machine learning to identify diseases and potentially tailor treatments to individuals. Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, for example, poured over $100 million into liquid-biopsy company Grail, which sold last year for $8 billion.

Reinventing autism care

One in 54 children in the U.S. were diagnosed with autism in 2016, according to the CDC. Twenty years ago, it was just one in 150. No surprise, then, that waitlists for therapy can run up to six months.

Soaring demand for autism care isn’t the only problem, says Jia Jia Ye, MBA/MPH 11. Kids often need multiple forms of therapy—behavioral, speech, and physical—for up to 30 hours a week. Specialists often work independently, making it time-consuming and frustrating for parents to coordinate care and navigate labyrinthine insurance rules.

Jia Jia Ye, MBA-MPH 11, Co-Founder, Springtide Child Development
Jia Jia Ye, MBA-MPH 11. Photo: Chris Sorensen.

Ye’s groundbreaking solution is to combine expertise and payments at a single locale. A year ago, she co-founded Springtide Child Development with $18 million in Series A funding. Now with three clinics—two in Connecticut and one opening this summer in Massachusetts—the startup employs specialists from across disciplines, coordinates appointments, and handles insurance claims. Ye says consolidation enables an unprecedented degree of standardization in care.

Just as important: Ye and her team can quantify patient progress, which smaller operations can’t do for lack of money and data. “When you take an interdisciplinary approach to autism treatment, you see rapid improvement in kids’ progress,” says Ye. “And you can show it through consistent outcome metrics at all levels of care.”

Advancing women’s health

For Amy Fan, MBA/MPH 19, improving care is about making birth control more accessible and affordable for U.S. women—especially the 60% who are on Medicaid, uninsured, or underinsured—to get birth control. She co-founded Twentyeight Health in late 2018 to offer online reproductive services.

When you take an inter-disciplinary approach to autism treatment, you see rapid improvement in kids’ progress.

Her model is straightforward: Women complete an evaluation with a board-certified physician via a combination of asynchronous and live telemedicine—including phone and direct message—for a prescription for birth control pills, rings, patches, or shots. A monthly supply of pills starts at $18; for insured women, only co-pay fees (typically $0) apply. Twentyeight Health is the only online reproductive platform focused on underserved women, and it’s often the only player accepting Medicaid in the states where it’s active. It also partners with Bedsider’s Contraceptive Access Fund to provide a year of free birth control for uninsured women.

Amy Fan, MBA-MPH 19, Co-Founder, Twentyeight Health

Twentyeight Health’s expansion has been gradual as the company navigates state-by-state Medicaid rules, but today, the company operates in nine states, including New York, North Carolina, and Florida. Last fall, the startup landed $5.1 million in seed funding.

“So much of healthcare is focused on people with a high ability to pay,” says Fan (shown right). “For low-income patients, and for women of color especially, we put so many burdens on them without trying to understand how we can make it easier for them to access healthcare.”

Powering innovation

Fan attributes much of Twentyeight Health’s success to networks of healthcare insiders—within Haas and beyond—who have offered advice and opened doors.

Juan José Orellana, BS 95, Strategy ConsultantThey include Juan José Orellana, BS 95 (shown left), a Los Angeles-based strategy consultant who’s held senior roles within startups and the Fortune 200 company Molina Healthcare. He helped Fan explore the potential of expanding Twentyeight Health through partnerships with payers and providers.

“To innovate in healthcare, you need to be part of an ecosystem,” Orellana says. “You need to be able to tap into a value network that can facilitate collaboration, accelerate learning, and provide matchmaking for your organization’s needs and offerings.”

indu subaiya, MBA 06, President, Catalyst @ Health 2.0Indu Subaiya, MBA 06 (shown right), has made a career out of fostering ecosystems in healthcare. First as a co-founder of Health 2.0 and now as president of Catalyst @ Health 2.0, she’s organized conferences, open-innovation challenges, and pilot programs to introduce new ideas to deep-pocketed stakeholders. Too often, she says, healthcare entrepreneurs can’t get the traction to scale up. “My primary mission is to introduce groundbreaking technology to the world,” she says.

In the last 15 years, Subaiya’s conference platform has debuted hundreds of startups, including Teladoc, a big provider of telehealth services, and Livongo Health, which helps patients manage diseases digitally. Last year, Teladoc bought Livongo for $18.5 billion. She and her team have also coordinated more than 90 contests, with $9 million in total prize money.

One competition, worth $100,000, drew scientists from 18 countries in a race to build a better COVID outbreak prediction model using government data and millions of Facebook user surveys tracking virus symptoms. The CDC has incorporated the winning model, developed by a Georgia Tech team, into its pandemic forecasting—and found it to be among the top five most accurate prediction tools. “That’s a phenomenal example of open innovation,” says Subaiya.

Innovation, accessibility, scaling up—just as in medicine, different balms can help to heal our healthcare system. And the Berkeley Haas community is shaping countless paths to greater wellness for everyone.

Haas Healthcare Conference to explore COVID-19 response, racial equity

Innovative COVID-19 testing methods, digital options for mental health treatment, and racial equity challenges in healthcare are among the topics to be explored during the 2021 Haas Healthcare Association Conference.

With a theme of “Finding New Breath: Emerging Stronger Through Health Crises,” the 14th Annual Haas Healthcare Association Conference will be held online from Feb. 22-24. The conference, typically held at UCSF Mission Bay on a Friday, will span three half-days.

Corrine Marquardt, MBA/MPH 21
Corrine Marquardt, MBA/MPH 21, co-chair of the 2021 Haas Healthcare Association Conference

This year’s theme is a nod to the many challenges that have impacted breathing over the past year—from the COVID-19 pandemic to rampant wildfires, said conference co-chair Corrine Marquardt, MBA/MPH 21. “2020 was so hard, with many challenges focused around mental and physical health, so we wanted this year to be about resilience and coming through stronger than we were pre-crises,” she said. “We also wanted to address how tech and innovation can help get us through our health challenges.”

Each day will focus on a different theme, including health and environmental equity, (day one) COVID-19 & pandemic response, (day two) and health technology & innovation (day three). A career networking night is planned on Monday, Feb. 22, from 4-5 pm.

“We have a lot of ground to cover over three days and we’ve brought together some of the brightest minds in this space to reflect on everything from racial injustice in healthcare to vaccine development and distribution challenges,” said conference co-chair Ben Delikat, MBA/MPH 21.

Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison and Michael Lu, Dean of UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, will welcome attendees to the conference, which includes many guests from across the UC Berkeley campus.

We wanted this year to be about resilience and coming through stronger than we were pre-crises. —Corrine Marquardt.

Ben Delikat
Ben Delikat, co-chair of the Haas Healthcare Association Conference

Monday’s line-up includes Dr. Alice Chen, Chief Medical Officer for Covered California, as well as two panels on health equity, one focused on health equity implications of COVID-19 and the other focused on addressing social determinants of health through payers and providers.

Tuesday session highlights include a climate-change focused conversation with Kristine Belesova, deputy director of the Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health at the London School of Hygiene, along with a COVID-19-focused conversation with Niranjan Bose, managing director of Health & Life Sciences Strategy at Gates Ventures.

Dr. Guy Nicolette, assistant vice chancellor, University Health Services (UHS) of UC Berkeley will join Dr. Anna Harte, UHS Medical Director of UC Berkeley, for a panel discussion with Othman Laraki CEO of genetic test company Color Genomics about public/private partnerships in addressing COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Alice Raia of KP Digital and Kim MacPherson, executive director of Health Management at Haas, will discuss recent digital transformation trends in health systems. The day also includes a conversation on how technology has enabled global health endeavors through COVID-19, as well as a panel on how technology solutions are being used to address mental health. Mariya Filipova, co-founder of the XPRIZE Pandemic Alliance and Anthem’s former vice president of innovation, will close the conference in conversation with Marquardt.

Business leaders from organizations including Google, Jazz Ventures, Headspace, Accenture, Vida Health, and UCSF will participate.

The conference is open to the public. Tickets are available here.

Berkeley Haas team wins Mental Healthcare Tech Challenge 

Portraits of MBA students. Two women, two men.
A team of Berkeley Haas MBA students place first at the John E. Martin Healthcare Tech Challenge. From left to right, top to bottom: Zhuoran (Zia) Li, Zixuan Chen, Eugene Kim, and Chen Su, all EWMBA 23.

An AI-powered app aimed to help construction workers experiencing anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts netted a first place win at the first inaugural John E. Martin Healthcare Tech Challenge. The competition was held online Nov. 16-20.

The winning team, Team CLiKS, included Eugene Kim, Zhuoran Li, Zixuan Chen, and Chen Su, all EWMBA 23. The team competed against 11 other teams from top U.S. business schools, including Wharton, Harvard, Columbia, MIT Sloan, and Kellogg for $10,000 in prize money.

Another Haas team placed second, earning $4,000 in prize money for pitching a chatbot that could collect health data, such as sleep patterns and appetite, and recommend tele-health therapy and wellness ambassadors stationed at construction worksites. 

Portraits of two women and two men
A second Berkeley Haas team placed second at the John E. Martin Healthcare Challenge. From left to right, top to bottom: Vishalli Loomba, MD/MS 23; Doug Pollack, MBA/MPH 20; Ben Delikat, and Sophie Schonfeld, both MBA/MPH 21.

Team members included Sophie Schonfeld, Ben Delikat, both MBA/MPH 21; Doug Pollack, MBA/MPH 20; and Vishalli Loomba, MD/MS 23. 

The competition was organized by the Berkeley Haas Healthcare Association and the Berkeley Haas Tech Club, and sponsored by Google. 

For the competition, students were asked to come up with an innovative solution to address mental health issues in the construction industry, which reports some of the highest rates of depression and suicide.

Team CLiKS pitched a mental health app that addressed three critical factors: prevention, assessment, and intervention. Through this app, construction workers would have access to music, podcasts, mental health specialists, peer volunteers, and a community-based forum to seek emotional support. The app would also collect daily mental health data from users through notifications, wellness checks, and diary entries.

The team credited its success to interviewing and surveying more than 90 construction workers, powerful storytelling, and a personal commitment to helping construction workers with mental health issues–an issue that hits close to home for Chen, Kim, and Li. 

Chen, a civil engineer who’s worked in the construction industry, said one of her co-workers committed suicide. “The amount of work, the physical stress, and the financial instability that comes with the job pushes people to the edge.”

Kim, an Army veteran, said several soldiers he served with had committed suicide and Li, a music rehabilitation therapist, treats patients with severe mental health illnesses. 

Su said the cause was important to him and he wanted to leverage his AI and computer engineering skills to help.

The team also credited its success to their construction industry mentor Matt Schulte; Rebecca Portnoy, a professional faculty member who teaches an organizational culture course called Leading People; and James Sallee, an associate economics professor at UC Berkeley. 

“As a first-year Evening and Weekend MBA student without previous business knowledge, I was thankful to have taken a class with Prof. Sallee to guide my thinking and to tackle this mental health challenge from a health and business perspective,” Li said.

New Program Fast-Tracks Innovation

Joint degree prepares students to shake up healthcare

Series of six charts and diagrams tethered to a pill.Before Berkeley Haas’ dual-degree Biology+Business program even launched, junior Michelle Podlipsky attended a biotech seminar hosted by program planners and knew she’d found her calling.

“Biotech firms are trying to bring life-saving therapeutics to market, but they don’t necessarily know how to do that from the business side,” she says. “I want to help them commercialize new therapies—and clear the various regulatory hurdles necessary to do that.”

This fall, a generous donation from Berkeley alumnus Mark Robinson, BA 88 (history and political science), and his wife, Stephanie—part of a total gift of $10 million to support bio-entrepreneurship at Berkeley—has given the program a new name: the Robinson Life Sciences Business and Entrepreneurship Program.

Podlipsky, BA/BS 22, is part of the first cohort and will have the opportunity to engage in two summer internships (one each in business and science) and to take a capstone course senior year for which she’ll help a newly formed company evolve its nascent business.

The Robinsons’ gift will be used not only to encourage students to create much-needed biomedical technologies but also to create scholarships aimed at drawing more Black and Latinx students to the program. It will also establish a Biotechnology Entrepreneurship Center where early career scientists can fast-track technologies serving human health.

“One of our big goals is to create a loop of both entrepreneurship and giving back,” Mark Robinson says. “We want to create leaders who will go out into industry and make a difference by developing new medical devices, new therapies, new medicines that will change the course of human health.”

For junior Gary Liu, the joint degree program has helped him envision a career that will allow him to use the knowledge he gains to maximum positive effect.

“I came into college as premed,” he says. “But when I heard about this program, it struck me as a great combination of skills that would allow me to have even more impact than I would have as a physician.”