MicroHealth, a mobile health startup in Y Combinator’s current class, is launching today to help patients take control of their chronic illnesses.
The company was started by Spanish brothers Dr. Marc Lara and Miguel Lara in 2011, who previously spent 10 years researching digital health and holding clinical trials at Columbia University Medical Center.
Through a disease management and doctor communication platform, MicroHealth is attempting to crowdsource the management of rare, chronic conditions, starting with hemophilia.
Patients input their symptoms and medication intake into MicroHealth, which scans prescription labels and prompts them with text messages to enter periodic updates. The updates are shared with the patient’s doctor who can use the data to regulate dosage or recommend a different type of medication, and family, especially when the patient is a child.
This is especially useful for people who suffer from hemophilia, a condition where the body is not able to produce the protein that makes blood coagulate. If a patient with hemophilia gets a cut, he won’t stop bleeding until he intravenously injects enough of this protein.
And treatment is incredibly expensive — around $300,000 per patient per year, Miguel says.
“Usually patients will infuse all of the time so they don’t get spontaneous bleeds,” says Dr. Lara. “But two things happen in the real world: they don’t take the medication as they should, or they have a metabolism that’s not the average.”
The doses of protein that patients are prescribed, Dr. Lara explains, are based on the average person’s metabolism. Think of it like alcohol consumption: two people who drink the same amount are likely to have slightly different reactions, and it’s difficult to predict exactly how someone will react ahead of time.
Currently, 10 percent of hemophilia patients in the U.S. (nearly 3,000 people) are using MicroHealth, and Dr. Lara says they’ve seen a 40 percent average reduction in bleeds by properly managing their factor intake.
“The worst thing would be a bleed in the head, but if there’s a bleed in the joints, a patient can be disabled and it’s all very painful,” says Dr. Lara. “We see patterns: some patients are bleeding a lot less with certain medications than others, and right now doctors don’t know that.”
By simply prompting patients to log the exact amount of medication that they’re injecting, and how often they’re getting bleeds, doctors can personalize treatment to match the metabolism and the daily activity of each patient.
Doctors can also request pictures and additional information from patients, who often live hundreds of miles from hemophilia treatment centers, and set up alerts to be notified if a patient stops logging his medication intake.
Eventually, with a broader dataset of medication intake and results, MicroHealth will be able to advise patients on more effective courses of treatment or detect outliers, which will inform the drug discovery process.
And hemophilia is just the first chronic disease that the company will tackle. The team has already started working with rheumatoid arthritis patients, and plan to launch versions of the app for multiple sclerosis and high cholesterol patients in the future.
“Imagine a patient has cancer, and only so much time to live, so choosing the right medication is saving his life,” Miguel says. “By analyzing data at a macro level, we’re going to be able to tell what works and what doesn’t work.”