Tech has changed almost every aspect of our lives, from shopping to transportation. But despite the enormous amount of money Americans spend on healthcare, many treatments are decades old. In an onstage conversation with TechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr at Disrupt today, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers partner Beth Seidenberg said “healthcare is really the last industry to be disrupted.”
A former immunologist, Seidenberg served in executive roles at Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Merck before joining KPCB. Her biotech exits include Flexus Biosciences, which was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb earlier this year for $1.25 billion, Arresto Biosciences, Atara Biotherapeutics, Tesaro, and iPierian.
Healthcare may be the last industry to be transformed by technology, but Seidenberg says many new opportunities are emerging because of tools that give a better understanding of what happens in the human body at a cellular level. For example, the sequencing of the human genome means we now understand thousands of diseases that were once enigmas. Scientists armed with that knowledge can edit genomes and create new treatments for diseases like cancer.
“One of my dreams as a physician was to have such an impact on disease,” said Seidenberg. “I wasn’t sure if I’d see this in my lifetime and now I’m just imagining what else I’ll see.”
Another area in need of innovation is healthcare management. For example, many important files were trapped in outdated paper systems, but hospitals had to digitize records under the HITECH Act. As information is freed from silos, it can be analyzed and accessed more easily by patients, resulting in better care. Other companies, like Oscar Health and Clover focus on insurance, using big data, analytics, and population insight to change how policies and plans are created.
“We are trying to transform the entire way that healthcare is administered,” said Seidenberg.
Biotech is considered a specialized space to invest in, with investors traditionally from a banking or science background, but Seidenberg now sees more tech firms backing in companies. She believes that health companies shouldn’t be obsessed with obtaining unicorn status, but instead focus on going public.
One of my dreams as a physician was to have such an impact on disease. I wasn’t sure if I’d see this in my lifetime and now I’m just imagining what else I’ll see.
“I hope that instead of unicorns we have public companies that are billion dollar companies. We’re really excited about Teladoc and other companies that will go public, so the shift is from unicorns to calling them rainbows,” she said. “If you think about it, there’s a pot of gold at the end. It’s not just sitting there. It’s going public, it has liquidity.” Companies that go public and hit that billion dollar mark can be called “rainacorns,” Seidenberg added.
Seidenberg marks her 10th anniversary at KPCB this year. During that time, one of the biggest challenges the VC firm has faced was a gender discrimination lawsuit by former partner Ellen Pao. Though the case was decided in favor of KPCB in March, it’s still a hot topic.
When asked about current sentiment at the firm, Seidenberg said “We’re happy it’s over. The case is done and the way we’d love to look at it and we’re happy to talk about is that a lot of good came from this. There is a lot of good that comes from adversity. If you think about how we increased the conversation around diversity, within tech companies, [Silicon Valley] and the nation, it’s really been positive.”
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