Pharma giant Boehringer Ingelheim backs startup program Rock Health

Boehringer Ingelheim has become a strategic partner of the digital health startup accelerator Rock Health, an indication of the growing interest of pharma companies in emerging information technologies. The endorsement comes as San Francisco-based Rock Health announces a new class of 11 startups for its accelerator program, which provides access to guidance, financing and experts to help the young operations succeed.

The Ingelheim, Germany-based drugmaker follows the biotech giant Genentech, a unit of Roche ($RHHBY) based in South San Francisco, as a corporate supporter of Rock Health. Today the startup accelerator also announced that Alexandria Real Estate Equities, a major holder of biotech buildings, and the PR firm Ogilvy have joined the ranks of its partners. While startups from Rock Health typically focus on healthcare IT products, at least several outfits from the group's latest crop have technologies relevant to drug research.   

CRIXlabs, for example, got into the competitive Rock Health program with software for de-risking drug candidates early in the research process. Its NuSilico software tackles the issue of nailing down the biodistribution and half-life of a drug candidate, according to its website. David Weinstein, a former executive of the pharma group Sandoz, is an advisor of CRIXlabs. Also, Apapsis, another new Rock Health startup, is "a research platform and marketplace for scientific and statistical computing," according to the program.

The startup Cancer IQ has come to Rock Health from Chicago with web-based software for harnessing cancer-related Big Data from disparate sources for secondary research. The company has taken on the challenge of corralling the massive amounts of data from cancer studies that live in separate systems. Big Pharma companies and other life sciences researchers have plenty of experience dealing with this problem.

Startup accelerators such as Rock Health have become hotbeds of innovative new companies in tech and life sciences. The fast-paced and intensive programs work particularly well for software startups, which can launch with customers much faster and with way less money than a therapeutics upstart. More young biotech IT companies have participated in the programs, including Comprehend Systems, a provider of clinical data analytics software which completed the model startup program at Y Combinator.

For software companies targeting drugmakers, it's typically way more difficult to get customers than to create products. Pharma giants have been historically slow adopters of new IT, and that is a challenge that these accelerator programs could help new companies address.

- check out the announcement on Rock Health's blog
- get the full list of companies from GigaOm's article