Bayer taps longtime partner Huma to build online risk prediction tool for heart disease

From the start, Bayer and Huma’s relationship has been a mutually beneficial one, with the Big Pharma contributing funding to Huma through its Leaps by Bayer VC arm and, in return, gaining access to the startup’s digital health technologies.

The latest expansion of their partnership has resulted in the debut of a new heart disease screening tool on the Bayer Aspirin website, the companies announced this week. The online assessment aims to help users determine the risk that they’ll develop cardiovascular disease within the next 10 years, then urges them to take those results to their healthcare providers to kick-start a preventive care regimen if needed. The companies said they’re hoping to reach at least 100 million people with the tool.

“Digital technology is a driver for health equity,” Huma CEO Dan Vahdat said in a statement sent to Fierce Medtech. “Imagine the impact we could make by reaching 100 million people across the U.S. who may be at risk of cardiovascular disease, making them aware of cardiovascular health, helping educate them and encouraging them to connect with their clinicians.”

The screening tool is powered by an algorithm that Huma developed using data from the UK Biobank, a digital compendium of medical data gathered since 2006 from around 500,000 participants between the ages of 40 and 69 in the U.K.

A pair of machine learning algorithms developed by Huma researchers were validated in a 2021 study. In it, the researchers described how they’d first trained the algorithms to predict heart disease risk from 608 medical variables, then narrowed that down to just 47 key indicators. The resulting algorithms both outperformed the standard Framingham Risk Score in predicting cardiovascular disease risks over 10 years.

Huma’s technology achieved that success even without including cholesterol levels, which, according to the researchers, adds to its usefulness as a screening tool that can be administered remotely, without requiring a blood test.

The resulting tool on Bayer’s website asks 15 questions—regarding demographics, lifestyle factors, healthcare usage and measurements like resting heart rate—interspersed with “heart smart” facts about cardiovascular disease. At the end, it calculates whether a user is at higher, average or lower risk of developing the disease in the next decade and offers tips for discussing the results with a doctor.

The online quiz is just one piece of a public awareness campaign Bayer is planning on launching across the U.S. to encourage people to screen regularly for heart disease and learn more about prevention tactics, according to this week’s release.

Bayer isn’t the only pharmaceutical giant working with a digital health company to improve disease screening. In 2021, Novartis turned to Ada Health—another recipient of Bayer’s wealth of venture capital—to add online risk assessments to the Big Pharma’s education hubs for certain rare and immunological diseases.

As with the Bayer-Huma team-up, medical chatbot maker Ada was tapped to develop artificial-intelligence-powered algorithms that could compare users’ reported symptoms to a large set of clinical data. In this case, Novartis asked Ada to focus specifically on certain diseases that are often confused for other conditions and can take many years to diagnose—if ever—therefore speeding up the time it takes to get patients on Novartis’ treatments for those diseases.