Typically, when pharmaceutical companies turn to medtech developers for support, they’re in the market to boost their drug discovery and development capabilities with the help of a shiny new artificial intelligence tool or to deploy a smartphone app to monitor the effects of an already available drug.
But the software developer currently making big waves across Big Pharma is focused on intervening much earlier in the treatment process—at the very beginning, in fact, before treatment has even begun.
In the last month alone, Ada Health joined forces with Novartis and Bayer. Now, the Berlin-based startup has unveiled a handful of additional partnerships in the pharmaceutical realm with Takeda, Alnylam and Sanofi Genzyme.
With each of these partners—as well as with its existing pharma collaborators including Pfizer and Novartis—Ada is working to raise awareness about rare and difficult-to-diagnose diseases, speed up diagnoses of these conditions and direct people toward more effective treatments.
As CEO Daniel Nathrath explained in an interview with Fierce Medtech, those efforts are hugely beneficial not only to patients who might normally have to wait anywhere from several months to decades to find out the cause of their mysterious symptoms and finally begin treatment but also to the makers of those treatments, who rack up more “foregone revenue” the longer it takes to diagnose a condition.
“If someone’s unfortunate enough to be affected by a rare disease, on average, it takes about seven years to get to the correct diagnosis,” Nathrath said. “If you have a patient who goes undiagnosed, it’s obviously bad for the patient, but life sciences companies also have an interest in these patients getting on the right therapy sooner rather than later.”
And the partnerships go both ways, Nathrath said, with the pharmaceutical companies contributing their own research to help strengthen Ada’s disease models.
Ada’s work with Takeda, for example, initially zeroed in on improving the identification and diagnosis of gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. That partnership has since been expanded to improve on Ada’s mental health models, with a focus on attention deficit disorders in both children and adults.
Meanwhile, Ada’s team-up with Alnylam will revolve around acute hepatic porphyria, a group of rare disorders that cause severe chronic pain and neurological attacks such as seizures and hallucinations. With Sanofi Genzyme, it’ll help identify lysosomal storage disorders, in which enzyme deficiencies cause a buildup of toxic materials in cells throughout the body.
All of these projects will capitalize on Ada’s AI software. The company’s platform uses a continuously updated algorithm that has been trained on a vast database of millions of clinical observations to determine the cause of sudden symptoms—like a much more powerful version of the usual WebMD symptom checker.
Ada’s core product is a smartphone app that guides users through a questionnaire about health issues they’re experiencing. The app begins by asking about the user’s primary symptoms, then moves through a series of questions about the length and severity of each symptom and about any potentially related symptoms, which the algorithm uses to differentiate between medical conditions that may present with similar physical effects.
Though the app cannot issue an official diagnosis, it does present a list of possible causes for the self-reported symptoms, then directs users to nearby physicians and specialists to receive a formal diagnosis and treatment.
So far, Ada’s platform has been used by more than 11 million people around the world to assess nearly 24 million cases. With all those data—and plenty more to come—Ada’s pharma partnerships could one day grow to take on another daunting task: matching patients to clinical trials for new therapies.
“If you look at clinical trials, a lot of them start late because they can’t find enough people who match the inclusion and exclusion criteria. However, when you look at Ada, it’s quite detailed. People really have a dialogue with Ada: They tell Ada about their preexisting conditions, about their risk factors, and answer 25 to 30 questions,” Nathrath said.
And while all of that information would already hugely improve clinical trial recruitment, Ada isn’t stopping there.
“We’re expanding further toward becoming a more holistic personal operating system for health,” Nathrath said. “What that means is we won’t only look at symptoms, but we’re integrating diagnostics—direct-to-consumer lab tests and even full genome sequencing—and we’re also integrating sensors and wearables data.”
Ultimately, he explained, Ada’s platform will result in more accurate and data-rich patient profiles, helping patients, physicians and life sciences companies alike “make sense of all these different sources of health data.”
Last month, Ada’s platform received a major vote of confidence in the form of a $90 million funding round. The series B was led by Leaps by Bayer, and the Big Pharma also noted at the time that a long-term strategic partnership with the software developer is already in the works.
The new financing arrived shortly after Ada expanded its existing collaboration with Novartis. Under their new agreement, Novartis will add Ada’s diagnostic assessments to its online resource hubs for several rare and immunological diseases including axial spondyloarthritis, psoriatic arthritis and familial Mediterranean fever.
These and Ada’s other new pharmaceutical partnerships are only the tip of the iceberg for the company, which has spent the last eight months scooping up about a dozen total collaborators from all across the healthcare spectrum and around the world.
Among these new partners are a pair of insurance companies—namely, French service provider Santéclair and Egypt’s AXA One Health—and a handful of health systems, including Northern California-based Sutter Health.