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Digital Health Startup Focuses on Diabetes Prevention


Posted by Brian Buntz on December 11, 2012

By 2050, an estimated 48 million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, according to the CDC. The disease is already an epidemic, affecting more than 25.8 million in the United States. UnitedHealth Group has predicted that, unless the growth rate slows, more than half of the U.S. population will either have prediabetes or diabetes by 2020.

The idea behind the Omada Health program was conceived in IDEO's Medical Products division in Palo Alto, CA.  

 

The program draws inspiration from from the Diabetes Prevention Program as well as the Quantified Self movement.

 
The employees of the Omada Health stand outside of the company's office in San Francisco. 

On the bright side for those who are prediabetic, type-2 diabetes has been shown to be preventable or its onset delayed. Consider the NIH-sponsored multicenter study known as the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) that demonstrated that a comprehensive behavioral weight-loss program was more effective in treating prediabetes than drug therapy

Inspired by the DPP, a digital-health startup known as Omada Health has unveiled its first product offering—an online diabetes prevention platform for the general public. Known as Prevent, the interactive program offers users personalized coaching and enables them to communicate with other participants. It also offers users digital tracking tools—a wireless scale and pedometer, to help them set goals and stay on track with them.

In a recent 230-person study organized by the startup, participants lost an average of 13.7 pounds (or 6.4% of their bodyweight) after 16 weeks. In the DPP, a similar percentage of weight loss in conjunction with other lifestyle changes proved effective in preventing or delaying the onset of type-2 diabetes. “It’s not like you have to skinny down to your beach body from when you were 23. You just need to make some basic changes and lose about 7% or so of your body weight and work to keep that off and you'll have a good shot at not going on to get type-2,” says Sean Duffy, who cofounded the company with Adrian James.

The idea of the program was hatched at IDEO's Medical Products division in Palo Alto in 2011, where the Duffy and James were employed. Dennis Boyle, a co-founder of IDEO, had set aside a budget to explore business and product opportunities in the chronic disease prevention space. Omada Health grew out of that exploration. 

Inspired by the Diabetes Prevention Program, the two founders ultimately decided to build an online platform based on the DPP designed to help the millions of people with prediabetes. They then decided to found a company around their idea and were accepted into Rock Health’s first class of startups. In late 2011, they had raised more than $800,000 in seed funding.

As diabetes is notoriously expensive to treat, which heightens the needs for systems that can save money. “If you can help somebody with prediabetes not go on to get type-2 diabetes at about the same rate as the original DPP, it actually saves the health system money. If you look at therapeutics and medical interventions, it is really only something like 10% fall in that category,” he adds. “It is very tough to convincingly show ROI in areas of prevention but, because diabetes costs are so high, helping people with prediabetes makes sense.”

The startup has a bit of a mix in terms of its initial customer base. “On the B2B side, our customers are primarily going to be providers who carry risk and self-insured employers who are already paying for diabetes prevention,” he says. “Obviously, on the direct to consumer side, you can self pay. Our dream would be for this to really be covered by people who wouldn’t be able to cover it on their own. We think there is a possibility of that happening,” he says, pointing to a Senate bill introduced by Al Franken that would have Medicare reimburse for lifestyle programs based on the DPP. “If we run a peer reviewed trial that shows that our results are equivalent or better than the DPP, we feel like we have a shot at that.” 

Brian Buntz is the editor-at-large at UBM Canon's medical group. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz 


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