Category Archives: Healthcare (for posts)

Ethan Batraski and Racquel Bracken Promoted to Partner

Todd Graham Joins with Focus on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure

For over 40 years, Venrock has been committed to diversified, early stage investing – supporting entrepreneurs who will run through walls to create new products and services, surmounting obstacles that most think impossible. The Venrock team consists of individuals with diverse backgrounds and passions, but all share a collaborative approach to investing and supporting companies with a performance driven, long-term view. Ethan Batraski, who invests in frontier tech and enterprise software, and Racquel Bracken, who invests in biotechnology and creates new companies on behalf of Venrock, reflect the firm’s unique approach. We are thrilled to announce that they have both been promoted to Partner.

Ethan joined Venrock’s technology team in 2017, after 15 years as a product executive, founder, and angel investor, with leadership positions at Facebook, Box, and Yahoo!. Since joining Venrock, Ethan has led our investments across space, autonomy, and frontier technologies, including Skyryse, an autonomy company focused on VTOL aircraft, Atom Computing, a neutral atoms based quantum computing company, as well as three additional companies that have not been publicly announced. He also holds 16 patents. Ethan is a passionate early adopter, space geek, and competitive athlete.

Racquel has been a member of Venrock’s healthcare investment team since 2016. She led the Series B round for Cyteir, an oncology start-up focused on DNA damage repair, as well as the formation and seed funding of Federation Bio, a microbial cell therapy company for intractable disease. Since its founding, she has also served as the CEO of Federation Bio in addition to her Venrock investment activities. Prior to Venrock, Racquel was one of the first employees at Clovis Oncology and helped the company from inception through approval of its first product, with responsibilities in business development and commercialization over 7 years. Racquel is an avid outdoorswoman, backcountry skier, mountain biker, and board game lover. 

We are also happy to welcome Todd Graham to the technology team as a Vice President in Palo Alto. Building on Venrock’s history in the security and infrastructure space – including CloudFlare, Shape Security and CheckPoint Software –Todd is excited about the future of digital transformation, human-based cyber-threats, disruptive go-to-market, and the consumerization of the enterprise experience. Todd joins Venrock from Cisco, where he led corporate strategy for the security and collaboration businesses. Todd was also an early employee at Tablus, a Data Loss Prevention company that was acquired by EMC’s security division, RSA.  

We are honored to recognize Racquel, Ethan and Todd’s accomplishments and look forward to their continued partnership and future successes, joining forces with early stage leaders to build substantial, durable businesses that improve lives across the globe. 

Virta’s two-year results are a win for payers, providers and patients living with type 2 diabetes

As an investor, I use three heuristics to evaluate healthcare startups.

Will the product or service…

  1. Improve dramatically a patient’s experience of care?
  2. Materially reduce the per patient cost of healthcare?
  3. Deliver meaningful health improvements for patients?

This is no secret — the triple aim has been around for a while. At Venrock, we often see companies that meet one or two of these aims, but rarely do we see all three meaningfully achieved at the same time.

Virta Health is one of those rare companies, and it has been an incredible privilege helping their team grow and work towards a world where type 2 diabetes (T2D) reversal is a treatment accessible to everyone living with this chronic disease that may not have to be chronic anymore. With their two-year results peer-reviewed and published in Frontiers in Endocrinology, Virta is showing that even patients who have lived with T2D for years can improve their health beyond their wildest imagination and safely get off of expensive medications.

Improving the Experience of Care

One of the biggest challenges in treating T2D is that the traditional model of healthcare is at odds with the reality of living with a chronic disease. It is by definition a condition that patients live with day to day, but patients only see their physician once or twice a year.

Virta is so effective because their clinicians engage with patients every day. This gives them massively more data to inform clinical decisions and many feedback loops to help patients and clinicians figure out what works. Also, Virta’s clinical team is super specialized, unlike most endocrinologists who treat many different diseases, and solely focused on providing medical care for T2D based off of the daily data coming from patients.  

As a result, being a Virta patient is a drastically different experience. Not only does the treatment result in significantly better outcomes, but the care also teaches patients about their physiology and how to proactively manage their metabolism. This gives patients unparalleled peace of mind and confidence.

Reducing Health Care Costs for Type 2 Diabetes

T2D is expensive. The long-term complications of heart attacks, kidney failure, and vascular disease are budget busting for patients and health insurers.  

Beyond these increased health risks, certain classes of diabetes-specific medications are startlingly high cost as well. The cost of insulin has recently been in the news for its skyrocketing price over the last 15 years. Insulin is not only expensive, but it also engenders risks for hypoglycemia and weight gain. This is a point that is often overlooked by providers who are conditioned to cajole patients at every visit to carefully titrate insulin: prescription medications often have side effects that alleviate a set of symptoms at the expense of others.  

For example, SGLT2 Inhibitors, a newer class of oral medications for T2D, have a bunch of side effects like kidney failure, hypotension, increased cholesterol levels, and increased risk of developing bladder cancer. It would be far better and more cost effective if we manage T2D without relying on these medications. With Virta, patients lower their glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) and eliminate medications at the same time.

Amazingly, Virta trial patients were able to discontinue 67 percent of their starting diabetes-specific prescriptions at two years. In addition, 91 percent of patients who began on insulin were able to reduce or eliminate their dosage, and the average daily dosage of insulin for this group of patients went from 81.9 to 15.5 units per day. The average annual medication costs for this group of patients on insulin dropped by more than 50 percent between baseline and two years.

Meaningful, Long-Term Health Improvements for Patients

When Virta’s 10 week results published in JMIR Diabetes, I wrote about the rapid improvements demonstrated by patients who opted into the treatment. Ninety percent of patients who began the trial taking insulin were able to reduce or eliminate their dosage and 48 percent of patients met the definition for diabetes reversal.

While early conversations with trial patients made us confident that they would be able to stick with the treatment, it still needed to be proven that Virta could succeed at demonstrating long-term therapeutic benefit.

With one-year results published in Diabetes Therapy and now two-year results in Frontiers in Endocrinology, Virta proves that their initial results are lasting. The vast majority of patients stick with it, and Virta is consistently able to deliver long-term, clinically significant improvements in health outcomes related to T2D, avert complications, and save thousands of dollars per patient.

Specifically, of patients who completed two years 55 percent were able to reduce their HbA1c below 6.5 percent (the threshold for T2D diagnosis) without diabetes-specific medications, and 34 percent within that subset of patients were able to achieve partial or complete diabetes remission.

With standard T2D care, the rate of partial remission is approximately 2.4 percent, and it is known that patients who have had T2D longer are less likely to achieve remission. Virta crushes this metric even with a harder to treat population. At the start of the trial, Virta patients had lived 8.4 years on average with a T2D diagnosis. Given this context, the fact that such a substantial percentage of patients were able to put their disease in remission is remarkable.

In addition to T2D, Virta patients demonstrated significant improvement in markers of related to other chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease risk factors as well as markers of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Virta’s treatment is improving metabolic health and the benefits of it are being felt by multiple systems in the body.

Looking Ahead

What Virta has been able to achieve for patients, payers, and providers is extraordinary. Virta is giving hope and better health to thousands of patients with T2D. The Virta treatment is scalable, safe, effective and totally personalized for all types of patients and lifestyles. Having doctors, diabetes educators, social workers, dieticians and coaches work with patients daily works much better than the once or twice a year status quo. Our team could not be more excited to work with Virta, and we look forward to continuing to help them improve the lives of patients for years to come.

To read more about Virta’s recent two-year results, see remarks from Sami Inkininen, Co-Founder and CEO of Virta, here.

Venrock Health IT Disruptor Award

Venrock has partnered with VentureBeat to present the first ever Venrock “Health IT Disruptor Award” at the HealthBeat Early Stage Innovation Showdown.  The winner of the award will receive a $250,000 convertible note, dinner with Venrock partners and our portfolio company CEOs, 6 months of office space in The Quarry, our incubator space, and many other prizes.  Applications for interested companies are available on the VentureBeat website.  Read more about the competition here.

PE Hub

It is no surprise that American universities foster entrepreneurial spirit and talent. The University Entrepreneurship Project recently did a study that tracked investments in student-run startups over the last five years across six universities. Overall, Venrock is the leader in investments in student entrepreneurs, with an astounding 31 deals made over the course of the study. Venrock is excited to continue working with the next generation of innovators! Read more about the study on PE Hub.

WSJ The Next Big Thing 2012

We’re all looking for the next great investment.  What does it take to make it big?  The Wall Street Journal published it’s “Next Big Thing 2012” list today, ranking the top 50 U.S. companies backed by venture capital.  Congratulations to all the companies who made the list, including Venrock portfolio companies Genband (#1), Appia (#22) , Achaogen (#35), Quantenna (#36), Acceleron (#48) and Neoconix (#50). Read more about the underlying investment strategies on the Wall Street Journal.

Ironwood Receives FDA Approval

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) does not get much spotlight, but an estimated 15.3 million people suffer from it’s effects. In fact, you’re probably close to someone who has IBS. Today Ironwood Pharmaceuticals reached a huge milestone and received FDA approval for their drug to treat IBS-C, named Linzess.  Forbes has the latest on this story. Congratulations to the Ironwood team and Venrock’s Bryan Roberts!