Can Virtual Testing Reduce Bias in Clinical Trials? Lightship Raises $40M to Try

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

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As the pandemic slowed and halted clinical trials to test new drugs, the need for a virtual solution became clear to clinical researchers. El Segundo-based Lightship hopes to keep clinical trials going with a virtual process that allows patients to participate from home.

The three-year-old company is one of many in Los Angeles, including MedVector and Science37, investing in a new model of clinical drug trials that seek to virtualize and speed up a yearslong, data-intensive process heavily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Those trials are key to help doctors understand the efficacy and side effects of drugs before dosing their patients.

The approach has proved attractive during a pandemic that has forced traditional drug trials to slow down as researchers scrambled to safely conduct trials without putting participants in danger of COVID-19.

SEC filings from Monday show the startup raised $40 million from 10 undisclosed investors. Neither Lightship nor its previous investors responded to requests for comment.

But the move comes as the Food and Drug Administration shifts its thinking on clinical trials. In November, the agency updated its standards to accommodate patients participating in clinical trials from home. It also acknowledged the process was largely unfair because it failed to include underrepresented patients.

In issuing the guidance, Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn acknowledged "clinical trials requiring frequent visits to specific sites may place an added burden on participants."

The clinical trial process often excludes underprivileged people who would otherwise be prime candidates for the drug. That's because it requires participants to drive to hospitals or research sites, sometimes during the work day.

Lightship, though tight-lipped about its products, says on its website it aims to construct flexible clinical trial solutions for companies that want to accommodate patients that can't drive to a nearby facility for regular testing.

That could help clinical trials solve their diversity problem that some researchers argue have plagued the industry.

Clinical trials depend on racial and financial diversity because a drug's efficacy isn't based solely on the chemical composition of the drug – it also requires an extensive understanding of different environmental factors, such as someone's quality of sleep, outside stressors and genetics. Those factors can influence a drug's performance and they are part of what the FDA considers when it creates a drug's safety profile for doctors and patients before releasing the drug onto the market.

"If you don't include a diverse population in your clinical trial and really study those differences or similarities, you might end up having a situation where the product is out in the market and it has a different safety and efficacy profile [than what was originally written]," said Dr. Eunjoo Pacifici, a professor at the USC School of Pharmacy.

Lightship previously raised $10 million in a debt financing round in April, and nearly $20 million in venture capital in 2020.

MedVector, another LA-based startup tackling the virtual clinical trial space, raised $630,000 in March for a product to help clinicians document a participant's vitals without requiring them to travel. Another, Science 37, raised $40 million in 2020 to construct flexible clinical trials.

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E-Scooter Companies Are Quietly Changing Their Low-Income Programs in LA

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
E-Scooter Companies Are Quietly Changing Their Low-Income Programs in LA
Photo by Maylin Tu

When Lime launched in Los Angeles in 2018, the company offered five free rides per day to low-income riders, so long as they were under 30 minutes each.

But in early May, that changed. Rides under 30 minutes now cost low-income Angelenos a flat rate of $1.25. As for the five free rides per day, that program ended December 2021 and was replaced by a rate of $0.50 fee to unlock e-scooters, plus $0.07 per minute (and tax).

Lime isn’t alone. Lyft and Spin have changed the terms of their city-mandated low-income programs. Community advocates say they were left largely unaware.

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Faraday Future Reveals Only 401 Pre-Orders For Its First Electric Car

David Shultz

David Shultz is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside and Nautilus, among other publications.

Faraday Future Reveals Only 401 Pre-Orders For Its First Electric Car
Courtesy of Faraday Future

Electric vehicle hopeful Faraday Future has had no shortage of drama—from alleged securities law violations to boardroom shake-ups—on its long and circuitous path to actually producing a car. And though the Gardena-based company looked to have turned a corner by recently announcing plans to launch its first vehicle later this year, Faraday’s quarterly earnings report this week revealed that demand for that car has underwhelmed—to say the least.

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Meet CropSafe, the Agtech Startup Helping Farmers Monitor Their Fields

David Shultz

David Shultz is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside and Nautilus, among other publications.

Meet CropSafe, the Agtech Startup Helping Farmers Monitor Their Fields
Courtesy of CropSafe.

This January, John McElhone moved to Santa Monica from, as he described it, “a tiny farm in the absolute middle of nowhere” in his native Northern Ireland, with the goal of growing the crop-monitoring tech startup he founded.

It looks like McElhone’s big move is beginning to pay off: His company, CropSafe, announced a $3 million seed funding round on Tuesday that will help it develop and scale its remote crop-monitoring capabilities for farmers. Venture firm Elefund led the round and was joined by investors Foundation Capital, Global Founders Capital, V1.VC and Great Oaks Capital, as well as angel investors Cory Levy, Josh Browder and Charlie Songhurst. The capital will go toward growing CropSafe’s six-person engineering team and building up its new U.S. headquarters in Santa Monica.

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