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The spread of the novel coronavirus has sped the adoption of telemedicine in the United States, eliminating barriers like insurance reimbursements. It's also shone a light on the need for faster vaccines and a need for greater investment in public health, experts said on a dot.LA virtual panel Tuesday that looked at how investors are responding to COVID-19.
A move to telemedicine "was a long time coming," said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "A lot of doctors and institutions weren't comfortable with that" but now those concerns have been "blown out of the water." Since the pandemic erupted, two-thirds of UCLA medical visits have been done using telehealth.
Klauser is also a medical director at San Dimas, Calif-based Korva Labs, which has worked with Curative Inc. over the last 18 days to test Los Angeles County first responders and support drive-thrus. He said the partnership has resulted in testing capacity moving from zero to 5,000 daily since the start.
That partnership was helped along by Llewellyn Cox, a general partner at MarsBio, a biotech and deep-tech venture capital firm that invests in pre-seed and seed stage companies. Cox introduced the folks at Curative to Korva. Cox, who has cystic fibrosis, has kept an eye on the novel coronavirus from its earlier days. He convened a task force in the first week of March to try to address COVID-19 response issues like supply chain and access to testing kits.
Cox has since pivoted to looking at companies to help address the second and third wave of issues and technology to prevent another COVID-19 from happening.
Strategy Session: Venture on the Front Line of COVID-19 www.youtube.com
The novel coronavirus has led to a boom in business for companies in the healthcare world. At Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health, a seed-stage healthcare-focused venture capital fund, 27 of its 29 companies in the portfolio are actually "better off" financially due to COVID-19, said Jay Goss, a general partner at the firm.
"We're being pulled to move faster even to the point of accelerating the timeline in the next fund, instead of slowing down," Goss said. "The world is more aware of the need for healthcare, it's always been there, but now more people are paying attention to it and less attention to the need for electric scooters, or other things."
Of the remaining two portfolio companies that have been impacted, one is a clinical trials-related company that has had to hit the pause button on their work to focus on COVID-19.
Prior to COVID-19, vaccines were not a business-savvy area of investment and were very hard to fund, but "that value metric has been turned upside down," Cox said. He said the long production cycles for something like the development of a vaccine — the flu vaccine takes nine months — is an area that could use improvement even now.
"This is a preview of the end of the antibiotic era, what a world without rapidly cheap, accessible (drugs) to fight off infection looks like," Cox said.
Other areas that have become of greater interest are food, agriculture and manufacturing, Cox said.
COVID-19 has also brought to light the lack of investment in public health — already evident from medical staffing shortages, the lack of affordable education, and the need for more on-the-ground community health efforts, the experts said.
Klausner noted that Italy didn't have a strong primary or middle healthcare system, so anybody with COVID-19 was hospitalized because they had built up the end-of-the-road investment in health services.
States have graduated medical students months early to get them to hospitals that need them. In the past few years, there has been some donors who have helped make medical education for doctors free, but those are stopgaps, Klausner said.
"We need to invest and understand that medical, nursing lab technicians, schools are not just training for those individuals (to) benefit by having a job, but also as part of our societal investment to have the type of people we need at a large enough level and large enough skillset to take care of us," Klausner said. "Our population is only aging and our needs are only increasing. We need investment in things like a public health corps."
Klausner served early in his career as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer at the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, a sort of CIA for public health. The program, he said, has been funded at 50 people since 1951 and no one knows it exists.
"As a society, we've allowed public health training and infrastructure to erode," Klausner said.
Goss said that the ability to address a surge in need should be fluid and those who are trained should somehow be able to be moved when that need is apparent, perhaps using a technological advancement similar to the system apps like Uber use to move needed rides from one area to another in real time.
Klausner added a few more predictions, the home is going to be "ascendant" and people will want to improve their homes and make them more comfortable for daily living, working, learning and exercise.
In terms of home health, "people generally prefer to be taken care of in their home, from physical therapy to your last days on Earth," Goss said. "Telemedicine has been helped and advanced more in the last six weeks than in the 144 years (since) we got the thing called a telephone."
About the Participants:
Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, MD, MPH, is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the David Geffen School of Medicine.
Jeffrey Klausner, MD, MPH, is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the David Geffen School of Medicine and Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology in the Fielding School of Public Health.
Dr. Klausner earned his Medical Degree from Cornell University Medical College with Honors in Research. He completed his Residency in Internal Medicine at the New York University—Bellevue Hospital Center. Dr. Klausner earned his Master's in Public Health with a focus on International Health and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. After that training, Dr. Klausner was an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. Dr. Klausner completed his Fellowship in Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington, Seattle.
Jay Goss is General Partner at Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health
Jay Goss, General Partner @ Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health
Jay is a General Partner at Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health. Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health is Southern California's leading Seed-stage healthcare-focused venture capital fund. The fund's investment thesis is that after 40+ years, healthcare is transitioning away from fee-for-service to value-based payments, and with that comes a massive amount of disruption. There will be no shortage of clinical operations and business challenges to solve in the coming decade, and entrepreneurs are already coming out of the woodwork to solve these problems. Moreover, countless business models are now for the first time commercially viable because the healthcare industry is embracing value-based payments. The fund counts among its investors 50+ healthcare senior executives, eager and extremely able to add value to the early stage companies in which the fund invests. Prior to launching Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health, Jay operated dozens of early stage companies all over Southern California, and advised dozens more.
Llewellyn Cox is a general partner at MarsBio
Llewellyn Cox, General Partner at MarsBio
Llewellyn is an entrepreneur from Gillingham, Kent, England. He founded LabLaunch, the leading biotechnology incubator network in Southern California, and BioBuilt, a firm that assists early-stage companies in building lab space.Llewellyn received a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology at Cardiff University, before moving to New York City to perform postdoc research in neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College. Llewellyn is an adjunct professor at Keck Medicine of USC where he teaches translational biology and science communications.
Rachel Uranga, is a reporter at dot.LA.
Rachel Uranga, Reporter @dot.LA
Rachel covers the intersection of business, technology and culture. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.
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L.A. Venture Capital Firm MarsBio Scrambles to Secure Cash, Resources for Coronavirus Vaccines, Test Kits
The terrifying stories of Italian doctors running low on respirators as COVID-19 patients overwhelmed hospitals inspired Joe Wilson, a partner at bioscience venture capital fund MarsBio, to create a way to quickly fund new coronavirus' vaccines, testing kits and other lifesaving ideas.
Over the last week, the fund launched by Soylent Nutrition co-founder and biohacker Rob Rhinehart, has fielded more than a dozen calls and made connections with startups and scientists that have ideas about how to quickly combat the spread of the deadly virus.
One of those known as Curative Inc., led by Fred Turner, has already set up shop in San Dimas and is now ramping up production of testing kits thanks to the connection.
"The stories felt like they couldn't possibly be real as they were so horrific, and yet they kept coming," Wilson said. "There are crises all the time, but I felt like this is one that we can do something and contribute to."
This week, MarsBio posted a call for proposals to those working on research or an idea that would combat the fast-spreading virus, particularly through vaccine development, public safety and prevention, treatment and operational response. The effort is not a venture fund, rather the group is looking for backers for individual projects that can address the pandemic.
"We think we can have a pretty big impact and we are seeing it already," he said.
The idea behind the group is to vet those ideas that can make the highest impact and then help them get funding — whether it be through grants, government, individuals or other sources like connecting them with operational help.
"Even a million dollars from these sources could have an outsize impact on COVID-19 outcomes," Wilson said.
Earlier this week, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $125 million effort with Wellcome and Mastercard to form the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, to find potential treatments. The firm hopes to tap into that new wave of new funding, as the world scrambles to stem the crisis and businesses search for solutions.
To vet the ideas, MarsBio will be bring on other academics, scientists, epidemiologists, clinicians and people outside the firm's core expertise.
"We take a very science-first lead," said general partner Llewellyn Cox, founder of LabLaunch which helps connect early state companies with lab space.
All the partners are trained scientists and entrepreneurs, noted Cox, who holds a doctorate in molecular and cell biology. And the firm, which backs early-stage bioscience companies in Southern California, boasts deep connections in Southern California's lab community.
Through those contacts, Cox put Curative in touch with KorvaLabs, where the Bay area company is now accelerating production of saliva test kits for the novel coronavirus. And the firm is helping Curative raise $800,000 and bulk up its workforce as the company ramps up their output.
"The best case scenario is we put a lot of time and energy into this, we highlight some really good ideas. It turns out to be less of an impact than you expect," Wilson said. "We don't think that's gonna happen. We think it is going to be bad. Hopefully, we can provide some scientific and some some operational support to make life a little bit easier."
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