Healthcare startup On the novel the platform seeks to digitize all chapters of a patient’s health journey to allow clinicians and researchers to finally see the complete story. In response to emailed questions, CEO and co-founder Shashi Shankar explained how he and Dr. Abe Abraham, co-founder and chief medical officer, are working to reduce drug development timelines.
Why did you start this company?
My co-founder Dr. Abe Abraham and I founded Novellia to accelerate clinical research, help doctors diagnose and treat patients more effectively, and make healthcare more equitable. At Novellia, we are creating the world’s first platform to digitally capture a person’s complete health data. We call it “digitomics”, which is basically the digital complement to “multiomics” platforms.
We started the company on the anniversary of the death of my Tata (grandfather). He was diagnosed with late-stage gastroesophageal cancer. Doctors didn’t have enough data to diagnose it early enough or treat it with real precision. His health history held the answers, but the data was unfortunately fragmented and locked in silos.
Abe and I are former engineering majors with complementary skills. I helped launch global digital health for Roche and have spent my career in health technology really understanding where technology and related policies are headed. Abe spent his career as a drug developer, designing trials, working with real-world data, and developing medical strategy for drug launches.
It was over drinks in honor of my grandfather when we started catching up on the trends we were hearing about in digital health. I told Abe about this amazing new API technology I had come across. Basically, this technology has allowed patients to gain near-instant access to multiple types of health data: EHRs, insurance claims, wearables. The current platforms didn’t work very well and there were still all kinds of access issues that needed to be worked out, but I thought it was promising and could be improved.
Abe grabbed a napkin and began sketching out all sorts of use cases in pharmaceutical R&D and medical issues. We both knew we had the right mix of skills (digital health and drug development) to make this technology better, and we had already spent the better part of a decade working together.
What need are you looking to address in healthcare?
There is no reason it should still take nearly 12 years and cost over $2 billion to get life-saving drugs to patients. Those stats started to improve, but not much. Synthetic clinical trials are promising, but success rates are still too low.
There is a personal cost to this. In my case, I knew from my experience at Genentech that a new drug is about to hit the market which could potentially save my Tata. The problem was that there wasn’t enough data to get it approved at the time. Researchers were still forced to sift through low-quality data, such as scanned doctor’s notes and spreadsheets, even though much richer data sets were available. When the FDA finally approved the drug, it was too late—my grandfather had already passed away.
The main underlying problem we’re trying to fix with Novellia is that doctors and researchers can only see a small slice of a patient’s history—for example, their insurance data for just one year, or their medical data from just one doctor for just six months. They have to make huge, consistent decisions based on this small piece of information. It’s not just dangerous, it’s unnecessary.
If we are able to provide extremely rich, connected data, everything changes. Medicines get to market faster. Health care becomes more accessible and fair. We believe that digitomics is the answer.
What is Digitomics? How it works?
Our digitomics platform will be the world’s first platform to digitally capture a person’s complete health data, the digital complement to “multiomics” platforms. Multiomics is an approach in healthcare where you essentially extract multiple different “omics” or types of biological data. It aims to help researchers understand how these omics interact with each other to reveal hidden information and patterns.
So instead of just genomic or proteomic data, Novellia’s platform will digitize all the chapters of a patient’s health journey to allow clinicians and researchers to finally see the complete story. Clinicians and researchers can finally see a complete, holistic picture of their patients throughout their healthcare journey, regardless of what doctors, insurers or wearables the patient has interacted with.
By providing complete health histories, digitomics can help quickly identify key insights to drive more effective research and care.
Is this your first healthcare startup? What is your background in healthcare?
Although this is our first startup, we have the experience and skills to build something never seen before. I began my career as a consultant and spent several years working on PPACA health policy in the District of Columbia before joining Genentech. At Genentech, I worked on partnerships with hospitals, brought new drugs to market and launched Roche’s global digital health program in Switzerland. I earned MBAs from Dartmouth and Johns Hopkins, respectively.
Abe is also a graduate of Johns Hopkins. After medical school, he spent time at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, focusing on sleep medicine, pulmonology, and endocrinology. He went on to earn an MBA before joining Genentech. After rising through the ranks of Medical Affairs, he joined AllAdapt as Global Head of Drug Development.
Elliot, our technical co-founder, is an experienced startup engineer! He began his startup career as an early stage engineer at Zocdoc, where he worked on the vendor experience, sponsored deliverables and sales engineering teams as a senior full time engineer. After Zocdoc, Elliot joined Wonder as the first US-based engineer and helped build an engineering organization, rising to head of engineering. Most recently, he was Senior Director of Engineering for Thirty Madison, responsible for e-commerce brands and patient experience.
What is your company’s business model?
First and foremost, we start by putting the patient at the center of everything we do.
This means we maintain complete transparency about how data is used. Just as importantly, we believe in working with patients to identify ways they can benefit from the valuable data they share.
Right now, as you read this, a data company you’ve probably never heard of just sold your health data for millions of dollars. Trust us: we’ve been on the other side and seen the contracts. Millions of dollars per data set.
Historically, patients have not been asked to consent to the sharing of this personal data and have rarely seen a direct benefit from doing so. Many times these patients are single parents, or unable to work, or dealing with a number of life challenges.
We’re not knocking researchers into buying the data sets: they need the data, or life-saving drugs won’t make it to market. But we think health data companies should know better.
When we thought about how difficult it is for patients to access drugs, pay for medical equipment—even pay for basics like education, food, and rent—we realized it was critical to start a company that finally puts patients at first place .
Novellia connects every part of a patient’s multidimensional health history to create uniquely rich, longitudinal data packages that we know will be valuable to biotech and the broader life sciences. Because patients are at the center of everything we do, we strive to transparently share how patient data is used and explore the best way to return value back to patients. Human beings possess a treasure trove of life-saving data; we believe they should be recognized and celebrated for this.
Who is your customer?
Clinicians and leading medical researchers in biotech companies. The people who are on the front lines – we have rolled up our sleeves and are working hard to keep our loved ones alive. Feel free to contact our team about partnership opportunities.
How do you generate revenue?
Novellia helps these researchers go from being able to just see isolated patient medical data in a single health system, in just a year or two, to being able to see complete health data—medical, insurance, etc. – between suppliers and insurers over time.
Ultimately, our goal is to sign enterprise contracts – where data shared with R&D, for example, can be used in compliance by the right teams in commercial and market access. Workflow automation, compliance management, with no limits on the number of patients or volume of data used.
Do you have clinical validation for your product?
One of our main goals is to publish the results of some of our first studies to demonstrate the innovative potential of digitomics. We firmly believe that we are not far from a future where the FDA is going, “wow – that digitomics data should be used in every single research program. It’s simple that accurate and informative.” We see a day when digitomics is a necessary complement to traditional clinical trial data.
At what stage of development is your flagship product?
We’re building an MVP as we speak! We’ve been head over heels for the last few months looking for sandbox, building pipelines, really kicking the tires on the data we mine.
We expect to launch very soon with some of our earliest pharmaceutical partners.
We don’t want to be just another health data company. We are bullish on the promise of digitomics and see use cases that extend beyond biotech and clinical care to ultimately drive fully synthetic, data-driven biotech companies.
photo: Claudio Ventrella, Getty Images