Alira Health began its journey in 1999, more than two decades ago. What does your footprint look like today?
Although Alira Health was officially founded in 1999, the business model you see today was only defined in 2015, when I acquired the company through a leveraged buyout with a French partner. The idea was to create a company that would provide services enabled by tech, that could impact the drug development cycles and could accelerate and increase their success rate. We grew from a small life sciences consulting shop with no more than 20 employees and $2 million in sales to a company with nearly 800 employees and over USD 100 million in sales. It has been a very exciting ride.
Our overarching goal is to democratize life sciences research and humanize the entire process. We do this by involving patients directly in the development cycle and investing in technologies that allow us to collect their data safely. This is an important point of differentiation - most of our competitors focus on data collected by providers (e.g. hospitals) whereas we collaborate directly with the patients.
In what ways does your business model benefit from patient collaboration?
The focus in B2B relationships is usually the sponsor's objective, whereas we are attempting to align the objective directly with the patient, who became a true stakeholder rather than an external partner. Patient advocacy groups are the most direct way to reach patients because they bring together people who are suffering from a certain disease and want to see research being carried out in their specific therapeutic area.
We partnered, for instance, with the US foundation for myasthenia gravis (a rare disease) to manage a registry of 4,000 patients who are providing their input through our platform (Health Storylines) on how they are dealing with the condition. They can also upload their Electronic Health Record (EHR), implying that we are dealing with both qualitative data from the patient and clinical data from the hospital. Health Storylines currently serves 160,000 patients.
What makes instruments such as Health Storylines so useful for patients?
Technology by itself will not drive innovation although it is a tool that can accelerate it. Ultimately, it is the patient experience that remains at the core, including when it comes to FDA approvals. In the case of gene therapies, for instance, the FDA requires a 15-year follow-up period - it is therefore critical to keep patients engaged even after the treatment is completed. Obviously, we could not force them to use the app for so long, so we had to design the tool in a way that provided them with intrinsic value. This principle has guided our work, asking patients what they need and determining the best ways to meet those needs.
How do you assess the current willingness to use digital tools to manage healthcare, both from the standpoint of the patient and the companies involved?
On one hand, there are many patients who suffer from chronic diseases or rare conditions and are thirsty for new treatments that will allow them to be their own caregivers. This is particularly true for younger generations and digital solutions are a way of empowering them, and giving them a greater say in the process. From a company perspective, patient feedback has traditionally been seen more as an add-on, with clinical data occupying the most important spot - this is changing nowadays, the patient has to be happy with how the drug is delivered, for instance.
There is also an efficiency layer to it. Think about an oncology patient - they may have been treated in a few different hospitals, and to get all the data generated they have to go and request it from each entity; as you can imagine this makes for a very lengthy and complicated process. With the kind of tools we provide, patients can easily obtain ownership over their clinical data. The Cures Act of 2016 also established electronic health information sharing as the new standard in healthcare. As a result, patients can receive their EHR and use it to get better answers to their diagnostics evolution. The pandemic accelerated this thirst for knowledge, and in the coming years, people will become increasingly educated about the best ways to protect their medical data.
Alira Health recently benefited from a USD 58 million capital injection. What are you prioritizing in terms of investment for the period to come?
Indeed, we have three major family offices behind Alira Health, and they have provided significant capital - they are not only interested in shareholder returns, but also in building a platform with the highest Patient Impact Index; in other words, to impact as many patients as possible (directly or indirectly, by a drug for which we assisted with regulatory approvals, reimbursement, or clinical trials). Over the next ten years, the goal is to reach one billion patients worldwide. The $58 million infusion will be used primarily for platform integration, offering consolidation, and technological advancement.
Life sciences is a highly rewarding ecosystem, and innovation can occur only if the people working on it genuinely want to improve the healthcare system.
We hope that more young talented people will join us in our efforts to humanize this environment.
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