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Digital Health Startup Leverages IT with Eyes on Reversing Type 2 Diabetes

March 13, 2017
by Rajiv Leventhal
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San Francisco-based digital health startup Virta Health is leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and personalized care treatment plans to reverse type 2 diabetes, the company stated last week in an announcement.

Virta Health is a new company founded by a team of physicians, scientists, and technologists trained at Stanford, MIT, and Harvard. The company’s debut comes on the heels of a new peer-reviewed study in JMIR Diabetes that demonstrates Virta was successful in reversing type 2 diabetes in half of its clinical trial patients and eliminating or reducing insulin in 87 percent of patients in just 10 weeks.

Specifically, Virta Health is an online specialty medical clinic that has the goal to reverse type 2 diabetes safely and sustainably, without medications or surgery—shifting the focus from diabetes management to reversal. Virta helps lower hemoglobin A1C while reducing or eliminating medications in an online setting with continuous, remote care delivered by a dedicated physician and health coach.

“Until now, the only clinically proven way to reverse diabetes was bariatric surgery. For the first time, people with type 2 diabetes have an alternative to surgery, which is risky, costly and not covered for most people, and also to ongoing management with medications like insulin,” Sami Inkinen, co-founder and CEO of Virta Health, said in a statement. “Our mission is to reverse diabetes in 100 million people by 2025. It’s an ambitious goal, but we’re motivated every day by the lives we’ve already changed.”

Virta is backed by $37 million in funding from some major investors, including: Venrock, Allen & Company, Ev William’s Obvious Ventures, Redmile Group, and PayPal and Affirm founder Max Levchin’s Scifi VC.

Drawing on decades of research, including that of its founders and advisors, Virta is driving two major innovations. First, officials attest that Virta’s science takes a highly individualized approach to carbohydrate intake and nutritional ketosis (when a body burns fat as its primary fuel source instead of glucose). And second, Virta’s technology platform and artificial intelligence enable continuous, remote care and ongoing personalization of each patient’s care plan, delivered online by Virta physicians and health coaches.

Taken together, these innovations enable Virta to deliver the type of high-engagement, personalized care required to reverse type 2 diabetes safely and sustainably at scale. The clinic does this by providing physician supervision, a dedicated health coach, app and biomarker tracking tools, a community of peers, and a personalized nutrition and care plan, officials note.

“Virta has shown that diabetes can be controlled in many patients without the need for medication or surgery. If we can get this treatment to more and more Americans, we can have a huge impact on their lives and reduce one of the most significant drivers of healthcare cost growth,” said Robert Ratner, M.D., former chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association.

Results published in the above-mentioned study from a Virta clinical trial run in partnership with Indiana University Health Arnett  showed that within 10 weeks, 56 percent of patients lowered their blood glucose to a non-diabetic range (as measured by A1c below 6.5 percent), and 87 percent reduced or completely eliminated insulin. Moreover, Virta patients experienced 7.2 percent weight loss on average, with 71 percent of participants achieving the clinically significant threshold of 5 percent. More than 90 percent of initial patients completed their individualized care plan.

“These early results indicate that when delivered with continuous online support, a highly individualized care plan focused on carbohydrate intake and nutritional ketosis can be very effective in improving glycemic control and weight loss in adults with type 2 diabetes while decreasing or eliminating diabetes medication use,” said Sarah Hallberg, medical director at Virta Health, and report co-author.

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