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The company says it can increase the number of physician-investigators by 10x
The pandemic upended many aspects of the healthcare system thanks to the rapid adoption of digital health tools and patient-facing services. Chief among those were clinical trials, a space that was traditionally held back by a number issues, including access: researchers could only use people who were immediately accessible to them, limiting the number of potential participants.
Topography Health has a solution to that: it's a clinical trials platform that leverages the power of community physicians, using their position on the front lines of healthcare to get them tp conduct clinical trials in their local populations.
On Tuesday, the company formally launched with $21.5 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Bain Capital Ventures, with participation from existing investor Andreessen Horowitz; other investors included One Medical Founder Tom Lee, former Flatiron Health Chief Medical Officer Bobby Green, and Zillow Co-founder Spencer Rascoff. The company has now raised $27.5 million in total.
"Many of us know someone who has benefitted, or could benefit, from a clinical trial. Yet many of us also understand that chronic access issues hamper our healthcare system, particularly in trials. With today’s technology, and how the pandemic has forced our society to rethink research, that no longer has to be true," Alexander Saint-Amand, the company's co-founder and CEO, told me.
"We believe every physician can contribute to research on some scale, so we built Topography Health to be on the front lines of building tools and services that enable them to overcome the existing barriers to entry. We believe that the physician experience has been overlooked, and that has led to an undersupply of physician-investigators that slows progress in medicine, and entrenches disparities in access and participation."
Turning physicians into researchers
Topography identifies, trains, and supports community physicians in expanding their clinical research capabilities and scaling clinical trials in their communities.
The company, which is initially focusing on metabolic disease trials, has digital workflow technology that allows physicians to reduce process friction and manage all clinical data in one place. Its data science platform analyzes patient records to help physicians across diverse communities recommend and personalize research for their patients.
The company considers the physician to be its customer, and pharmaceutical companies to be its sponsors who pursue the research. Typically, these are physicians and practices that are already interested in research, but don’t know where to start, or are daunted by the perceived complexity.
"We help them build a trials program to benefit their patients and their practice. Our offering is a suite of software and services, and we act as a white-glove partner to our customers," Saint-Amand said.
"Reducing the administrative and business management burden placed on the physician, we help medical practices better understand their patient populations, recommend which studies have high odds of uptake and impact, recruit patients, and hire, manage and support research staff."
A flurry of innovation
As I noted above, the pandemic spurred a flurry of innovation in the clinical trials space, most notably when it came to the acceleration of vaccine trials. In fact, as Saint-Amand noted, there isn't anything comparable to how quickly the space mobilizes, "except for potentially what happened during the HIV crisis."
"The pandemic showed us what is possible, such as operations moving at the pace of breakthroughs, not breakthroughs moving at the pace of operations, and now we’re seeing advanced medical research is unfolding in real-time," he said.
"The pandemic showed us how we could use software + services to approach new aspects of medicine - we believe this is only the beginning."
Of course, all of that innovation led to increased interest from VCs, and increased funding flowing into the soace: Topography is not the only company in the clinical trials space to have raised funding recently; in fact, there have been a slew of them, including Medable, ObvioHealth, Castor, and SignalPath, to name a few.
With all of those companies also looking to disrupt the clinical trials space, Topography sets itself apart from all those others with its focus, which is on expanding the number of researchers, something Saint-Amand says those other companies do not do.
"No one is focused on investigative capacity, and helping community-based doctors offer trials to their patients in a robust, full-stack manner. Almost everything else is tech-first, remote, decentralized stuff, think AI for patient finding or telehealth+trials, that only solves a small slice of the trial access and diversity issue."
Increasing physician-investigators by 10x
Now that the company is out of stealth, but still in beta, it will be using the new funding to both expand its team and build out its data platform.
By doing all of this, Topography believes it can build an investigative infrastructure that will increase the number of physician-investigators by 10x the number that currently exists.
"Doing so would unlock the drug discovery pipeline, and create tremendous advances to the standard of care across the medical landscape. We believe that every physician can contribute to research on some scale, so we built Topography Health to be on the front lines of building tools and services that enable them to overcome the existing barriers to entry."
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