SXSW is one of the premier venues for bringing together innovators across industries, and it was a pleasure to be immersed in the creativity and ingenuity at the conference. This year, S2G Ventures Managing Director, Matthew Walker, moderated a panel entitled the Future of Healthcare: Food, Microbes, and Bioactives, in conversation with three innovators rethinking the healthcare paradigm.
The panelists were Lauren Driscoll, founder and CEO of NourishedRX, a company making high-quality, individualized, nutritious food accessible to the people who need it most, Anand Parikh co-founder and CEO at Faeth Therapeutics, developer of precision nutrition cancel treatments, and Gerardo Toledo, co-founder and CEO at Solarea Bio, a startup working to unlock a new source of microbes to improve human health. The key themes of the discussion included the need for high-quality data on health outcomes as well as cost savings to improve the adoption of food as medicine solutions and the opportunity for companies in the space to explore diversified avenues for reimbursement.
The conversation kicked off with a discussion about why food has historically not been a focus of the healthcare system. Parikh pointed to a lack of quantity and quality of data that has been produced thus far to support food as medical claims, and Toledo spoke to a lack of nutrition training in medical schools. But Driscoll emphasized that we can’t wait for clinical trial evidence to improve health outcomes, particularly for those who are low-income and lack healthy food access.
Panelists spoke about how food as medicine companies can fit into the current healthcare landscape and how their solutions are working within the systems today. As Parikh stressed, there is a need for quality data on health benefits and return on investment to receive healthcare reimbursements. NourishedRX collects patient record outcomes and has seen lowered risks of depression and loneliness, improvements in blood pressure and other measures of health, and hundreds of dollars on a per-member basis of savings. To receive medical foods designation, Solarea Bio’s product for dietary maintenance of bone mass is first administered to mice to determine bone density outcomes, then subjected to a clinical study for safety and tolerability, and, lastly, a study is conducted to measure efficacy in patients.
Parekh pointed out that these companies all use different reimbursement models. Solarea Bio is working on getting medical food designations for its products which would enable the company to sell directly to practitioners and get reimbursed from insurance providers. NourishedRX works with Medicare and Medicaid-managed plans and is paid through a few different programs aimed at improving the quality of healthcare payments and case management. Faeth Therapeutics is trying to get food therapeutics and the associated software regulated as a drug so they can receive reimbursements from Medicare or insurers.
Panelists were in agreement that the adoption of these solutions will likely come down to monetary savings for healthcare companies, but Driscoll stressed that we still need a perspective shift because the healthcare system is so accustomed to paying for sick care and procedures as opposed to preventative measures.
The moderated conversation closed with a discussion of the aspects of the food and healthcare system of the future that panelists are trying to bring about. Toledo spoke to the growing recognition of the importance of microbes and technologies that can assess a consumer's microbe consumption and help them optimize it to reach their health goals. Driscoll shared her hope that poor diet will no longer be the leading driver of death, disease, and disparities and that she is encouraged by the increased focus on the importance of health equity in healthcare. Parekh emphasized that we need more entrepreneurship and investment in the space because there is tremendous untapped potential that can lead to improvements in quality of life. Getting consistent reimbursement will help move the sector along, and data will be crucial for that.
As a final point, Walker emphasized that food-based solutions must taste good and be affordable and convenient to prepare if they are to see widespread customer adoption. It was a privilege to be able to participate in SXSW next to our portfolio companies to talk about the future of food in healthcare. We are focused on finding and supporting promising solutions in the sector and look forward to continuing the conversation.