Massachusetts startups focus on personalized health care

One of the aisles of Eureka Park, CES's startup space
One of the aisles of Eureka Park, CES’s startup space. (Dave Sebastian/BU News Service.)

LAS VEGAS — Massachusetts health-care startups are showcasing how they make bringing health care to the doorstep their mission at CES, the world’s largest consumer-technology conference that runs from Jan. 7-11.

They are exhibiting among 11 Massachusetts-based digital health companies, many of them long-established. But the startups on the show floor see their proximity to legacy health-care brands, just as they as are back home, not as threats, but opportunities.

“The biggest health systems are there [in Boston],” Emanuele Musini, CEO of Boston-based digital-health startup Pillo Health, said to BU News Service at CES, describing Boston’s industry potential. “The talent of people who have health-care experience is massive. Hiring people in the health-care space has never been easier.”

At CES, the presence of personalized health-care companies is emblematic of both Massachusetts and cross-border trends. Zion Market Research, in a December 2018 report, valued the global personalized medicine market in 2017 at almost $16 billion. It’s expected to generate a $34.66 billion revenue by 2024, the report said.

For startups that offer personalized, technologically driven health-care, the upward trend serves an opportunity to partner with established health-care professions and institutions, some of which have invested in the startups themselves. Residents of Massachusetts, home to a cluster of medical schools and teaching hospitals, spent nearly $713 billion on personal health-care in 2014, according to the latest U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data. The expenditure grew at an average rate of 5.7 percent between 1991 and 2014, the data show.

CES organizer the Consumer Technology Association recognized interconnectivity among devices that string together different technologies as a rising trend in the organization’s latest report, presented Jan. 6 before the trade show. The trend was evident among personalized health-care startups exhibiting at CES.

BU News Service visited several Massachusetts-based personalized health-care companies’ booths at CES. Pillo, which produces home health robots, started in New York in 2015. But within two years, the company relocated to Boston after receiving funding from the venture capital arm of manufacturing company Connecticut-based Stanley Black & Decker Inc. It now soaks in the “health-care startup capital of the U.S.,” breaking into the health-care industry with a personalized touch, Musini, the Pillo CEO, said.

Pillo Health’s home health robot at CES. (Dave Sebastian/BU News Service.)

Musini said one of the reasons he started Pillo was when he sought solutions to his father’s consumption of medications. So he, together with co-founders Aiden Feng and James Wyman, came up with a voice-activated tabletop device that reminds its users to drink water, check their blood pressure and take their medicine, among other features. It also dispenses pills at certain times and notifies assigned hospitals and caregivers, who use an app to track data collected by the device.

“It’s not just about medication,” Musini said. It’s about creating a presence in someone’s home.

Pillo aims to avoid a patient’s re-hospitalization after getting discharged by providing easy access to a care team through the robot, Musini said.

The startup received $250,000 in funding from New Jersey-based hospital group Hackensack Meridian Health in June 2018. As a result of the investment, a business-to-business version of Pillo will launch in April, Musini said.

As a result of Stanley Black and Decker’s funding, Pillo’s commercial product became available in December 2018. It retails under the name Pria, distributed by the Stanley Black and Decker’s Security’s Futures team, which also operates its own booth at CES. The robot costs $499 with a $39.99 monthly subscription fee.

Medically Home Group’s patient tracker, usually accessed by assigned health-care professionals, shown at CES. (Dave Sebastian/BU News Service.)

Another Boston area company exhibting at CES was Medically Home Group, essentially a hospital without a building. It brings physicians and nurse practitioners to the patient’s home.

Previously located in Connecticut and now based in Boston, Medically Home Group employs its own fleet of medical practitioners: about four doctors, eight nurses and two nurse practitioners in Boston, as well as others in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Indiana, Medically Home Group Chief Medical Officer Eliza Schulman told BU News Service at CES.

The service, aside from shuttling medical workers to patients, offers patient-doctor video communication, prescription and medicine delivery, as well as X-Ray orders, Schulman said.

“When most people think of home services, most people think of home care like nurse agencies,” Schulman said. “That is a market that’s very effective for what it does, but it’s not tuned to respond quickly.”

Personalized health-care offers more detailed data that could lead to a smoother care process, Rama Karjian, Medically Home Group’s co-founder and chief operating officer, said.

“Personalized medicine is going to get driven by more data by the individual, so you’re going to see more hardware that’s designed to capture that data at the individual level,” Karjian said. “The problem and the challenges: That data is not very useful unless it’s interpreted, and action is taken by a clinician based on that data.”

Other Massachusetts personalized health-care firms exhibiting at CES include NeuroMetrix, a company founded in 1996 that offers a band that alleviates chronic pain, and Orig3n, which conducts DNA testing to offer insight into its participant’s DNA affects their fitness, behavior, metabolism and caffeine tolerance, among other categories.

Quell, a pain relief band by Boston-based digital medicine company, shown at CES. (Dave Sebastian/BU News Service.)

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Pillo received $25 million in funding from Hackensack Meridian Health. The correct amount is $250,000.

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