This post first appeared as an issue of the a16z Bio Newsletter. Subscribe to stay on top of the latest trends in bio and healthcare.
This month, we kicked off our new a16z Podcast show Journal Club, with Bio Journal Club (hosted by Lauren Richardson, PhD, who joins us from PLOS Biology). Bio Journal Club curates scientific breakthroughs, and why they matter from our vantage point at the intersection of biology and technology. Our inaugural episode covers two topics but multiple research papers: (1) identifying new antibiotics through a novel machine-learning based approach and the implications for pharma; and (2) characterizing the protein structures of the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we can learn from it for therapeutics and more.
In some ways, the healthcare system of the future will look like science fiction—therapies that are algorithms, medicines made for you from your own engineered cells and genes, sensors continuously and passively monitoring your health all around you. But in others ways, it just might look a lot like the past. This presentation by Jorge Conde, first given at the 2019 Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit, first tracks the evolution of modern healthcare and the rise of the giant healthcare institution, from doctors making housecalls and apothecaries grinding out homemade medicines, to the centralization of specialized equipment and knowledge. What does the healthcare system of the future look like—only hastened by COVID-19—when healthcare leaves the hospital, medicine leaves the pill bottle, and one day, we may not even need symptoms to tell us we’re sick?
Primary care was set up to be the “front door” of the healthcare system. COVID-19 has shown us pretty clearly that as a front door goes, it’s broken. But just the same way that the impact of COVID-19 is exposing the fractures in our system and shining lights on innovation in other areas, general partner Julie Yoo argues in this article that we’re going to see an acceleration of a new operating system for primary care. Primary care in the future will better serve users by verticals or demographics; allow more access at different points in the care delivery spectrum; and use new tools to finally set primary care up properly for success.
The past few weeks have seen more movement in virtual care adoption, incentives, and regulation than the past several years combined. We’ve talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic has created a staggering demand for virtual care across the board, from primary care to specialist settings like oncology. But how do we maintain this momentum so virtual care sticks even when patients can safely return to the clinic?
More regulatory changes will be required. We’ve already covered the recent HHS Interoperability Final Ruling and its expected impact on increasing accessibility and portability of health data. But COVID-19 has forced other temporary regulatory adjustments too: support from CMS and some commercial payors to reimburse virtual care at parity with in-person visits; relaxed restrictions around the technology tools used to provide virtual care, the services it can be used for, and the geographical areas in which it can be offered; and funding and stimulus measures from the FCC and others to lower the barrier for adoption of virtual care technologies. Though some of these are still just temporary, they are key catalysts; to sustain this momentum, we need continued adoption to drive clinical impact, bottom-up advocacy, and top-down regulation.
More trends building momentum for virtual care:
In this unique moment, CMS and other commercial payors are actively discussing more permanent changes around regulation in the space. All signs point to virtual care being here to stay.