Omada Health is Pioneering a New Type of Medicine – Digital Therapeutics
I first met Omada Health’s CEO, Sean Duffy, three years ago at FutureMed (now rebranded as Exponential Medicine). He told me that he was on a leave of absence from Harvard’s MD/MBA program so that he could build a digital health company to help people with prediabetes. My mouth dropped open. In the world of medical students, admission to Harvard is a grand prize. Add in the Harvard MBA program and the prize comes studded with precious gems!
It turns out that Sean made the right decision for himself and for healthcare. His company just closed a $23 million Series B round led by Andreeson Horowitz with participation by Kaiser Permanente Ventures. More importantly, Omada’s first product, Prevent, is fully operational and helping people with pre-diabetes lose weight and make lifestyle changes that should help them slow or avoid progression to full-blown diabetes.
Instead of helping patients one at a time, Sean, through Omada, is helping populations of individuals with this condition..
What is Omada up to?
According to Sean, the company designs programs based on “landmark behavioral science that already exists.” They want to combine the best of evidence-based behavioral science with the best in design and technology. Their recipe, he says is to identify what has been shown to work in the medical literature and then translate it into a digital therapeutic approach that is specifically designed to get outcomes.
Their first product, Prevent is an online weight loss and lifestyle program for prediabetes. It is based on one of those landmark studies, the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), “a major multicenter clinical research study aimed at discovering whether modest weight loss through dietary changes and increased physical activity or treatment with the oral diabetes drug metformin (Glucophage) could prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in study participants.” The study showed that modest weigh loss, the result of regular physical activity and a low fat, low calories diet did delay or prevent progression to diabetes during the course of the study.
The CDC’s National DPP is a public private partnership of insurers, healthcare organizations, employers, government agencies and community organizations working together local “bricks and mortar” DPPs. Omada’s Prevent is the first digital program that has been validated to meet CDC standards.
How does the Prevent program work?
Omada works with financial sponsors of groups of patients, such as health plans, employers, and providers. In many cases the sponsors have already screened their populations for diabetes and prediabetes. If not, Omada can do the screening. Once eligible people are identified, Omada reaches out to them to “pitch” them on the benefits of the program (it’s fun, only takes 16 weeks, you will be in a small group of like-minded people, and once you complete the program you will have lost weight and feel better).
Participants receive tools to help them get started, like ready to use digital scales. They then work with a health coach who takes them through the 16 week DPP curriculum (called the core phase of the program). Along the way you have the support of people facing the same issues as you are – an online variation on the well known Chronic Disease Self-Management Programs developed by Kate Lorig at Stanford. Participants graduate into a lighter touch program (the post-core phase) after 16 weeks to help with maintenance of their newly changed behaviors.
And the results are?
A company-run study, recently published in Diabetes Educator, documented the following results:
- Core participants completed an average of 13.8 out of 16 lessons in the core phase.
- They documented their body weight at 90% and physical activity at 85% of the core sessions they attended.
- Participants lost 5.0% of their body weight during the core phase and were still at 4.8% at 12 months.
- Lesson completion was strongly correlated with weight loss.
- For the subset of participants that had a baseline and follow-up HbA1c measured, it was found to have, one average, regressed from the prediabetes range to the normal range.
Overall, Prevent was found to have performed as well as local, bricks and mortar DPP programs – with the obvious benefit that online programs are more easily scaled that in-person programs.
What’s next for Omada
The company is already planning its next 2-3 programs. Most likely they will initially stick with conditions, such as hypertension and metabolic syndrome, that are known to benefit from diet, exercise and weight loss. Other conditions they will also be exploring include smoking cessation,depression, anxiety and insomnia – conditions for which there is evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy has efficacy.
I am really looking forward to seeing what Omada can accomplish in the next 3 years – it feels like the trajectory could be exponential, no?