A few years ago, a group of Stanford University students spent two summers working with a breast oncologist to develop an informational website for patients at the Stanford Cancer Center. Now, those graduates have formed Avva Health, a startup hoping to find traction among the breast cancer community by creating a comprehensive “home base” for breast cancer treatment.
With a suite of online tools, Avva hopes to address the emotional, social, educational and medical components of treatment.
“The fragmented nature of care and highly specialized physicians means there’s rarely one physician with a high-level view of the patient’s treatment plan to coordinate their care, and so this responsibility falls to patients,” said Antoine Sindhu, one of the company’s founders.
On the site’s first public prototype are two tools: Avva Ask and Avva Ally. The former asks a user a series of questions about her treatment situation, age and pathology characteristics. It then uses an algorithm to match the patient to suggested questions she may want to bring to her next doctor’s appointment. Each time a patient uses the system, the Avva database of suggested questions is updated to reflect each question’s popularity and relevance.
Sindhu said the team is building additional decision-support components to this tool that will help patients map out their thoughts before making major treatment decisions and create a framework they can use to discuss treatment options with their physicians.
The second tool, Avva Ally, is an online network for patients, friends and family to stay connected during treatment.
The audience is there — breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among U.S. women, and nearly 300,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year, according to the American Cancer Society. But now the challenge for Avva is to gain traction among the audience and monetize.
Breast cancer organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure and breastcancer.org provide tools, resources, coaching and apps for women diagnosed with breast cancer. Another startup, Navigating Cancer, is developing a Web portal that connects cancer patients to their healthcare teams and their health records. But Avva is unique in that it’s more dynamic and personalized than other resources, Sindhu said.
By working with breast cancer advocates and physicians early in the referral chain (like OB/GYNs and radiologists), the company is hoping to ramp up awareness and support of the site. It’s also partnering with a few medical institutions in the San Francisco Bay Area for a pilot, Sindhu said.
As far as a business model goes, he said it’s still being worked out, but the most promising model as of now hinges on partnerships with pharmaceutical companies to list their clinical trials on the site (this seems to be a popular model among digital health companies). The company plans to have a finalized business model ready by the fall of this year, at which point it will be ready to begin raising money.
Avva is based in Palo Alto, California and completed the Rock Health incubator program in June.