CONVERGE Preview: Investment in screening tools as one approach to supporting cancer treatment innovation

Karen Griffith Gryga of Dreamit Ventures is one of a group of investors who will discuss investing in cancer treatment innovation at the MedCity CONVERGE conference in Philadelphia this week.

One topic of discussion at the MedCity CONVERGE conference July 11-12 in Philadelphia is investment in cancer treatment innovation. Karen Griffith Gryga is managing partner and chief investment officer for Dreamit Ventures and founder of Dreamit Health. She’ll be part of this conversation, along with David Shaywitz of Takeda Ventures and Stacey Seltzer of Aisling Capital.

Dreamit has produced ten cohorts of healthcare startups in an accelerator that partners healthcare entrepreneurs with hospitals, insurers and other healthcare organizations in their network.

In a Q&A, Griffith-Gryga highlighted some of the Dreamit companies that could make an impact on cancer care.

Note: This exchange has been lightly edited.

How did you come to work for Dreamit Ventures?

I had been a VC for 14 years when I wanted to do what all of the VCs I had most admired done —  actually start a company. I had set up my second startup on a solid path to growth when the founders of Dreamit approached me asking for advice on raising a fund for Dreamit. I was advising them for a while when we decided to join forces — leveraging the incredible power of the Dreamit accelerator platform with a fund to do follow-on investments into the companies with which we were working through the Dreamit platform. A large percentage of the Dreamit team is composed of serial entrepreneurs. The powerful combination of the background of the Dreamit team, the hands-on work that we do with the companies and the Dreamit platform which has been developed and refined over 10 years, presents, I believe, the most compelling approach to early stage investing. I joined in 2012 and started working on raising the first fund. I also launched Dreamit Health in 2012 (with our first cycle being in 2013) and launched the Dreamit Athena initiative aimed at women entrepreneurs, elements of which we have incorporated into our bi-annual platform program.

Karen Griffith Gryga, Dreamit Ventures

What informs your investment strategy?

One key differentiator of Dreamit and a massive value-add for our companies is our Customer Immersions where we take our companies on the road over three weeks to have at least 15 C-suite exposed customer immersions. Our teams have the opportunity to present their businesses and enter into a dialogue with these target customers. This not only opens the door to a potential dramatically accelerated sales cycle but our teams get a statistically significant data set from the target customer population in a short period of time. It would typically take an early stage start-up several years to achieve what we deliver in a matter of weeks.

We also involve our customer partners in the actual selection process of the companies accepted onto our platform. Because of this involvement, we have deep insights into pain points, strategic priorities and what is and is not working.

Finally, We have the advantage of working intensely hands-on with our companies for 14 weeks. This is like due diligence on steroids. We really get to know the teams and hows the execute intimately.

All of these are key elements of our investment strategy but there are more.

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What are some of the investment trends in the oncology and precision medicine space that you have seen in the first six months of this year?

As you know, most blockbuster medicines and treatments only work for 30 percent to 50 percent of patients. This is not good enough. The investment trends in oncology and precision medicine that I have seen are all about data and algorithms to leverage the data to deliver personalized, effective screening and treatments. We are at the beginning stages. Most of the companies I have seen are focused on getting the data and as much of it as they can, whether structured or unstructured.

The investments that we focus on in oncology and precision medicine have to do with the screening, measurement and recommendation of treatments. We do not work with therapeutics at all. We have seen tremendous developments in all of these areas that we are very excited about.

One big trend right now is the convergence between health IT and drug development. Pharma seems to be on a data buying spree. Do you agree?

Absolutely, what everyone is grappling with is the gathering and normalization of data to drive and deliver personalized solutions for patients and doctors. The industry is very early. As we all know and have seen, Roche acquired Flatiron for the data. The way therapeutics are being developed and tested has to change and evolve. We need better solutions developed more quickly and delivered to the market more efficiently. The only way to develop more effective, safer therapeutics to the market is through the leveraging of genomic and environmental data.

From the standpoint of a health IT and medtech investor, what kind of opportunities do you see for technology to improve cancer care, either through drug development or care delivery?

As I look at the Dreamit portfolio, we have portfolio companies that are addressing the areas of screening, measurement and treatment. In the screening area, we have both Reliant Immune Diagnostics and Group K Diagnostics which are dramatically changing the diagnostic landscape, one in a direct to consumer format and one empowering primary care physicians to have the results of initial rapid screening tests while the patient is still in the PCP office.

Allevi, a 3D human tissue bioprinter is working on tumor models to enable the testing of therapeutics directly on a patient’s own cancer cells to determine the best course of treatment.

Much longer term, we have companies like Biomeme and Graphwear which could provide forms of regular measurement to the consumer who is monitoring their own health. Biomeme through a mobile DNA/RNA diagnostic which has the ability to monitor the microbiome and Graphwear which has a graphene-based patch that can detect important biometric data in real-time. These companies are not currently developing anything for oncology but their platforms definitely have the ability to do so long term.

What companies do you see as being the next Flatiron Health?

I see Oncora Medical as an important long-term player. They have a joint product in the market called Oncora Precision, which was developed in conjunction with MD Anderson Cancer Center. It captures, structures and analyzes both structured and unstructured data to determine personalized cancer treatments and, ultimately, will be a predictive technology enabling and delivering confident, personalized cancer treatments.

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