It’s been a busy year for Science 37, the LA-based startup that brings clinical trials online.
Top drugmakers are hiring the startup to do drug research, and some coronavirus treatments are depending on it. Alphabet’s life sciences arm Verily has long expressed interest in buying the startup, according to an employee familiar with Verily’s conversations and a person familiar with the matter.
The sources, whose identities are known to Business Insider spoke under the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak about the companies’ plans.
Science 37 declined to comment.
“Verily is not in any discussions with Science 37 and we are not contemplating an acquisition,” Verily spokeswoman Robin Suchan told Business Insider via email. “Any conversations on this were well before my time at Verily; 1-2 years ago,” she added.
Science 37 works with companies and academic medical centers to study new drugs and devices on participants who get to stay at home. On Thursday, the company said it had raised an additional $40 million from investors in a round led by led by Lux Capital, Redmile Group, and PPD.
Top drugmakers Novartis, Sanofi, and Amgen also chipped in, as did new investors like Mubadala Capital and old ones like Alphabet’s GV.
The startup has raised $140 million to date and wants to expand operations around the world, Science 37 told Business Insider.
Bill Evans, the CEO of Rock Health, a digital health investor and advisory firm, said coronavirus is forcing the pharma industry to become less dependent on brick-and-mortar sites in a recent interview with Omada Health and Evidation Health, two more digital health startups that are trying to drag trials into the 21st century.
Much like with other areas of the $3.6 trillion healthcare industry, the early days of the coronavirus pandemic upended efforts around drug development. Hundreds of trials were suspended in the US, per Bernstein Research, while the hospitals and other sites that run them had to deal with coronavirus outbreaks.
It exposed shortcomings in a system that already struggles to get new medicines off the ground.
Ordinarily, people in clinical trials have to go into hospitals or other centers on a regular basis — for medication, exams, MRIs, or anything else the study investigators have planned.
Virtual trials work differently. The hope is that easing up on some of the physical requirements could make them faster, more effective, and more resilient to disasters like coronavirus that take sites offline.
In Science 37’s case, people sign up for trials over the internet. Home nurses are deployed to handle procedures that patients can’t do themselves. Researchers check in with telehealth appointments, and patients can use their own technology, like iPhones, to report data. All of the above is coordinated and stored on a platform for the study leads.
Major drugmakers like Pfizer and Novartis are taking a page out of Science 37’s book to do more research away from trial sites. Fully virtual trials are still rare, but the companies are using things like telehealth and drug delivery to keep reliance on physical sites to a minimum.
Pharmaceutical executives, particularly with the support of health regulators, are saying the changes are permanent. Goodwin, as one example, suspects that all of Pfizer’s trials will have a virtual component by 2022.