Promising to reinvent preventative medicine by bringing genomic data, medical research and connected devices together in a single platform, a startup called BaseHealth launched on Tuesday. The company, which has raised $6.3 million from a group of investors led by RONA Holdings and Bobby Yazdani, hopes a personalized and predictive approach to will help patients identify their prospective problems and then take the right steps to prevent them.
The way its platform (called Genophen) works is to combine patients’ lifestyle data, genetic data and medical records to get a sense of what risk factors someone has and suggest how they might prevent them. It can identify more than 40 “common complex” diseases (e.g., Type II diabetes, heart disease or breast cancer) from the genetic analysis, while the other data will typically provide a multiplier effect. Smoking and a sedentary lifestyle, for example, would increase someone’s chance of developing diabetes beyond their natural hereditary risk.
The real key to Genophen, though, it its ability to help patients figure out what they can do to mitigate their chances of developing the illnesses for which they’re at risk. It tells them the total risk reduction if they optimized every aspect of their lifestyles, or can answer “what if” questions, such as what the effect of losing 20 pounds might be. Genophen get as specific as how someone’s genetics will affect specific drug or food choices.
Right now, patients can enter information as they work through their wellness plans, but they can automate some aspects via an API integration with Fitbit. However, BaseHealth CTO Prakash Menon said, “[We're] trying to find a device for every risk factor we can think of.” The easier and more accurate it is for patients to share their information with their doctors, the more effective the platform will be at reassessing their risk.
He noted the Withings scale as another device with which the company plans to integrate, but also said it will be difficult to find devices for difficult-to-measure factors such as sleep position.
One thing that sets BaseHealth apart from other recent personalized medicine startups, such as 23andme and anything available via an app store, is that it’s only accessible through a doctor. There are probably some financial reasons for this (i.e., doctors will pay for it), but also some practical ones. When we’re talking about potentially life-threatening conditions, it’s probably best to have a trained professional interpret the results and explain what they mean.
One does have to wonder, though, for how long that will be the case. The advent of cheap genome sequencing and analysis, advances in machine learning (even the ability to access IBM’s vaunted Watson technology via API), and an increased acceptance of crowdsourcing and on-demand services — even in fields such as law — seem to suggest that accurate straight-to-consumer medical advice might not be too far off.
One thing BaseHealth definitely gets right, though, is its promise to remain prudent when it comes to reading insights into the data the Genophen generates. Menon said the company does plan to analyze data around risk factors, treatment plans and outcomes to identify correlations, but no findings will be rolled into the platform’s models until the findings have been through a peer-review process.
“People here are scientists first,” he said, “and we tend to be very conservative about how we use data.”
Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user kentoh.