This week a new San Francisco-based startup, Mango Health, which is developing a medication adherence app with social gaming elements, announced that it had scooped up $1.45 million in venture funding. Investors include Floodgate Fund, First Round Capital, Steve Anderson with Baseline Ventures, Zynga co-founder and CEO Mark Pincus and Square COO Keith Rabois, according to GigaOM.
A handful of tech news sites greeted the arrival of Mango Health with breathless, hyperbolic headlines: "Show Mango Health your meds and the iPhone app may save your life," wrote one, and "Mango Health brings accountability to mobile health" another inexplicably declared.
Mango Health's app, which is still in beta, aims to help users check for drug interactions, log activities, maintain a schedule, and compare themselves to other patients who are taking the same or similar drugs. The app also plans to offer some kind of incentives, including points or discounts for adhering to their medication regimen.
Mango Health's co-founders, Jason Oberfest and Gerald Cheong, hail from mobile gaming company ngmoco, which makes games for iOS and Android devices. Oberfest previously served as an SVP with MySpace.
How did Mango make an impression on their investors? First Round Capital's Managing Partner Josh Kopelman explained in a column over at Business Insider: "When we first met the team back in January, the first thing that impressed us about Jason Oberfest and Gerald Cheong was their passion for utilizing their social gaming background to make mobile healthcare more accessible and fun."
Kopelman also claims in the column that Mango Health will offer "an entirely new mobile solution for managing healthcare." That may be -- the app is still in beta, so it is yet to be determined how novel the startup's approach is right now. Still, based on our own research into the current offerings of Apple's AppStore, there are more than 220 consumer-facing apps that claim to offer similar features focused on medication adherence. Nearly all of them offer some kind of reminder function to help users remember to take their medications.
Recent weeks saw the launch of the Care4Today Mobile Adherence program from Janssen Healthcare Innovation and Jitterbug service provider GreatCall has made a big push with its MedCoach iOS app in recent months. Of course, the first mobile medication adherence app to find its way to market was Vocel's The Pill Phone app. The app has the distinction of being one of the very first mobile health apps to go through the FDA 510(k) process -- way back in 2006 -- which resulted in a Class 1 registration. At one time all the major mobile operators in the US offered The Pill Phone for feature phone users. An iPhone app version of the offering followed in 2010. Last year The Pill Phone announced promising results from a small scale efficacy study conducted at the George Washington University Medical Center.
By many accounts The Pill Phone was ahead of its time, but it jumped through all the right hoops: Regulation, distribution partners, efficacy. Ultimately, Vocel laid off all of its employees in 2010. The Pill Phone is no longer found in mobile operator application stores. It's no longer available in Apple's AppStore. Funding was difficult to come by and the company folded.
Tom Evangelisti, president of Medcel, the Vocel group that was responsible for The Pill Phone offering, has brought the technology (and lessons learned from the venture) to his new position at ImageWare Systems (IWS). He landed there last month. Evangelisti tells me The Pill Phone will likely be resurrected in some form (though it probably won't go by that name) and coupled with IWS' biometric authentication technology.
Can gaming experience and a slick design help Mango Health succeed where others have failed? Perhaps. If nothing else, the big name angel investors backing Mango Health have already helped the fledgling startup standout from the pack of 220 medication adherence apps fighting for discoverability in the AppStore.