Mohr Davidow Ventures: Tips for wireless health start-ups

By Brian Dolan
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Michael GoldbergMichael Goldberg of Mohr Davidow Ventures (MDV) is currently, actively pursuing start-ups in the personalized medicine sector, including companies that make use of wireless sensors to collect clinically-actionable data for point-of-care. Goldberg's firm recently invested in wireless remote monitoring company Corventis.

mobihealthnews recently had the opportunity to discuss MDV's interest in the wireless health space, FDA regulation, tips for having a successful start-up and whether we are in a health IT investment bubble. 

mobihealthnews: When did you begin investing in the personalized medicine space?

Goldberg: That was in 2005.

What triggered the initial investments -- why this industry?

Several things. I first began working at MDV in 2005, but before that I participated in [a round of investing] for a first generation personalized medicine company called Genomic Health. When we at MDV think of personalized medicine in a much broader context, but I'll focus my comments on personalized medicine enabled by wireless [technology]. 

Starting in 2005, we had been investing in areas where biochemical signals were centrally important to understanding disease states and providing insight to clinically-actionable steps. It also occurred to us that for some organ systems, electrical signals might be used in an analagous way. We started to look at way to use sensor technology along with wireless technology to measure clinically relevant parameters in the cardiac area in particular. That played to our strengths at the firm, which was and is the desire to invest in areas at the intersection of converging disciplines. We have expertise and partnerships in the areas of material science, electrical engineering, algorithm development as well as medicine and wireless technologies. So personalized medicine is an exciting area that allows us to play to our strengths. 

The push then for beginning to invest back in 2005 was noticing the trend -- which is continuing today -- that these industries were converging? 

Yes, exactly. I thought that the talk that Dr. Eric Topol gave at the [Wireless Life Sciences Alliance] meeting and some of the companies he mentioned are really on the cutting edge of the future of 21st century medicine.

According to VentureBeat, you are looking to invest in start-ups in the wireless health space that have "no risk" of FDA regulation. Is that a fair characterization and what types of companies would that include?

Well, I wouldn't say no risk. The companies we are interested in are at the 510K level [of FDA regulation]. We are not interested in general in products that require long, multi-year clinical trials before getting an FDA regulatory decision. We are happy to work with the FDA in the context of lighter regulatory regimes, and we actively seek out those kind of projects. 

In an effort to determine, specifically, the type of companies you are looking to invest in: Is it fair to say that you are more interested in wireless health companies that are clinician-centric as opposed to those 510K products that are more patient-centric and consumer-empowering and facing?

Right. I think that's a good distinction. There are consumer-facing applications and technologies and there are healthcare professional-facing applications, whether physicians, nurses or other people who are clinically trained. That's great and it's a better distinction: Consumer-centric and clinician-centric. We have certain investments that are more consumer-centric in various other areas, but, yes, in this area we tend to focus on clinically-centered ones.

Any particular reason?

Yes. If you provide information that enables a guide to clinical decision, that's a more well-practiced process of driving adoption in a physician audience than trying to stimulate consumer demand, which is a different business model.

For those clinician-centric, wireless health start-ups: What advice do you have to help them successfully navigate the early stages of bringing their services to market?  

Make sure that your technology is "unique" and "defensible." Make sure that the problem you are trying to solve is "clinically relevant." Make sure your product is addressing a large, unmet medical need. In other words, if one succeeds, its a very large market when you do. Make sure the service produces pharmacoeconomic benefits.

Is investment in wireless-enabled, personalized medicine start-ups growing within the investment community?

Yes, interest is growing quite substantially over the past two years, because many of these applications achieve the dual goal of improving patient care while simultaneously reducing costs through pharmacoeconomic benefits. And that's a winning combination in today's market.

Many skeptics of so-called "Health 2.0" online health services claim that there was an inordinate amount of investment dollars poured into those ventures. Now that some of the focus is shifting to the mobile health sector, it's beginning to get a similar rap: Do you have any sense that we are in a health IT investment bubble?

It doesn't appear to be, but that may have more to do with the general [economic] environment. There doesn't seem to be a bubble in anything. No, there is no indication that there is a healthcare bubble in personalized medicine. This is a longterm, secular trend that is inevitable and enabled by technology that was never before available, by unmet medical needs combined with healthcare system cost pressures.