Driver's high-cost cancer care procurement app shutters shortly after launch

The service was unable to generate adequate revenue with its D2C model, which asked patients for a $3,000 enrollment payment alongside $20 in monthly fees.
By Dave Muoio
03:43 pm

Driver, the pricey mobile app designed to link cancer patients to appropriate treatment or relevant clinical trials, appears to have bitten off a bit more than it could chew. This morning STAT reported that the service, which only launched in September, ran out of funds and released its entire 85-employee staff in mid-October, effectively shuttering the business.

Driver CEO and cofounder Dr. William Polkinghorn, a former faculty member of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told STAT that the company’s early reliance on direct-to-consumer sales didn’t yield enough revenue to keep Driver’s business afloat, or inspire enough confidence among investors to secure another funding round.

A public relations firm that represented Driver during its launch told MobiHealthNews that it is no longer working with the company. Additionally, Driver’s social media channels have been silent since October 16 (the day Pokinghorn told STAT his company had laid off its employees), and its homepage currently greets visitors with an error popup.

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MobiHealthNews has reached out to Driver itself for confirmation, and will update this article with any reply.

Cofounded in 2015 by Polkinghorn and the company’s president, Dr. Petros Giannikopoulos, San Francisco and Shanghai-based Driver looked to more quickly and conveniently connect cancer patients to care. The company was primarily backed by Horizons Ventures, alongside which the company built up a Chinese platform in parallel to its US-based service. 

The service was comprised of a patient-facing app and another for the doctor, and asked users to upload their medical records and tumor tissue samples. Using these, Driver recommended patients a list of their best treatment options, helped schedule appointments and managed aftercare.

With the business shutting down and full refunds unlikely, Polkinghorn told STAT that his “number one priority” moving forward is to ensure the few patients who did sign up for the service can access the care they need.

Why it matters

It isn’t hard to view Driver’s crash and burn as an indictment of its business model — in particular, its early reliance on a lump $3,000 asking price and $20 monthly subscription fee that appears to have scared off many potential customers.

It’s also worth noting that although Driver boasted a number of partnerships with cancer research and treatment organizations including the US National Cancer Institute, the Cleveland Clinic and the Chinese National Cancer Center, none of these deals supplied the company with revenue. Polkinghorn said that the Driver’s other planned deals with employers, insurers and other potential revenue sources never came to pass before the accounts ran dry.

“We needed to bring on revenue a lot sooner than we did — as opposed to maybe spending as much time and resources building such a robust solution,” Polkinghorn told STAT.

What’s the trend

Driver’s cancer care platform was certainly among the most substantial available to consumers, but it was by no means alone in the market. For instance, this year saw the launch of chemoWave, a free disease companion app for chemotherapy patients that assists with symptom tracking and health data management. Another, called OncoPower, offers cryptocurrency incentives, blockchain-protected EHR data and patient communities to keep patients engaged in their care.


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