Clover Health's new subsidiary will rely on members, machine learning to fuel drug development

Dubbed Clover Therapeutics, the unit's first project will be a partnership with Genentech targeting ocular diseases among senior populations.
By Dave Muoio
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Clover Health, an Alphabet-backed insurtech startup serving the Medicare Advantage market, announced this morning the launch of a new subsidiary unit that will be focused on using data from its members to drive drug development.

Much like its parent company uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to generate predictive health insights for its member population, Clover Therapeutics will analyze clinical and genomic data from consenting participants to uncover strategies or interventions that could guide patients' care in the short term, or form the basis of new therapies for pharma partners down the road.

“What Clover Health does today is coordinating the best possible care to improve the outcomes of our members. But because there are diseases for which no effective therapy exists, such as Parkinson’s. we also need to think about new ways to address these issues, and therapeutics is a key part of this issue,” Cheng Zhang, head of Clover Therapeutics, told MobiHealthNews.

“Everybody appreciates that if you have enough healthcare information, … that can be useful [to] scientific research trying to develop new therapeutics,” Marcel van der Brug, chief scientific officer at Clover Therapeutics, added. “But that’s not enough [to help] us to understand the molecular drivers of disease, what pathways are active, and what’s the best target to go after. Adding genomics, that’s a great way to help understand what’s driving disease in patients, and the quantitative and biochemical measures you can add on that too that aren’t normal parts of standard of care, that don’t exist in care delivery mechanisms.”

This focus on genomics is a cornerstone of Clover Therapeutics’ first major partnership with Roche’s Genentech, which will be specifically focused on developing new treatments for ocular disease.

"We will be collaborating with [Genentech] to address critical drug discovery questions, co-design study protocol, and look forward to developing valuable medicines together,” Zhang said.

Although it’s not totally independent from Clover Health, the new subsidiary is being intentionally cordoned off from the insurance-focused operations of its parent. The reasoning behind this decision, Zhang explained, is to reassure members interested in contributing their data that no sensitive information will be accessed by non-research partners without express consent.

“[Clover Therapeutics] is in the Clover Health family, but the operations are kept separate because research data has to be kept separate from insurance datasets,” he said. “I think we’ll have an opportunity to integrate them once we get the consent of each member. From a patient protection standpoint, there are firewalls set up between Clover Health and Clover Therapeutics.”

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

Clover Therapeutics is using its machine learning-driven platform to pursue two different types of health insights, each of which could improve health and treatment of older patients. The first, Zhang explained, involves a two-way information exchange with members that can inform seniors, caretakers and providers on best practices in care.

“The idea is to make sure that all the learning that we have from the research program is being shared, in an actionable way, with our patients,” he said. “And even before we conduct a study with a member, we would share with them everything we know about a particular condition, clinical knowledge that we have today, etc., and certainly after we collect information from them we would share insights to help them with their care.”

The drug development component, on the other hand, is likely to have less of an immediate, practical impact on these patients. van der Brug characterized this component as a broader effort that would contribute to the scientific community’s broader understanding of disease and treatment mechanics. It’s here, he said, that partnerships like the one with Genentech will be essential.

“I wouldn’t actually look at it from a business or revenue perspective as from a scientific perspective, having good collaborators is essential,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any meaningful insights or discoveries that have been developed by an individual alone or a group alone. Science is such a team sport that we want to partner with anyone who can help us answer the therapeutic questions that they’re interested in. And leaders in the field can bring their unique perspective to the table. … Publishing our findings is also a core part of that strategy.”

But to achieve these goals, Clover Therapeutics is first going to need the participation and trust of its members.

“I think we have a very clear central mission, which is to discover, develop and launch therapeutics. That’s what we’re measuring our success by. the actual effective delivery of treatments for patients,” Cheng said. “ In the near term, we are focused on just taking one solid step at a time, making sure first and foremost that our patient members and beyond are actually embracing the opportunity to participate in research. … We’re taking that very seriously to make sure that our members understand what we’re doing to protect their privacy, confidentiality, everything that we’re doing to maximize the value of the research for them, both in the long term due to development of medicine, and in the short term through the delivery of care and useful information.”

THE LARGER TREND

Clover Health hit a bit of a speed bump a few months back when internal restructuring to bolster its healthcare insurance and health IT staff led to layoffs impacting a quarter of its staff. On the other hand, its integrated insurance model yielded a $500 million round in January that outstripped those of insurtech peers Bright HealthDevoted and Oscar Health.

ON THE RECORD

“Partnering with Clover Therapeutics will help further our understanding of ocular disease through our shared vision of using clinical and genomic data to develop personalized medicines,” Dr. James Sabry, global health of pharma partnering at Roche, said in a statement.