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Venture Capital Funds Text Messaging to Patients

MPulse Mobile has closed an $11 million Series B funding round led by Durham, N.C.-based SJF Ventures. The Encino health care technology company, which offers a software platform for engaging patients over text messages, has raised $25 million in capital so far. The funds will be used to build out the company’s artificial intelligence capabilities, including expanding its team of behavioral scientists, computational linguists and machine learning experts, Chief Marketing Officer Paige Mantel confirmed. mPulse announced the close of the round during its presentation at the HLTH conference on May 7 in Las Vegas, an annual meeting for executives and entrepreneurs at the intersection of health care and technology. During the event, the company also unveiled a new product: An artificial intelligence-driven messaging platform called Activation Intelligence, which uses patient data to craft individualized text messages designed to optimize the chance of favorable health outcomes. “The overall purpose of this product is to really deliver on the promise of personalized health engagement,” Mantel said. “There’s no more one-size-fits-all approach. … We’re using AI to automate dialogue with somebody and build a dynamic program.” The new offering adds features to the company’s proprietary software-as-a-service platform, which is used by more than 70 insurance firms, large health care providers and other organizations to engage patients via text messaging. Activation Intelligence software combs data on patient location, gender and social determinants of health – such as access to fresh food, pharmacies and transportation – to build a “dynamic profile” of the individual. Using a combination of natural language understanding and input from the team’s behavioral science and linguistic experts, it strikes up conversations with the patient to share test results, appointment reminders and alerts about medication refills. It then tailors its messages based on the patient’s responses, adjusting its language accordingly. “We analyze the sentiment of the response from each patient,” Mantel explained. For instance, if the program detects that a patient is interested in improving her health, it will offer to send her recommendations and reminders for diet and exercise. If a patient responds negatively, it will give a gentle response and perhaps refrain from sending messages for a while, Mantel said. “We wouldn’t pester them with texts,” she said. In the case of patients who do not respond at all, the platform might follow up with a “nudge” about two hours later – a technique that seems to work very well, Mantel noted. “These frameworks are meant to drive engagement and get people to feel empowered and confident about their health,” she said. Amgen’s Migraine Drug Amgen Inc. has received approval to market its migraine drug Aimovig in the U.S., the biopharma announced May 17. The medication is the first of its kind to receive Food and Drug Administration approval for the prevention of migraine headaches. “The FDA approval of Aimovig represents a long-awaited and important therapeutic development for patients and their physicians who are in need of additional treatment options for the prevention of migraine,” Amgen Vice President of Research and Development Dr. Sean Harper said in a statement. Aimovig was developed in collaboration with Swiss drugmaker Novartis International, which holds co-commercialization rights to the medication in the U.S. Aimovig was discovered in Amgen’s labs at its Thousand Oaks headquarters, according to a company spokeswoman. The medication is part of a new class of drugs that prevent migraines by blocking a compound called calcitonin gene-related peptide, or CGRP, from binding to its receptor on the surface of cells. CGRP is involved in the dilation of blood vessels and signal transmission between nerves, processes that are thought to be the basis of migraine pathophysiology. Though there are other treatments to avert migraines – antidepressants, Botox injections and hypertension drugs among them – Aimovig is the first to be approved specifically for migraine prevention. Other companies are also developing drugs that work along the same mechanism. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. is expected to hear back from the FDA on its CGRP receptor blocker by June, while Eli Lilly & Co. presented in April a new round of clinical trial data on its version of the medication. Alder Biopharmaceuticals plans to file by the end of the year an application with the FDA for the same type of drug, according to reports. Aimovig is approved for use in all adults who suffer from migraine. Clinical trials on the drug showed that it reduced the number of “migraine days” per month by 50 percent in about 30 percent of patients. Aimovig is priced at $6,900 a year, or $575 a month, according to Amgen. Staff Reporter Helen Floersh can be reached at (818) 316-3121 or hfloersh@sfvbj.com.

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