“It takes 12 years and $2.6 billion to bring a drug to market,” said Michelle Longmire, MD, CEO at Medable. The company has raised over $500 million to improve the clinical trial process and achieved unicorn status in 2021.
Boosted by the adoption of digital technologies during the Covid-19 pandemic, many parts of the healthcare industry are being transformed, including how clinical trials are conducted. When clinical trials couldn’t be done in person, Medable proved to be an indispensable resource.
Even though in-person clinical trials are again possible, Medable continues to be indispensable in clinical trials because it speeds up the process of recruitment, reduces costs, and enables outreach to underrepresented populations.
Longmire is a physician-scientist who loves inventing, especially when it comes to helping humanity. While at Stanford, she tried to understand the environmental factors responsible for the different outcomes of a rare disease in identical twins—systemic sclerosis. During her research, she realized that digital technologies could speed up the process and lower the cost of clinical trials without impacting the rigorousness of the study.
In 2015, with an investment of $25,000 from another doctor, Longmire hired engineers to build the platform. “Medable was originally designed to be used by independent investigators or physicians at health systems like Stanford, Penn Medicine, and the University of Colorado, which conduct research,” said Longmire. The platform works across all therapeutic areas, not just rare diseases.
“We found out there was a big opportunity to partner with pharmaceutical companies to go beyond research and do interventional clinical trials,” she said. Participants in these trials are randomly assigned to groups that receive one or more interventions/treatments (or no intervention) so that researchers can evaluate the safety and efficacy of the interventions on biomedical or health-related outcomes.
“As a woman, fundraising was extraordinarily challenging,” sighed Longmire. “If you’re an outsider or don’t fit into the typical persona that VCs back, you have to work much harder to raise funding.” The team bootstrapped itself and raised small amounts of money from fellow doctors who understood the importance of the platform.
The company received Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute. These grants are crucial in providing early-stage, non-dilutive funding for startups. Without non-dilutive funding, founders would rely entirely on equity financing, if they could raise it. Because of the lengthy product development cycle, healthcare startups might have to give most of their company away before bringing the innovation to market.
“It took us quite a long time to drive interest in the mainstream venture community,” said Longmire. “Back then, healthcare wasn’t a big area of investment.
“I joined Springboard Enterprises,” said Longmire. There, she developed a framework of core metrics to provide VCs when pitching. She practiced her pitch, received feedback, and connected to investors by participating in Springboard’s Dolphin Tank.
These events showcase female-founded companies. Springboard is doubling down on its support of women-led healthcare companies.
Once Longmire had empirical evidence of the strength of Medable’s business model, fundraising became more manageable than it was early on. It was more than just healthcare-focused VCs who were interested. Investors across sectors saw how the company was outperforming companies in other categories.
In 2021, Medable raised a $304 million Series D round, led by Blackstone Growth, Tiger Global, and GSR Ventures. This investment brought the company’s total raise to $521 million, with a whopping $2.1 billion valuation and unicorn status.
The company continues to evolve. It is expanding into trials for medical devices. But the goal is to make an even bigger impact.
“There is evidence that the number of drugs approved each year hasn’t changed for over a decade,” stated Longmire. Because of the use of technology, most industries have progressed rapidly over the past 10 years. “When I think about our impact, it is going from 55 to 500 drugs approved a year, not because we’ve lowered the bar on safety and efficacy in any way, but we’ve reduced the timelines and cost.”
Longmire’s Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) is that we can take more shots at preventing and treating diseases. She wants to accelerate cures for over 10,000 human diseases from the current timeline of 200 years to somewhere around 20 years. Yes, making the majority of diseases treatable within our lifetime!
What’s your BHAGs?