Archive for August 2013
“In 2003, an 18 year old girl got very sick. Without any warning or apparent cause, she fell into a deep depression. She had to drop out of college. She would sleep 14 hours a day, too fatigued to do anything when awake but watch TV. She gained 50 pounds of weight and woke up several times a night with nightmares, soaked in cold sweat. Eventually suicidal thoughts entered her mind. She asked her mother to sleep in bed with her so she wouldn’t hurt herself. That girl is my sister, Carly.”
“Over the next several years, our parents brought Carly to 16 different medical specialists and racked up over $100,000 in medical bills, desperately seeking a diagnosis. Each doctor would treat her symptoms as best they could, but none could identify the root cause of her illness. We’d later discover that her disease affects just 1 in 15,000 females. Her doctors had never heard of it, much less seen it.”
This is the story that Jared Heymans, CEO of CrowdMed, months ago told me. There was so much wrong with Carly’s situation: the time it took to receive a correct diagnosis, the exorbitant costs of gratuitous visits, the damage from misdiagnosis and mistreatment. Parts of these issues are endemic to the American healthcare system (i.e. costs), but others can strike anywhere (i.e. the misdiagnosis, especially due to her rare condition). For example, rare diseases affect 25 million people in the US and 350 million people worldwide, yet they are often just as misdiagnosed as more common diseases because of medicine’s pronounced 80/20 rule.
At Bessemer, my colleagues invested in Crowdflower, a company that helps contributors complete microtasks via their crowd of people; and I have always been impressed with Mechanical Turk, LiveOps, and other crowdsourcing companies. So when Jared told me that “the wisdom of the crowd” might also be applied to rare diseases, I was intrigued. And when his vision became CrowdMed, I couldn’t wait to invest.
Jared and his team have built a platform that empowers patients struggling with their ailments—many of whom have “tried everything” but can’t get the right diagnosis—post their symptoms and history on CrowdMed for a small fee (~$199 for now). Then, a team of MDs (note: Medical Detectives, many of whom are NOT Medical Doctors) scours the web, literature, and other sources to derive probabilities for potential diagnoses.
So far, this model has worked pretty well. In fact, dozens of cases have been solved on the platform– some, in as early as three days.
These are cases, and stories, like Carly’s. Hers was the first case solved on CrowdMed, and it took 3 days.
I entered venture capital because I wanted help build businesses that, if they worked, changed people’s lives for the better. CrowdMed is the epitome of that promise. I’m thrilled to be both a personal investor as well as a professional partner through NEA’s recent investment.